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World Cup qualifying in Europe is underway, as 55 national teams compete for 13 qualification places at Qatar 2022. European soccer has dominated the World Cup in recent years: the four teams to have won the tournament since 2002 are all from the continent, and a non-European side other than Brazil has not triumphed since Argentina won on home soil in 1986.
The biggest nations in UEFA tend to habitually qualify for the World Cup, although there have been some notable absentees in recent years – Italy and the Netherlands in 2018, for example. The qualification process for Qatar is already underway and will be concluded in March. Here is everything you need to know about UEFA World Cup qualifying 2022.
Odds taken from bet365.
|Group A: Portugal||-400
|Group B: Spain||-350
|Group C: Italy||-350
|Group D: France||-800
|Group E: Belgium||-1200
|Group F: Denmark||-400
|Group G: Netherlands||-163
|Group H: Croatia||+100
|Group I: England||-1600
|Group J: Germany||-600
It is rare to get major shocks in the UEFA section of World Cup qualifying. The draws are seeded, so Europe’s strongest national teams are kept apart. Ten matches are played in the group stage, which gives the heavyweight sides the chance to recover from a stumble or two. Of the 10 favorites listed above, it would be a major surprise if more than one did not qualify for the World Cup by topping their group.
Croatia, available at +100, are the most vulnerable according to the bookmakers. They are in a group with Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus, all of whom have taken at least four points from their opening four matches. That suggests each side is capable of taking points off everyone in the group, but Croatia should still squeeze through in top spot.
The Netherlands, available at just -163 to qualify as group winners, could also be in for a tough battle. At the time of writing they are below Turkey in the standings, while Montenegro and Norway also look competitive. If any of the European powerhouses are to miss out on first place, it could be the Dutch.
World Cup qualifying in UEFA is one of the more simple processes, especially compared to Asia (AFC) and North America, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF). All 55 teams enter at the same stage. They are divided into six pots based on their position in the FIFA World Rankings. Pot 1 contains the strongest sides – for 2022 qualifying that was Belgium, France, England, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands.
A draw is then held for the group stage. One side from each pot is picked out to go in each of the 10 groups. Because there are only five national teams in Pot 6, five groups contain five countries and the other five groups will contain six.
Each team plays against the others in the group home and away, giving a total of 10 or 12 games depending on the size of the group. The teams are ranked in a league table format, and the side that finishes top of each group automatically qualifies for the World Cup.
The 10 teams that finish second in their groups have another shot at securing a place at the tournament. They go through to the second round, where they are joined by two sides that finished top of their group in the 2020/21 Nations League.
These 12 countries are split into three equal groups of four that are known as Path A, Path B, and Path C. Each Path hosts its own mini-tournament consisting of semi-finals and a final. The winners of the Path A, Path B, and Path C finals qualify for the World Cup.
Thirteen teams from UEFA will qualify for the 2022 World Cup. That means Europe will be the best-represented nation at the competition, with around 40 percent of the participants coming from the continent.
The World Cup will be expanded to 48 teams for the 2026 edition, which will be held in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Europe will have 16 spots, which represents 33 percent of the total.
|UEFA National Team||Number of World Cups|
Germany and Italy are the most successful European nations in World Cup history, having each lifted the trophy on four occasions. France are two-time winner and the current holders, while Spain and England have won one World Cup each.
A total of 34 UEFA-affiliated national teams have taken part in a World Cup, including now-defunct sides like East Germany. Twenty-two of UEFA’s current members has never qualified for a World Cup, from Luxembourg (who have attempted to do so 20 times) to Kosovo (who have attempted to do so just once).
Soccer fans based in the United States can watch UEFA World Cup qualifying on ESPN. Matches will be held during the international breaks in September, October, November, and March.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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