ZURICH (Reuters) -The last two European champions, Italy and Portugal, could face off for a spot at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after they were drawn on Friday in the same path for the playoffs.
The 12 teams — 10 of which finished runners-up in their groups — were split into three four-team paths, each with its own semi-finals and final. Seeded teams were guaranteed a home game in the semi-finals.
The winning team from each path qualifies for the World Cup in Qatar, meaning Italy and Portugal cannot both reach the tournament.
Italy, who won the Euros earlier this year, and 2016 European champions Portugal will play their semi-final games at home against North Macedonia and Turkey, respectively.
Should the two heavyweights advance, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will have home advantage in the final.
“It could have been a little better,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini told RAI2.
“As we would have gladly avoided them (Portugal), probably they too would have avoided us. We will have to play a great match (against North Macedonia), then we will see in the final.”
“It could have been a little better, for sure.” Italy coach Roberto Mancini told RAI2. “We are confident and positive, especially in the more difficult moments.
“As we would have gladly avoided them [Portugal], probably they too would have avoided us. We will have to play a great match [against North Macedonia], then we will see in the final.”
Italy — who beat England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final earlier this year — are hoping to banish the memories of their play-off heartache from four years ago when they lost to Sweden and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
Portugal have featured at every major championship since missing out on the 1998 World Cup.
Wales, who are looking to make their first World Cup in 64 years, were drawn in the same path as Scotland, who have not qualified since 1998.
“We’ve given ourselves a great opportunity. We’ve worked ever so hard to finish second and get that home draw. We’ve got everything to play for,” Wales manager Robert Page told the BBC.
Older Wales fans still get high blood pressure thinking about the 1977 World Cup qualifier with Scotland.
Played at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium, the Scots took the lead with a penalty awarded for handball even though replays showed it was Scotland striker Joe Jordan who handled.
Scotland won 2-0 to earn a place at the World Cup in Argentina the following year.
Eight years later, Scotland earned a vital draw in Cardiff to book a place at Mexico ‘86, but the celebrations were cut short after manager Jock Stein suffered a heart-attack on the touchline and died in the changing rooms shortly afterwards.
Scotland will welcome Ukraine to Glasgow in their semi-final game. Wales take on Austria in Cardiff, with the winners to have home advantage in the final.
Russia will host Poland for the right to face Sweden or the Czech Republic in their bracket final. Russia or Poland will host the final.
The Russians, who reached the 2018 quarter-finals as the host nation, have only ever lost one World Cup qualifier at home — against Germany in 2009.
The six playoff semifinals will be played as single-leg elimination games March 24. The three finals are played five days later.
The three winners will complete Europes entry of 13 nations in the 32-team lineup in Qatar.
FIFA will make the tournament draw on April 1 in Doha.
FIFA also held the draw for the intercontinental playoffs where the Asian qualifier will play a team from South America while one from the CONCACAF region faces Oceania’s qualifier.
European Playoff Draw (Home side first):
Path ‘A’; Scotland v Ukraine, Wales v Austria
Path ‘B’: Russia v Poland, Sweden v Czech Republic
Path ‘C’: Italy v North Macedonia, Portugal v Turkey.
Intercontinental Playoff Draw: AFC team v CONMEBOL team, CONCACAF team v OFC team.