The qualifying groups for the 2022 World Cup are coming to an end quickly, and the focus is now beginning to shift towards next year’s play-offs.
A total of four groups have completed their set of matches, with the winners and runners-up confirmed, while the remaining six groups will be decided on Monday and Tuesday this week.
The 10 nations that will qualify directly for next winter’s tournament in Qatar will then be confirmed, while the 12 play-off contenders, who will battle for a spot next March, will also be decided.
Portugal, Scotland and Wales are among the eight teams already guaranteed places in the play-offs, while European heavyweights England and Italy conclude their groups on Monday.
With the group stage nearing its conclusion, Sportsmail explains everything you need to know about the World Cup qualifying play-offs.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal lost to Serbia on Sunday and will be forced to fight for a World Cup berth in next March’s play-offs, as their conquerors automatically advance.
Steve Clarke’s Scotland (left) and Gareth Bale’s Wales (right) will compete in the play-offs
What exactly are the play-offs?
A total of 32 teams will compete in next winter’s World Cup, and Europe will have 13 representatives, the most of any of the six confederations.
A total of 55 nations were divided into 10 groups of five or six teams, with the winners of each classification qualifying directly for the World Cup, while another three places will be determined through the play-offs.
They will take place from 24 to 29 March next year and will consist of the 10 runners-up from the qualifying groups, as well as the two best group winners from the overall ranking of the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League, who have not yet been announced. ranked or finished second in their respective World Cup group.
The 12 teams will be divided into three play-off routes, with unique semi-finals and finals and the three winners will qualify for Qatar.
How does the giveaway work and when is it?
There will be six seeded nations for the play-offs, and the two teams will unite through their headless Nations League qualification.
The seeds will have the luxury of playing at home in their semi-final clash.
Of the 10 nations that will qualify for the play-offs as group runners-up, the seeds will be determined first by the number of points they have accumulated, before goal difference, the goals scored, the goals scored away, the number of wins and the number of away wins. come into play, in that order.
If any nation remains inseparable, the seeding will be determined by disciplinary records. And finally, if that still wasn’t enough, the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League access list will be used, which initially ranked all 55 teams.
The six seeded teams will then be assigned to the semifinals 1-6 in the order they were drawn, and the six non-seeded teams will complete the semifinals in the order they were drawn.
Route A consists of semi-finals 1 and 2, route B consists of semi-finals 3 and 4, and route C consists of semi-finals 5 and 6.
An additional draw will also be held to determine which semi-final winners will play the final three at home.
The play-off draw will take place on Friday, November 26, 10 days after the last qualifying rounds of the European group stage.
It will take place at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, starting at 4pm UK time.
Which nations have confirmed a place in the play-offs?
As stated, four groups, A, B, H and J have already been completed, with Portugal, Sweden, Russia and North Macedonia finishing as the respective runners-up and thus booking a place in the play-offs.
Although Group F still has one match to play, Scotland is guaranteed to finish second and will therefore advance to the play-offs.
Meanwhile, Austria, who cannot finish above third place in Group F, are already guaranteed to be one of the teams competing due to their Nations League qualification.
Sweden is in the play-offs, but the talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss the semifinal clash
North Macedonia celebrated after confirming their place in the play-offs next March
The order in which the two teams would enter through the League of Nations, should they be called upon, is Wales, Austria and the Czech Republic, with no other nations in dispute.
Wales and the Czech Republic are currently battling for second place in Group E, with one guaranteed to finish runner-up and the other third. Nor can he catch Belgium, the group winners.
The team that finishes second will advance to the play-offs and be put in contention for being seeded, while the team in third place will advance due to their Nations League qualification.
Who are the current runners-up still up for grabs?
There are still six groups to complete, although, as stated, Group F has already been decided, with Denmark taking first place and Scotland advancing to the play-offs as runners-up.
In Group C, Italy and Switzerland, who rank first and second respectively, cannot be caught, with at least one qualifying for Qatar and the other settling for a play-off spot.
The group will be decided on Monday night, with both sides separated only by goal difference, as things stand. Italy travels to Northern Ireland, while Switzerland receives Bulgaria.
In Group D, France has already been confirmed as the winner, while Finland and Ukraine are left to battle for second place.
They complete the group on Tuesday with Finland hosting France and Ukraine playing Bosnia and Herzegovina on the road.
Group E has already been explained, with Wales and the Czech Republic guaranteed a spot in the play-offs but still fighting for second place.
Group G is ready for the most exciting finale, with the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey still capable of qualifying in first place.
The Netherlands take on Norway at home in Tuesday’s thrilling final, while Turkey travel to Montenegro.
Finally, we have Group I, and England are expected to confirm their qualification on Monday night as they play San Marino at home. Unless there is a really shocking result, Poland will advance to the play-offs as runners-up.
They can confirm their place in the 2022 World Cup against San Marino on Monday night
Who has already qualified as group winners?
While there are several teams still fighting for automatic qualification and a play-off spot, let’s quickly list those that have already booked a spot in Qatar.
The first to do so was Germany, who won nine of their 10 matches and topped Group J with ease.
Following them was Denmark, who have won all nine Group F matches to date, conceding just one goal.
On the other hand, France, Belgium, Croatia, Serbia and Spain have confirmed their places in Qatar.
Hans-Dieter Flick’s Germany became the first nation to officially qualify for the World Cup.
Denmark, who have won all nine of their games to date, was the second nation to qualify
When does the World Cup start and how will it work?
The first winter World Cup will take place between November 21 and December 18 of next year with a total of 32 teams, initially divided into eight groups of four, competing for the grand prize.
The group stage will begin on November 21 and will last 12 days, with four games in each.
Usually the top two teams in each group will advance to the knockout stages. There will be no third-place team advancing to knockouts, as we saw at Euro 2020 this summer.
In another difference to Euro 2020, there will be a tiebreaker for third place in the World Cup.
The group stage will come to an end on December 2, and the round of 16 will be played from December 3 to 6.
The quarterfinals will take place December 9-10, before the semi-finals are played on December 13 and 14.
The 2022 World Cup final will take place on Sunday, December 18.