Italy and Portugal will experience the steep road to Qatar on Friday during the draw for the 2022 World Cup play-offs in the Europe zone (5 p.m.), with the threat of a clash between them, or against Ibrahimovic’s Sweden. and Lewandowski’s Poland.
In Zurich, Fifa will draw both the European play-offs, scheduled for the end of March, but also in the wake of the draw for the intercontinental play-offs which will pit, next June, a team from Asia, another from Central America. and from the North, a third from South America and finally a selection from Oceania.
In Europe, three tickets remain to be filled for the twelve late selections who failed to finish at the top of their qualifying group.
To see Qatar (November 21 – December 18, 2022), they will have to win, at the end of March (March 24 and 29), one of three mini-tournaments with four played in dry matches, with semi-finals then final, a perilous format. which prohibits the slightest defeat.
The tension has risen a notch, even among the reigning European champions, the Italians, who since their coronation in July have been overcome by the fear of not qualifying for the World Cup, as in 2018. .
“Unconsciously, something has stuck,” admitted defender Leonardo Bonucci.
Second in her group behind Switzerland, the “Nazionale” recalls today the trauma of four years ago, when Sweden had blocked her way to the World Cup in Russia during the play-offs, then played under another format, in round-trip duels.
– “Ibra” and “Lewy” in scarecrows –
Like Italy, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal trembles before the draw, his morale being weighed down by the controversy around coach Fernando Santos.
The Portuguese press designated him as N.1 responsible for the defeat against Serbia (2-1), on the last day, which condemned the winners of Euro-2016 to go through the dams.
But Portugal has the experience of these meetings on a thread, having qualified in 2010 and 2014 by this way.
The two cadors have the assurance of playing their semi-final at home, thanks to their status as a top hat team.
But they can meet in the final … or fall on another selection broken at this level, like Sweden, quarter-finalist of the World Cup in 2018.
If the “Blagul” (Blue and Yellow) disappointed during the Euro, with an elimination from the eighth against Ukraine, it is a transformed team which should play in March, with the return of its talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic (40 years old), injured last summer.
“Ibra” is one of the big scarecrows in this draw, as is Poland striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored eight goals in the qualifiers.
– North Macedonia in Petit Poucet –
The star of Bayern Munich is all the more afraid that his selection appears in the second hat, being therefore a potential opponent from the half for Italy or Portugal.
Even away, “we have enough good players to beat a great team in one game,” said Poland coach Paulo Sousa of Portugal.
This one would perhaps prefer to fall on a more modest seed, like Wales, which has not played in the World Cup since 1958, Russia, or Scotland, which did not shine at the Euro.
Ukraine, Turkey and the Czech Republic, all in the second hat, also look with envy on these potential opponents, with the ambition to play the spoilsport of these “four-way finals”.
“It’s for the World Cup, we have to meet the (big) teams. It’s a challenge for which we will fight,” said Czech defender Jakub Brabec, who recalled that his selection beat Scotland in Glasgow during of the Euro (2-0).
Finally, North Macedonia, which discovered the Euro last summer but has never played in the World Cup, is also knocking on the door, with the status of Petit Poucet. At this stage, all dreams are still allowed.