By Hisham Al Gizouli
The football stars will come down from the skies when the masters of the game descend on Doha towards the end of the year to make history. The 2022 Qatar edition will be the first tournament hosted in the Middle East and the first to be held at the end of the calendar year in November and December.
The competition will feature 32 teams before the field expands to 48 teams for the 2026 World Cup. Joining host nation Qatar at the tournament will be 31 other countries that will earn a ticket to the big dance through regional qualifying matches. It has been predetermined how many nations will qualify from each region:
- Africa (CAF): 5
- Asia (AFC): 4 (plus 1 playoff qualifier)
- Europe (UEFA): 13
- North/Central America & Caribbean (CONCACAF): 3 (plus 1 playoff qualifier)
- Oceania (OFC): 1 playoff qualifier
- South America (CONMEBOL): 4 (plus 1 playoff qualifier)
Two intercontinental playoff matches played in June 2022, featuring one nation from each of four different regions, will determine the final two qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup: Asia vs. South America, and North America vs. Oceania.
When does the World Cup start?
Inaugural matches: Monday, Nov. 21, 2022
World Cup final: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022
The 2022 FIFA World Cup will kick off on a Monday with four matches in Qatar.
The World Cup final will still be held on a Sunday, as per tradition. The trophy will be hoisted by the winner on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022.
A total of 15 of 32 teams have officially qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, including the host nation. That leaves 17 spots to be filled in the upcoming months.
In addition to host nation Qatar, there have been 10 nations from Europe to qualify for the tournament. Brazil was the first to earn a berth from South America with five qualifying matches left and it was joined by Argentina. The first team from Asia to mathematically clinch a berth through qualifying was Iran, and it was followed by South Korea. Saudi Arabia and Japan have a leg up for the first two spots. A decimated Australia side look like it might have to settle for third place and the playoff path to avoid missing its first World Cup since 2002, but they need to beat the possible contender UAE from the other group.
Meanwhile, after intense rounds which saw the participation of all 54 CAF Member Associations, ten (10) teams are still in contention for the five African places at the prestigious world tournament.
The first leg of the last round is scheduled for 25 March 2022, while the second leg matches will be held on 29 March 2022, four days later.
Mali hope to win their first ticket for the World Cup. And to achieve this goal, the Malian FA has called for reinforcements on the Eagles’ bench, with the arrival of former internationals such as Frédéric Kanouté, Mohamed Lamine Sissoko, Eric Chelle and Seydou Keita to support current coach Mohamed Magassouba.
For countries like Cameroon, the African nation holding the record for participation in the World Cup with 7 appearances, or Nigeria with their 6 appearances, it will first be a question of extending their records.
Morocco and Tunisia have participated in the world tournament five times and hope to return to the world stage.
These are three participations each for the Black Stars of Ghana and the Pharaohs of Egypt. And why not a fourth appearance?
African Champions Senegal are still on cloud nine and a third participation in World Cup after 2002 and 2018 will be the icing on the cake.
As for Algeria, they are aiming to revive after an early elimination from the TotalEnergies AFCON 2021. What could be better than a quest for a place in the FIFA World Cup?
DR Congo (then Zaire) got a glimpse of World Cup in 1974. 48 years later, The Leopards are ready to return.
The final round of CONCACAF qualification consists of an eight-team round robin group with the top three finishers qualifying directly. The fourth-placed finisher advances to the June intercontinental playoff against a team from Oceania.
With three matches remaining, Canada currently tops the group and is one win away from making its first men’s World Cup since 1986. Regional powers USA and Mexico are neck-and-neck behind Les Rouges. They are likely to be the top three barring any major surprises.
Fourth place, which guarantees the finisher a June playoff spot, looks to be down to Panama and Costa Rica. El Salvador is barely hanging on, and Jamaica and Honduras are out.
The South American region (a confederation known as CONMEBOL) only sports one round of World Cup qualifying, with all 10 registered confederations eligible to take part.
It makes for a marathon round-robin schedule of 18 matches with the top four booking direct tickets to Qatar, and fifth place heading to an intercontinental playoff.
Brazil and Argentina have dominated this competition and Ecuador look set to join them in Qatar. Uruguay, Peru and Chile are all battling for the final spot, while Colombia is hoping to do enough to at least come away with fifth place.
Europe has three remaining World Cup berths and three different single-elimination knockout brackets will determine which nation claims them. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has led to changes that have impacted two of those three brackets.
FIFA disqualified the Russian team, as the world governing body took a stance on the nation’s decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24. Poland was set to face Russia and will instead get direct passage to one of three World Cup playoff finals, hosting the winner of Sweden vs. Czech Republic.
The war has also prevented Ukraine from fielding a team in March, and FIFA granted its request to move its playoff match against Scotland to June. For that reason, the last World Cup berth in Europe will be awarded in June. The winner of March’s Wales vs. Austria match will wait until then to host the winner of Scotland vs. Ukraine.
Italy and Portugal were both drawn into the third bracket, meaning at least one of the European powers is guaranteed to miss out on a spot in the World Cup.
There are no direct qualifiers from the Oceania region. Its qualification format grants one winner a spot in June’s intercontinental playoff.
Eight nations are split into two groups of four. After three group matches, the top two finishers advance to a small four-team knockout bracket, with the final played on March 30. That champion will earn a spot in the intercontinental playoffs.
New Zealand is usually considered the overwhelming favorite in this group of small island nations, which has been the case since Australia made the switch to join the Asian confederation.
After the FIFA World Cup Draw on April 1 there will still be three spots left to be claimed, including the final two berths via the FIFA intercontinental playoffs.
The intercontinental playoffs pit four teams from different regions that were drawn together in two winner-take-all matchups: Asia vs. South America and North America vs. Oceania.
These used to be a two-leg affair with each team hosting one of the legs. But due to fixture congestion related to the COVID-19 pandemic, both series were pushed from March to June and reduced to a single match on neutral territory in Qatar, the site of the 2022 World Cup finals.