World Cup play-off semi-final preview: Wales v Austria, Portugal v Turkey & more
The final three FIFA World Cup European places will be settled by the play-offs, with one-match semi-finals taking place on Thursday 24 March and two of the three finals scheduled for Tuesday 29 March.
UEFA.com is preparing for a dramatic week.
Scotland vs Ukraine (postponed, date TBC)
Wales vs Austria (8:45 p.m. CET)
Wales have made their presence felt at the last two EUROs, but a burning ambition remains to reach their first World Cup since 1958. A string of Welsh big names including Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs have have never had a chance to show their skills at the finals and Gareth Bale is desperate not to be added to the list, having admitted that these play-offs are probably his last chance to qualify.
“At the start of my career in Wales, the main thing was to play in a major tournament,” said the 32-year-old. “We managed to do that and now to be able to tick everything off the list would be qualifying for a World Cup. That’s huge for us and something that all of us players have dreamed of.” Austria will be equally determined, having not reached the final themselves since 1998.
Did you know?
Wales are unbeaten in their last 16 home games, their last defeat against Denmark in November 2018.
Finals – Tuesday, March 29, 2022
Path B: Poland vs Sweden/Czech Republic (20:45 CET)
Path C: Portugal/Turkey vs Italy/North Macedonia (20:45 CET)
Postponed, date to be confirmed
Path A: Wales/Austria vs Scotland/Ukraine
The 22nd final in Qatar will be the first World Cup not to take place in May, June or July; the tournament is instead scheduled for a reduced period between November 21 and December 18. The final draw will take place on Friday 1 April.
Sweden vs Czech Republic (8:45 p.m. CET)
Jaroslav Šilhavý’s men bode well as they head to Solna to take on the 2018 World Cup quarter-finalists. Although the Czech Republic have not reached the final since 2006, this latest appearance is the fruit of a successful shoot-off against a Scandinavian opponent – Norway having lost 2-0 on aggregate against Karel Brückner’s team.
The visitors have also reached the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2020, and Swedish coach Janne Andersson has no illusions about the task ahead for his side: “They beat the Netherlands in the summer and were knocked out by Denmark. They played a good EURO and are a strong footballing nation. It will be a tough game, but I don’t see it as harder or easier than playing any other nation.”
Did you know?
Sweden have won their last nine matches at Solna, scoring 18 goals and conceding just four.
Italy vs North Macedonia (8:45 p.m. CET)
The mere mention of the World Cup play-offs is enough to send shivers down the spines of most Italians. The four-time champions failed to reach the final for the first time since 1958 when they were knocked out by Sweden in the play-offs last time out, ending a streak of 14 straight grand ball appearances. However, the reset wrought by that setback was impressive as Roberto Mancini reinvigorated the nation and led them to glory last summer.
An adjustment will also be needed for North Macedonia if they want to inflict another shock exit on the Azzurri, according to their coach Blagoja Milevski: “Italy are the current European champions. They play different football and that makes the difficult things for all their opponents. Now for us, we have to adapt to the challenge.”
Did you know?
North Macedonia were one of the teams that hindered Italy’s bid to reach the 2018 World Cup, drawing 1-1 with the Azzurri in Turin after a 3-2 loss at home.
Portugal v Turkey (8:45 p.m. CET)
Portugal would probably have been bottom of the list of teams that Turkey hoped to draw in these play-offs, especially as the Seleção have won all five competitive encounters between these nations. The last of those came at UEFA EURO 2008, with Pepe opening the scoring in a 2-0 win in Geneva. So the story belongs to the home side, but Turkey are relishing their underdog status and have been on the rise – and unbeaten – since Stefan Kuntz took charge in September.
“Route C is definitely the most difficult,” said Kuntz, who won EURO 96 with Germany. “But the development of the team, the staff and the TFF since I’ve been there gives me hope. Our wish would be to bring the most important match [the play-off final] back to Turkey to see what we can accomplish.”
Did you know?
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo broke the world record for international goals during the qualifying campaign and now has 115 to his name.
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