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Thursday, 06 May 2021

Europe's top sides handed straightforward routes to 2022 World Cup

The winners of the 10 groups qualify directly, while the 10 runners-up go into a play-off system

Reuters , Monday 7 Dec 2020
Antoine Griezmann
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Europe's top sides all appear set for straightforward routes to the 2022 World Cup after being placed in comfortable groups in the draw made at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on Monday.

Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Croatia and England all avoided each other thanks to the seeding system and, barring major upsets, should qualify comfortably for the tournament in Qatar.

Instead, the main excitement is likely to be the scramble among the middle-ranking teams to finish second in their groups and qualify for the play-offs.

Under a revised format, the 10 group winners qualify directly for Qatar while the runners-up go into a play-off system along with the best two teams from the Nations League, a separate competition.

Those 12 teams will be divided into three paths of four, with the winners of each also going to Qatar. The group stage will be played between March and November next year with the play-offs in March 2022.

World champions France were drawn in Group D alongside Ukraine -- a side they recently beat 7-1 in a friendly -- Finland, Bosnia and Kazakhstan in European Group D.

Old rivals England and Poland will face each other again as they were placed in Group I along with Hungary, Albania, Andorra and San Marino.

Spain must get past Sweden, who qualified for the 2018 World Cup at the expense of Italy, in Group B, although even if they finish second, they will still have another bite of the cherry in the play-offs. Greece, Georgia and Kosovo are the other teams in that group.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, the current European champions, must face Serbia, Ireland, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan in Group A while Belgium meet Wales, Czech Republic, Belarus, Estonia in Group E.

Even off-colour Germany should be able to get through Group J where their opponents are Romania, Iceland, North Macedonia, Armenia and Liechtenstein.

Group F appeared to be the most evenly-balanced group featuring Denmark, Austria, Scotland, Israel, Faroe Islands and Moldova.

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