PARIS (AFP) - The first stage of European qualifying for next year’s World Cup concludes over the next week with Portugal, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands among the nations facing crucial games in the quest to make it to Qatar.
The 10 group winners will secure qualification for football’s global showpiece which kicks off on November 21, 2022. The 10 runners-up will get another chance to qualify in play-offs next March.
Spain showed on their runs to the Euro 2020 semi-finals and the Nations League final that they are again a force to be reckoned with. However, the 2010 world champions still have work to do to secure their place in Qatar from qualifying Group B.
Luis Enrique’s side sit second, two points behind leaders Sweden. They head to Athens on Thursday to play Greece, who held them to a 1-1 draw at home in March. Failure to win this time would give Sweden the chance to clinch top spot with victory in Georgia.
Otherwise the group will be decided when Spain host Sweden -- including a 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- in Seville on Sunday.
European champions Italy, who failed to qualify in 2018, are not there yet either. With two games left in Group C they are locked on 14 points with Switzerland, and the sides clash on Friday in Rome, five months after Italy won 3-0 there when the teams met in Euro 2020’s opening game.
Whoever wins will be left requiring just a point in their final qualifier, with the Azzurri going to Northern Ireland on Monday while the Swiss host Bulgaria.