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With the places for the 2022 World Cup now finalised, let’s look back at the qualification process. Notably, this is the last tournament that will feature just 32 teams before that number is increased to 48 when Canada, United States and Mexico play hosts in 2026. 

Countries across the globe play out their qualification under their respective confederations. This year UEFA will have the greatest representation, with 13 European nations heading to Qatar in the Middle East

CONMEBOL (South America) will be represented by four teams, CAF (Africa) will bring five, another five teams will arrive from AFC (Asia) and a further four will fly in from CONCACAF (North America). As the host nation, Qatar, qualify automatically for their first ever tournament.

24 countries heading to Qatar were also present in 2018 in Russia. Qatar become the first hosts to make their debut at the prestigious tournament since Italy in 1934.

Let us examine each of these confederations as we look to gain an insight into who could be the strong performers at the tournament in Qatar this winter and who are some of the surprise omissions.

Qatar (Host Nation)

Qatar makes their debut at the World Cup – entering as hosts. Ranked 51st under world rankings many fans and pundits have already written off their chances before a ball has even been kicked, but with home nation support, we may be in for a surprise. 

UEFA (Europe)

Qualified Nations: Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Wales

One of the pre-tournament favourites, Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions booked their place in Qatar with an emphatic qualification, culminating in a 10-0 thrashing of European minnows San Marino.

Current holders, France will also arrive high on confidence – another team who finished top of their qualifying group.

The Netherlands, who missed out at the 2018 tournament make a return and are joined by Wales, who came through a play-off match with Ukraine and head to the tournament after a record 64-year gap – their last appearance coming in 1958.

We can’t not mention Italy. The reigning European Champions and four-time World Cup holders made history as they missed out on a second successive tournament after falling short to North Macedonia in the play-offs. This left Portugal a relatively easy route through the play-offs after being shocked by Serbia who secured an automatic spot.

Denmark’s route to the final caught the eye of many, with coach Kasper Hjulmand proving he’s not afraid of making bold choices. After opening their qualification with a 2-0 win against Israel, he then proceeded to swap all ten outfield players for their next match against Moldova – an 8-0 thrashing proved him right as he keeps us all guessing as to which team will take the field in Qatar.

CONMEBOL (South America)

Qualified Nations: Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay

The first South American side to book their place in the finals was unaspiringly, Brazil. The five-time winners eased past Columbia with a 1-0 win and clinched top spot with 45 points. They are joined by previous winners and one of the tournament favourites, Argentina, who finished second. Under the leadership of a new coach, it was Uruguay who took up third spot. The final automatic place went to Ecuador who made it thanks to an excellent home record, seeing them lose only once to Peru. Two of the bigger countries to miss this year’s tournament include Columbia and Chile, both of which are left with much to think about.

AFC (Asia)

Qualified Nations: Australia, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea

The first two nations through in Asia qualification were Iran and South Korea who secured the top two places. They were quickly joined by Saudi Arabia and Japan who managed to avoid the tricky play-offs. On the journey, Japan notched up an impressive 14-0 triumph over Mongolia, a match their fans will remember for years to come. This year, it was Australia who booked the last spot – coming past Peru in a tense penalty shootout in the inter-continental play off to secure their spot.

CONCACAF (North, Central America, and Caribbean)

Qualified Nations: Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, USA

Qualifying for only their second World Cup since 1986 is Canada who topped the CONCACAF Qualification, sailing through with relative if not unexpected ease. Coach Gregg Berhalter’s USA finally progressed with a match to spare but there was a disappointing defeat to Panama and draws with Jamaica and El Salvador that will give the squad plenty to work on if they are to make their mark on the competition.  Mexico secured the remaining automatic spot leaving Costa Rica to come up successful in a play-off match with New Zealand.

CAF (Africa)

Qualified Nations: Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia

The rivalry between Egypt and Senegal once again came to the forefront in African qualification as the match came down to penalties, as it did in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations between to the two sides earlier in the year. Unfortunately for Mohamed Salah and his Egyptian teammates the result was familiar with Senegal coming out on top.

Tunisia came past Mali and Morocco came past the Democratic Republic of Congo to book their spots. A surprise omission is Nigeria who sadly miss out after qualifying for the previous three tournaments. However, Cameroon will be looking for a strong tournament after beating Algeria in extra time and coming out as winners on the away goal rule.

World Cup Draw Pots

To maintain competitiveness across the World Cup groups, updated their rankings in March 2022 and split the teams into separate pots ahead of the draw, which took place on April 01st. The 32 teams were split into four pots of eight. The groups are then made up of teams from each of the four pots. As per tradition, Qatar were placed into Pot 1 as tournament hosts.

Players to Keep an Eye On

Throughout qualification, there have been several fantastic individual performances but here are a few players that may just star at this year’s tournament based on qualification successes:

Felix Torres, Ecuador – The 24-year-old defender took part in seven of the nation’s 13 qualifying matches and helped them keep a clean sheet in five. His sense of calm and control was pivotal for Ecuador, and he’s even chipped in with the odd goal.

Aleksandr Mitrovic, Serbia – The striker is in a rich run of form and racked up eight goals in only five starts for his nation during qualification. His most talked about contribution was his 90th minute winner against Portugal to secure automatic qualification to the finals in front of a capacity crowd at the Estadio da Luz.

Nico Schlotterbeck, Germany – After securing a transfer to big hitters Borussia Dortmund from SC Freiburg, Schlotterbeck has been putting in some impressive performances for both club and country. Expected to be a key starter, he provides coach Flick with the option to play multiple systems thanks to his dynamic skillset and assurance on the ball allowing the team to build on the progressive style Germany enjoy playing.

All Set for the Tournament

So, there we have it. After a qualification process that originally started on 6th June 2019, we’re now all set for the tournament with the 32 teams ready to battle it out. Will countries be able to carry their form from qualifiers or will the energy of the tournament bring out the inner fight in some of our smaller nations? Let the games begin and the drama unfold.

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