World Cup 2022 qualifiers – all you need to know about September’s games

World Cup 2022 qualifiers – all you need to know about September’s games

The first international break of the season is upon us, with national sides picking up where they left off five months ago in their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaigns.

Starting on Wednesday, over the next seven days, 55 countries will compete in 75 qualifying matches (with a few friendlies on top) to help decide who will compete in the finals in Qatar in November and December next year.

Each nation has played at least two qualifiers already, with many having played three, meaning we will have a much clearer idea of who might make it and who might not by 8 September.

So what exactly does this international break have in store for us and what’s the state of play in the groups?

How do World Cup qualifiers work in Europe?

The 55 Uefa nations have been divided into 10 groups – five groups of five countries and five groups containing six.

There are 13 finals places up for grabs for the European nations, 10 of which go to the group winners.

The runners-up in each group go through to the play-offs, along with the best two Nations League sides that finished outside the top two of their World Cup qualifying group.

These 12 are then drawn into three play-off paths containing a semi-final and final, with the three winners qualifying for the World Cup tournament in Qatar.

With games having already been played in March of this year, this process is already under way.

How are the home nations faring?

England could not have made a better start to an admittedly straightforward-looking Group I campaign.

Gareth Southgate’s side top the group with three wins out of three, having hammered San Marino 5-0, won 2-0 in Albania and then secured a 2-1 victory over arguably their strongest rival in the group, Poland.

Since those results, they have experienced the highs of reaching the final of Euro 2020 and the crushing low of losing on penalties to Italy.

Games in Hungary on Thursday, against Andorra at Wembley on Sunday and in Poland the following Wednesday give the Three Lions the chance to prove there is no lasting Euros hangover.

Northern Ireland have one point from two games played so far and desperately need points from their upcoming games.

Lithuania at home on Thursday is a good chance to achieve that, but they then face a tough away game at Switzerland, who have two wins from two, on 8 September.

Scotland are well-placed in Group F, with a win and two draws leaving them second on five points, but the next few days could go a long way to deciding their World Cup fate.

They have a tough assignment on Wednesday, with a trip to face Denmark, who top the group with a 100% win record from their three games to date.

They follow that with a another tricky trip to Austria, who drew 2-2 with Steve Clarke’s side at Hampden Park in March.

Wales’ assignment is a tough one, with Group E also containing Belgium and the Czech Republic.

This international break gives them a good chance to steal a march on the top two, with Rob Page’s men travelling to Belarus on Sunday before hosting Estonia the following Wednesday.

How are Europe’s big teams faring?

Most of Europe’s big-hitters are where you would expect them to be – at or near the top of their respective tables.

Euro 2020 winners Italy are first in Group C with a 100% record, which they will be expected to maintain with home fixtures against Bulgaria and Lithuania coming up.

Sandwiched between these is a tricky trip to Switzerland but Roberto Mancini’s side will still be favourites for the win.

Portugal, Spain, France and Belgium – all top-10 sides in Fifa’s world rankings – top their groups.

The Republic of Ireland have a chance to throw a spanner in the Portuguese works when they face them in Faro on Wednesday.

In other significant games, Spain are away at Group B’s second-placed side Sweden on Thursday and Belgium host the side currently second in Group E, the Czech Republic, on Sunday.

Things could get interesting in Group G, which is topped by Turkey on seven points, with the Netherlands, Montenegro and Norway all on six.

Over the next seven days, the Netherlands – who recently appointed Louis van Gaal as boss for the third time – face all three of the other aforementioned nations.

Germany, now managed by Hansi Flick after Joachim Lowe stepped down following Euro 2020, also have a bit of work to do in Group J.

March’s shock 2-1 home loss to North Macedonia leaving them with ground to make up on leaders Armenia, who they host on Sunday, sandwiched between trips to Liechtenstein and Iceland.

Where can I follow the games on the BBC?

The BBC Sport website will have live text commentary of all the games featuring the home nations, which will include updates from games featuring other countries.

You will also be able to follow home nations games on various BBC radio stations…

Listen to home nations World Cup qualifiers on the BBC
Date Game Station/s
1 September Denmark v Scotland BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Scotland
2 September Hungary v England BBC Radio 5 Live
Lithuania v Northern Ireland BBC Radio Ulster
4 September Scotland v Moldova BBC Scotland
5 September Belarus v Wales BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru
England v Andorra BBC Radio 5 Live
7 September Austria v Scotland BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Scotland
8 September Northern Ireland v Switzerland BBC Radio Ulster
Poland v England BBC Radio 5 Live
Wales v Estonia BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru

Can players travel freely in the pandemic?

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact world football.

Under current UK government rules, players would be forced to miss several games because of the 10-day isolation period required on return to the UK from red-list countries.

This would mainly affect players travelling for games in Africa and South America. Montenegro and Turkey are currently on the list in Europe.

Premier League clubs unanimously decided last week not to release players for World Cup qualifying and friendly matches in red-list countries. However, some are allowing players to travel.

Tottenham pair Giovani lo Celso and Cristian Romero are set to travel home to Argentina, meaning they will miss three Tottenham games because of UK quarantining requirements.

Aston Villa have also said their two Argentina internationals, goalkeeper Emi Martinez and midfielder Emi Buendia, will travel to South America for the first two qualifiers, but miss the third against Bolivia, meaning they will only be unavailable for one club game, against Chelsea on 11 September.

Fifa recently extended the September and October international windows by two days in South America to enable countries to catch up on World Cup qualifiers postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Because of the time difference, players involved in those games may not return to the UK until Saturday, 11 September, when eight Premier League matches are scheduled to take place.

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