Canada earns World Cup ticket as Italy fail to qualify
With 20 teams now qualified, the 2022 Qatar World Cup already looks very different from four years ago. While Canada returns to the tournament for the first time in 36 years, European champions Italy have been knocked out of the qualifying tournament.
Korea returns to the World Cup for a 10th consecutive tournament, having already qualified alongside Iran in the top two spots at the top of Group A in the third round of Asian qualifiers. As of press time, Korea still have one qualifier left to play against the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday evening, but the result will not affect the Taeguk Warriors qualification.
Perhaps the biggest story at this stage of World Cup qualification is the return of Canada for the first time since 1986. Canada beat Jamaica 4-0 on Sunday to guarantee their spot among the top three teams in the North, Central American and Caribbean section of qualifiers.
Led by British coach John Herdman, who has previously led the Canadian women's team to two Olympic medals, Canada now sit at the top of the qualifying table with 28 points. The United States, Mexico and Costa Rica are still in contention for the final two Concacaf spots.
Of the 20 teams qualified so far, World Cup hosts Qatar are the only one set to make their debut this year. Qatar automatically qualify as hosts and are drawn into the first spot in Group A. The rest of the World Cup draw will take place on Friday.
Alongside Qatar and Canada, the Netherlands and Ecuador both return to the tournament having not competed at the 2018 Russia World Cup.
The Netherlands earn their spot in Qatar after topping Group G in the UEFA qualifiers, beating out Turkey, Norway, Montenegro, Latvia and Gibraltar to qualify with seven wins, two draws and a loss. That turnaround follows a disappointing performance in 2018, when the Dutch team failed to advance after finishing third in their group behind France and Sweden.
Ecuador are guaranteed either a third- or fourth-place finish in the South American qualifying tournament, sitting on 25 points in the standing alongside Uruguay. As of press time the two countries were yet to play their final games on Tuesday, but with four teams set to qualify the final result is immaterial.
On the other side of the scorecard, Italy, winners of the 2020 Euros less than a year ago, have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the second tournament in a row. The shocking result comes as a particularly bitter spill to swallow for a country that is won of only three to win four or more World Cup titles.
A 1-0 loss to North Macedonia last week was the final nail in the coffin for the European champions, knocking them out of qualifying contention.
The other big absence from the 2018 World Cup is former hosts Russia, who have been banned from competing following the invasion of Ukraine.
A total of 32 teams will compete in Qatar. The remaining 12 spots will be filled over the next two days, with the final world ranking to be announced on Thursday. That ranking will be used to allocate the qualifying teams to pots for the World Cup draw to take place in Qatar on Friday.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]