THE World Cup play-offs are almost here and we now know that one of football’s giants will not make it to Qatar.

European champions Italy surprisingly failed to qualify for the tournament as qualifying group winners following a 0-0 draw in Northern Ireland.

And if they triumph at home to North Macedonia, they will meet Euro 2016 winners Portugal, or Turkey, in the play-off final.


Cristiano Ronaldo will need to guide Portugal to the Qatar World Cup via the play-offsCredit: AFP
European champions Italy will also have to brave the play-offs.


European champions Italy will also have to brave the play-offs.Credit: AFP

Meanwhile Scotland will have to go the play-off route if they are to qualify for the World Cup.

But their tie against Ukraine has been POSTPONED due to the Russian invasion of the Eastern European country.

FIFA have granted Ukraine’s request to push their previous scheduled date of March 24 further back to June.

This has resulted in the play-off final against either Austria or Wales being delayed too.

When are the World Cup qualifying play-offs?

The World Cup qualifying play-offs will take place during the next international break, which will be held from March 24 to March 29, 2022.

Twelve teams will enter the play-offs – the ten runners-up from World Cup qualifying plus the best placed Nations League group winners to have not yet qualified.

However, just THREE will advance to the World Cup.

The draw for the play-offs was held on November 26 and saw the six best placed teams in World Cup qualifying handed home semi-final ties

Garath Bale helped Wales to secure a first World Cup qualifying spot since 1958


Garath Bale helped Wales to secure a first World Cup qualifying spot since 1958Credit: AFP

World Cup play-off fixtures

The draw for the play-offs has now been made.

In each path, the winners of each semi-final will take on the other winners for a place in the World Cup.

As such, we could be looking at Scotland vs Wales and Italy vs Portugal for a place in the finals.

Path A

Thursday, March 24

*Ukraine have asked for their play-off in Scotland to be moved to June

Tuesday, March 29

Final – Wales/Austria vs Scotland/Ukraine – DELAYED

Path B

Thursday, March 24

Tuesday, March 29

Final – Poland** vs Sweden/Czech Republic

**Russia have been suspended by Fifa and will be eliminated from the World Cup subject to an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport

Path C

Thursday, March 24

Tuesday, March 29

  • Final – Portugal/Turkey vs Italy/North Macedonia

What happens next with the postponement of Scotland vs Ukraine?

Discussions are currently being held to sort out a new date which everyone involved can agree on.

The most likely time is expected to be within the window of the UEFA Nations League which takes place in June 2022.

Former Scotland international Mark McGhee agrees with FIFA’s decision to postpone the play-off semi-final.

The 64-year-old said: “I think it is the right decision, we have got to respect what is going on over there and how it affects their players.

“Ukraine deserve equal opportunity, maybe even more so in the circumstances and at the moment, it would be such a big ask for their players to come and play a game at that level.

“So I don’t think there is anything lost by it. Scotland fans obviously want to know what is happening but I think it is the right thing to do and I don’t think anyone at the Scottish FA will have a problem with that.”

Are there any other World Cup qualifying play-offs?

Yes. The inter-confederation play-offs will be held over a single leg in Qatar.

The ties will take place in June and will be as follows:

  • Asia fourth round winner vs South America fifth place
  • North America fourth place vs Oceania winner

Africa World Cup play-off fixtures

  • DR Congo vs Morocco (3pm) – Friday, March 25
  • Morocco vs DR Congo (8.30pm) – Tuesday, March 29
  • Mali vs Tunisia (5pm) – Friday, March 25
  • Tunisia vs Mali (8.30pm) – Tuesday, March 29
  • Cameroon vs Algeria (5pm) – Friday, March 25
  • Algeria vs Cameroon (8.30pm) – Tuesday, March 29
  • Egypt vs Senegal (7.30pm) – Friday, March 25
  • Senegal vs Egypt (6pm) – Tuesday, March 29
  • Ghana vs Nigeria (7.30pm) – Friday, March 25
  • Nigeria vs Ghana (6pm) – Tuesday, March 29