The last two matchdays of UEFA’s group stage qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 concluded on Tuesday, with the 10 section winners all reserving their spots at the finals.
Qualified: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, England, France, Croatia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Serbia, Spain
The 10 group runners-up plus the two best UEFA Nations League group winners will contest the play-offs in search of the continent’s three remaining World Cup berths.
Play-offs: Italy, North Macedonia, Austria (via the Nations League), Czech Republic (via the Nations League), Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, Wales
FIFA.com takes a closer look at the events of the final two rounds of group stage fixtures.
After being held to a goalless draw by Republic of Ireland, Portugal only needed another draw against Serbia on the final day to secure automatic qualification to Qatar 2022. However, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 90th-minute header earned Serbia a 2-1 victory, the first time Portugal failed to take three points in a home World Cup qualifier since October 2013.
Sweden slipped up against Georgia – and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic of all people back in the starting line-up. The 2-0 reverse meant they relinquished top spot in the group to Spain, who triumphed in Greece thanks to a Pablo Sarabia penalty. That left the Scandinavians needing to win in Spain on the last matchday, but Alvaro Morata’s 86th-minute strike to crown his 50th international appearance ensured it was La Roja who booked their World Cup spot with a 1-0 success, extending their run of participating at every finals since 1978.
Italy fans could be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu after the reigning European champions missed out on automatic World Cup qualification again following draws with Switzerland and Northern Ireland to surrender top spot in Group C. Switzerland, by way of contrast, celebrated a 4-0 victory over Bulgaria on the final matchday to seal their place at a fifth consecutive World Cup. Nati goalkeeper Yann Sommer played a key role in that, with Jorginho missing a penalty, just as he had done in the reverse fixture. The Italian blazed his spot-kick over Sommer’s goal in the 90th minute in Rome, with the score at 1-1.
Kylian Mbappe struck four times in France’s 8-0 win over Kazakhstan to confirm the defending champions’ place at Qatar 2022 with a game to spare. The last player to score four goals in a single match for Les Bleus was Just Fontaine in the play-off for third place against Germany at the 1958 World Cup. The battle for the runners-up spot between Ukraine and Finland went down to the wire, with the former ultimately making the play-offs thanks to their victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina coupled with France’s win in Finland.
The FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking leaders Belgium rubberstamped their ticket to Qatar with a game to spare after beating Estonia 3-1 on the penultimate matchday. Wales superstar Gareth Bale celebrated his 100th international cap in his side’s 5-1 success over Belarus, before the Welsh earned a 1-1 draw with the Red Devils to take the runners-up spot, one point ahead of Czech Republic.
Denmark had already reserved their spot at the World Cup as section winners going into their final fixtures, but were unable to complete a perfect campaign on two counts. They conceded their first goal in the 3-1 win over Faroe Islands, before losing their first game in a 2-0 reverse to Scotland on the final day. The Scots had already made sure of second place with a 2-0 victory over Moldova in their previous assignment, and their final tally of 23 points made Steve Clarke’s men the best runners-up in European qualifying.
The Netherlands could have confirmed their seat at the World Cup table with victory over Montenegro on the penultimate matchday, but only managed a 2-2 draw. That set up a three-way tussle for top spot between the Oranje, Norway and Turkey on the final day. The Dutch edged past Norway 2-0, while Turkey defeated Montenegro 2-1 under new coach Stefan Kuntz to take the play-off spot.
Croatia had a sprint finish in reserve to conclude in their Group H campaign in first place, a 7-1 triumph over Malta preceding a 1-0 win over direct rivals Russia. A late own goal from Fedor Kudryashov undid what until that point had been a solid defensive display from Russia, who ended up in second place.
England scored 15 times in their final two matches to earn their berth at Qatar 2022 in some style. The Three Lions overcame Albania 5-0 before putting ten without reply past San Marino to end the campaign as the highest-scoring European side with 39 in ten games. On the subject of goals, Poland superstar and reigning The Best FIFA Men’s Player Robert Lewandowski netted his seventh and eighth of these qualifiers in a 4-1 win over Andorra that sealed runners-up spot in the section. Only Harry Kane and Memphis Depay (both 12) found the net more often than the Polish sharpshooter.
Four-time World Cup champions Germany went into their last two matches already crowned as group winners, but Die Mannschaft nevertheless refused to ease up. They beat Liechtenstein 9-0 as World Cup-winning coach Joachim Low was given an official farewell, before recording a seventh win in as many games under Hansi Flick with a 4-1 triumph over Armenia, thereby setting a new record for the most successful start as a Germany head coach. The race for second place remained tense until the end as North Macedonia, Romania and Armenia jostled for supremacy. Ultimately North Macedonia took the honours thanks to wins over Armenia (5-1) and Iceland (3-1), keeping alive their hopes of a maiden World Cup appearance.
Play-offs: North Macedonia
Play-off semi-finals: Thursday 24 March 2022
Play-off finals: Tuesday 29 March 2022
Kick-off times will be confirmed after the draw, which takes place on Friday 26 November.