The road to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 just got more clear as the group stage in European Qualifiers came to an end this week. Even though the World Cup is not until November of next year, several teams have already secured themselves a spot at one of the world’s most coveted tournaments.
Eleven teams have qualified for the World Cup so far. Qatar, Germany, Denmark, Brazil, France, Belgium, Croatia, Spain, Serbia, England, and Switzerland are the teams that can rest a little more easy. However, a few teams, such as Portugal and Italy, still have plenty of work ahead of them as they now face playoff contention in March.
As always, whenever qualification is on the line, there are sure to be moments of drama or surprise. Here are some of those top moments that were witnessed from the World Cup Qualifiers this past week.
Euro Champs Fall Flat
The team that barreled their way to the Euro 2020 final, despite all odds, and ended up beating the mighty favorites, England, could not produce the same type of magic this time around.
Italy lacked the creativity and confidence that took them so far in the Euros. The team was changed significantly without the help of Giorgio Chiellini, Marco Verratii, and Ciro Immobile, who were all absent due to injuries. Midfielder and go-to penalty taker, Jorginho, missed two crucial penalties against Switzerland, who ended up winning the group. If Jorginho had at least scored the last penalty, Italy would have secured themselves immediate qualification. Instead, Italy now have no choice but to fight their way through the playoffs this coming March.
Despite still being considered one of the top contenders to come out of the playoffs, Italy cannot risk missing out on a second World Cup in a row. Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and if they do the same again, it would be a historic humiliation.
Portugal Face Playoffs
Speaking of humiliations, turns out the Achilles heel to a usually-dominant Portugal side is the unsuspecting team of Serbia.
Serbia caused Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo grief before, back in March of last year. (Remember the armband incident?) But this time around, Portugal only needed a draw to secure themselves qualification, which should have been relatively easy. Instead, after scoring an immediate goal in the 2nd minute, Portugal let Serbia come back and equalize in the 33rd.
The game-winning goal for the Serbians came right at the 90th minute, which left Ronaldo once again furious. One cannot necessarily blame the star striker this time around, however. This could very well be CR7’s last World Cup before he eventually retires from the game. (Scary thought).
There was also this little gem floating around on social media after Serbia’s exhilarating win:
Well done to Serbia. Portugal will now join Italy and a few other teams in the playoffs this spring.
Kane And Maguire Bounce Back?
Before this current international break started, the two most criticized players on the England roster would arguably have been the two Harry’s. And not without good reason.
Harry Kane is currently experiencing one of the most lackluster seasons of his career, scoring only once in Premier League competition this season. Harry Maguire also finds himself in hot water back in Manchester, having to shoulder the heat of United’s recent defensive blunders.
But the two men looked like completely different players this past week while they donned their three lions crest. Kane effortlessly scored seven goals combined in England’s matches against Albania and San Marino. Maguire also bagged two goals, one in each match. The latter was thrown major criticism on social media for his fingers-to-ears celebration, but how else do you expect a guy to react after hearing so much negativity?
Let those men get their mojo back!
Man In The Mirror
Not part of the European qualifiers, I know, but still a fantastic moment worth talking about. The USMNT is also battling it out to qualify for the World Cup. Last Friday’s home match was against arch rivals, Mexico.
Before the match, Mexico’s goalkeeper, Memo Ochoa, had some words for the young American team. “Mexico has been that mirror in which they [the United States] want to see themselves and reflect, what they want to copy.”
The United States had an answer to that statement, and that answer was once again Christian Pulisic. Coming off of the bench during the match, Pulisic immediately headed a goal into the back of the net, scoring the first goal of the game. Pulisic’s goal celebration contained a certain message:
The USMNT would go on to win the match 2-0. I guess karma can sometimes be a thing…
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