Cristiano Ronaldo faces HUGE challenge as Portugal likely to face off Italy for a spot at FIFA World Cup 2022
The last two European champions, Italy and Portugal, could face off for a spot at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after they were drawn on Friday in the same path for the playoffs.
The 12 teams — 10 of which finished runners-up in their groups — were split into three four-team paths, each with its own semi-finals and final. Seeded teams were guaranteed a home game in the semi-finals.
The winning team from each path qualifies for the World Cup in Qatar, meaning Italy and Portugal cannot both reach the tournament.
The semi-finals are set for the European play-offs!
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 26, 2021
Italy, who won the Euros earlier this year, and 2016 European champions Portugal will play their semi-final games at home against North Macedonia and Turkey, respectively.
Should the two heavyweights advance, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will have home advantage in the final.
“It could have been a little better,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini told RAI2.
“As we would have gladly avoided them (Portugal), probably they too would have avoided us. We will have to play a great match (against North Macedonia), then we will see in the final.”
Failure to advance would be a major blow for four-time World Cup winners Italy, who did not reach the 2018 edition when they were knocked out by Sweden in the playoffs — the first time they had missed out on qualification in 60 years.
Meanwhile, Portugal captain Ronaldo, the leading scorer in men’s international football, has scored in the last four World Cups but the 36-year-old’s side must get past Turkey first.
“We can’t count them out. They always put on a fight against their rivals,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said of Turkey, refusing to discuss a potential final with Italy.
“We can’t look back and analyse now what they did in the Euros (where Turkey lost all three group games). We need to look in depth at the way they play, but what we really need is to be prepared to those matches.”
The playoff semi-finals and finals will be played from March 24-29.
EUROPEAN PLAYOFF DRAW (HOME SIDE FIRST)
Semi-final 1: Scotland v Ukraine
Semi-final 2: Wales v Austria
Semi-final 3: Russia v Poland
Semi-final 4: Sweden v Czech Republic
Semi-final 5: Italy v North Macedonia
Semi-final 6: Portugal v Turkey