WORLD CUP DRAW LIVE COVERAGE HERE
All of a sudden, a World Cup that always felt years away is creeping up on us.
And once we know the groups, it’ll feel much, much more real.
The draw for the 2022 Qatar World Cup is set to be held this weekend, streamed on FIFA’s website early on Saturday morning Australian time - and on the plus side, the Socceroos are technically in the draw.
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Australia now knows it must beat both the UAE and Peru to qualify for its fifth consecutive World Cup group stage, but having to go through the playoff stage will make the Aussies’ group - if they get there - even harder.
By the time the draw is conducted this weekend, 29 nations will have qualified, with the two inter-confederation playoff winners plus the final European qualifier (Wales, Scotland or Ukraine) to be decided in June during the international window.
The inter-confederation playoffs will be held on June 13 or 14 in Qatar, with the Asian playoff winner facing the South American fifth-place side, and the North American fourth-place side facing the Oceanic representative.
Placeholders will be used for those three remaining slots in Saturday’s draw, so we’ll know who Australia could be facing in late November. And this is how we’ll find out.
HOW WILL THE DRAW BE CONDUCTED?
The World Cup draw will take place at 3am AEDT on Saturday April 2 in Doha, Qatar (7pm April 1 local time).
The 29 qualified teams will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking as of March 31, with the exception of hosts Qatar, who automatically take the A1 spot in Pot 1.
The fourth pot will include the five lowest-ranked qualifiers plus placeholders for the two inter-confederation playoff winners and the remaining European playoff winner.
The Pot 1 teams will be drawn first, each placed in their own group, before moving onto Pot 2 and so forth.
Teams from the same confederation will be kept apart with the exception of Europe, which has 13 teams, meaning five of the eight groups will have two European teams.
The placeholders for the inter-confederation playoff winners (Asia v South America, North America v Oceania) will also be kept away from their confederation representatives.
WHICH TEAMS WILL BE PLACED IN EACH QUALIFYING POT?
Pot 1: Qatar (hosts), Brazil, Belgium, France, Argentina, England, Spain, Portugal
Pot 2: Mexico, United States, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, Croatia, Uruguay
Pot 3: Senegal, Iran, Japan, Morocco, Serbia, Poland, South Korea, Tunisia
Pot 4: Canada, Cameroon, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, (Final European qualifier), (Asia v South America playoff winner), (North America v Oceania playoff winner)
Portugal’s win over North Macedonia saw it lock up the final spot in Pot 1, leaving Germany and the Netherlands as arguably the most dangerous sides in Pot 2 who chould end up creating groups of death.
Canada failed to move up from Pot 4 into Pot 3 after it lost its final CONCACAF qualifying match to Panama.
Each group will include one team from each pot.
HOW DO THE RULES AROUND KEEPING CONFEDERATIONS APART IMPACT THE SOCCEROOS?
Australia, if it qualifies via the inter-confederation playoffs, would already be kept away from Asian teams (Qatar, Iran, South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia).
But due to the placeholder rule mentioned above, it appears Australia would be kept away from South American teams as well.
While the order of the draw may make this impossible, if the rules are followed exactly as written, the Socceroos could not be in a group featuring Brazil or Argentina.
That rules out three teams from Pot 1, meaning Australia would be drawn with one of Belgium, France, England, Spain or Portugal.
WHO HAS QUALIFIED FOR THE 2022 WORLD CUP?
Ten countries qualified last year by winning their group in the first stage of UEFA qualifying: Germany, Denmark, France, Belgium, Croatia, Spain, Serbia, England, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Another 12 nations qualified for three mini-knockout tournaments to claim the remaining spots, with Poland defeating Sweden and Portugal surviving against North Macedonia on Wednesday morning.
The final spot will be won by either Wales, Scotland or Ukraine.
The Welsh defeated Austria last week but given the invasion by Russia, Ukraine’s match with Scotland has been rescheduled until the June international break. The winner of that match will then face Wales.
Of note, Euro winners Italy failed to qualify after losing 1-0 to North Macedonia, while Russia was excluded due to its invasion of Ukraine and not permitted to face Poland last week.
As Australian fans are frustratingly aware, the Socceroos failed to progress automatically from their six-team group in the third stage of AFC qualifying.
South Korea and Iran dominated in Group A, with the UAE claiming third place on the final matchday via its 1-0 win over the Koreans.
In Group B, Australia’s two losses to Japan combined with costly late equalisers conceded against China and Oman saw them relegated to third, behind the Japanese and Saudi Arabia.
Australia will face the UAE in a one-game playoff on June 7 (potentially June 8 AEST), for the right to face South American fifth-placers Peru a week later for a spot in Qatar.
Graham Arnold’s side should be warm favourites, on paper, to get past UAE who have a world ranking in the low 70s, but Peru (ranked in the low 20s, roughly where Japan sits) poses a much larger threat.
As expected Brazil and Argentina qualified easily out of the trademark 10-team CONMEBOL double round-robin, with Ecuador (back after missing 2018) and Uruguay locking up their spots last week.
Peru’s 2-0 win over Paraguay saw it hold off Colombia, who also won on the last match-day, for fifth place and the inter-confederation playoffs spot, earning a single match against either Australia or the UAE in Qatar this June.
The ever-tricky CAF qualifiers concluded on Wednesday morning, with five nations clutching out wins in their two-legged ties.
In a rematch of the Africa Cup of Nations final, Senegal defeated Egypt on penalties - with thanks to some laser pointers - while Cameroon took down Algeria in extra time.
Ghana advanced past Nigeria on away goals, Morocco swept past DR Congo and Tunisia held off a Mali side trying to qualify for its first World Cup.
The results mean only three of 2018’s African qualifiers (Egypt, Senegal, Tunisia, Nigeria and Morocco) were able to repeat. Cameron and Ghana are back for the first time since 2014.
Canada had already qualified for its first World Cup since 1986, with the USA and Mexico joining them on the final day of CONCACAF qualifying on Thursday (AEDT).
After defeating the USA by two goals but not the required six, Costa Rica claimed a spot in the inter-confederation playoffs, where it will face Oceania representative New Zealand.
New Zealand eased past the Solomon Islands in a one-match decider in Qatar to again become the OFC representative in the inter-confederation playoffs.
The Kiwis will face the fourth-place team from CONCACAF, Costa Rica.
No OFC team has qualified since New Zealand in 2010, with the All Whites losing to Mexico in the 2014 inter-confederation playoffs, then Peru in 2018.
No nation other than New Zealand has represented the OFC in the playoffs since Australia left to join Asia.
WHEN IS THE 2022 WORLD CUP?
The World Cup will begin on Monday November 21, with Qatar to host the opening match of Group A at 9PM AEDT.
During the group stage matches will begin at 9pm, midnight, 3am and 6am AEDT.
The final simultaneous kick-off group stage games and knockout stage games will begin at 2am and 6am AEDT, with the final at 2am.
Group stage: November 21 to December 3
Round of 16: December 4 to 7
Quarter-finals: December 10 and 11
Semi-finals: December 14 and 15
Third-place playoff: December 18
World Cup final: December 19
WHO WILL WIN THE WORLD CUP?