Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Europe's Back in Action

A TRIO OF UEFA QUALIFIERS IN THE RACE FOR QATAR 2022

Qatar 2022
Qatar 2022

The first European international action since Euro 2020 has been a welcome return to normal service after the empty stadia of the summer and the fire and fury of the final day in London.

After the belated Euros, they halfway point in the World Cup qualifiers reminds us that Qatar 2022 is only 14 months away, a wake-up call that places are up for grabs.

With only the first in each qualifying group guaranteed a place in the finals, as it stands the UEFA representatives at the World Cup finals next year will be:

PORTUGAL, SPAIN, ITALY, FRANCE, BELGIUM, DENMARK, ITALY, NETHERLANDS, CROATIA, ENGLAND and GERMANY.

That is pretty much the usual suspects, but there will also be three other European qualifiers, drawn from a repechage featuring the ten second-place sides and two Nations League group winners.

The Azzurri surprisingly drew twice, still hungover from their glorious summer perhaps, but woke up by thumping Lithuania 5-0 in their third joust. Top of their group, Italy could still be pipped at the post by Switzerland for automatic qualification for Qatar.

Losing Euro finalists England have scored ten in three games with one in reply, picking up more smoothly from their ultimately unsuccessful summer campaign.

The Three Lions' 4-0 win in Budapest was an impressive scoreline but what on earth were Hungary doing sitting back from the start instead of tapping into the raucous crowd in the Ferenk Puskas Arena which had helped them so much in the Euros?

European Qualifiers
The Road to Qatar

Parking the bus and hoping for a lucky break makes sense if you are the calibre of Andorra, Gibraltar, Lichtenstein et al but not if you took points off France and Germany only a few weeks ago.

Gareth Southgate's star waned a little when England conceded an injury-time equaliser against Poland this evening, having oddly passed on making any substitutions to use up the dying seconds.

Of the other Euro stars, semi-finalists Denmark are the only side with maximum points from the first six games. Seven points clear of Scotland, the Roligans can reasonably start planning a winter getaway in the Middle East next year.

Spain, Euro 2020 semi-finalists, looked set to be leapfrogged on top of Group B by Sweden, who beat La Roja 2-1 in Stockholm, inflicting La Roja's first World Cup qualifying loss since 1993, but the Scandinavians surprisingly lost 2-1 at home to Greece on Wednesday to leave the gap at four points with two games in hand.

The most unlikely second-placed team in the UEFA qualifiers is probably Armenia in Group J, four points behind Germany after home wins over Iceland and Romania, but a disappointing home draw against Liechtenstein.

With only the group winners guaranteed a place in Qatar, Group G is finely poised with the Dutch and Norwegians level on points, as is the case in Group H with Croatia and Russia tied at the top.

Portugal, with the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo aiming for a final World Cup next year, lead Serbia by two points in Group A.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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