As Portugal and Italy face play-offs, where do World Cup contenders stand?

Saturday, November 20th, 2021 01:00 |
Portugal’s midfielder Renato Sanches (left) vies for the ball with Serbia’s defender Strahinja Pavlovic during their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification group A match at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, on November 14, 2021. AFP

Holders France hope to retain their title but the 2022 World Cup in Qatar could be missing the two most recent European champions as Portugal and Italy must both battle through play-offs to qualify.

That left fans with the prospect of no Cristiano Ronaldo in Qatar next winter and the Azzurri, who thrilled during their run to Euro 2020 glory, potentially missing out on two straight World Cups for the first time in their history.

Here AFP Sport looks at the state of play for some of the big guns who have booked their place on football’s biggest stage.


Les Bleus will be hoping for a more inspired defence of their world title than the performances they dished up at Euro 2020, which brought on a full-blown crisis following their humiliating elimination at the hands of Switzerland.

Winning the Nations League brought some enthusiasm back to Didier Deschamps’ side, as did the sterling performances from Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema which led them to the title.

However despite a wealth of world class talent France still seem to be less than the sum of their parts.


After reaching the last four at the last World Cup and losing the Euro final on penalties at Wembley, England’s talented pool of players should surely be one of the teams to beat in Qatar.

Top level players

Gareth Southgate has a bumper crop of top level players from which to fashion a team, which as expected eased through a mostly weak qualifying group.

However a safety-first approach has at times held back the Three Lions’ undoubted attacking threat, and one of Europe’s best strikers in Harry Kane, when the chips are down.


Luis Enrique’s faith in Spain’s seemingly endless conveyor belt of young talent looks to be paying off, with his team looking like a dark horse in Qatar after creditable showings both at the Euro and the Nations League.

Only beaten by France in the Nations League final thanks to superb saves from Hugo Lloris and an Mbappe goal which they thought should have been chalked off for offside, Spain impressed with their passing football and bold selection of inexperienced youngsters like Gavi in key roles.

The one thing they lack is a proven goalscorer, with Alvaro Morata still not convincing up top.


Hansi Flick has Germany firing again after taking charge of the team following their last-16 Euro 2020 exit at the hands of England, which brought down the curtain on Joachim Loew’s 15-year tenure.

More on Sports