🌏 The biggest talking points from the World Cup play-off draw | OneFootball

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Padraig Whelan·27 November 2021

🌏 The biggest talking points from the World Cup play-off draw

Article image:🌏 The biggest talking points from the World Cup play-off draw

Friday’s draw for the European play-offs for the 2022 World Cup threw up some fascinating fixtures and potential ties.

With 12 teams fighting it out, only three nations will make it to Qatar.

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Superstars staying home

Without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest shock to come from the draw was the path which put Italy and Portugal on a potential collision course.

Should they win their semi-final fixtures, it will lead to a face-off in Lisbon between the last two European champions.

Of course, North Macedonia and Turkey should not be counted out and they’ll take great motivation from many appearing to look past them.

It would be a truly stunning shock if each can upset the scriptwriters and leave not just one powerhouse but both watching from home in a year’s time.

But the fact is that at least one of Cristiano Ronaldo and co. or Italy’s continental kings will be left on the outside looking in.

And that is a great shame. A World Cup will not be quite the same without either of them.

A long wait ending?

Scotland and Wales have waited too long to compete at the top table.

The Tartan Army’s 23-year wait seems excruciating but pales when compared with the Welsh, who haven’t reached a finals since 1958.

Both appear quietly content with the draw, which has paired Scotland with Ukraine and Wales with Austria in their semi-final fixtures as they look to end a generation(s) of anguish.

They both impressed in tricky groups in qualifying, while Ukraine and Austria largely flattered to deceive given the talent they have at their disposal and will be confident.

For Wales, they’ll feel they deserve a chance to send Scotland packing. Fans of a certain vintage still recall Joe Jordan’s handball in the infamous Anfield showdown of 1978 as the Scots ‘punched’ their ticket to Argentina at their Celtic cousins’ expense.

They repeated the feat in 1985 with a 1-1 draw which denied Wales a play-off place as Scotland went on to qualify again in a game that is sadly remembered for the collapse and death of the victors’ manager Jock Stein.

Another meeting in Cardiff could be spicy.

Lewandowski’s unfinished business

On Monday, one of the contenders to win the Ballon d’Or in Poland’s Robert Lewandowski will find out if this is his year at last to get his hands on that award.

But whether he does or not, you can’t help but wonder if he would sacrifice that for one more crack at the World Cup.

He leads Poland into a trip to Russia, where a win would see them stand 90 minutes away from Qatar, with Sweden or the Czech Republic in their way, meaning it won’t be easy.

But national media are happy with it. ‘Fate has been kind to us!’ was the headline in Poland’s biggest newspaper, Fakt.

Lewandowski has been one of the game’s elite for the past decade and although he has competed at four major international tournaments, only one has been the World Cup.

That came in 2018 and the striker played every minute but failed to get on the score sheet.

The Bayern Munich star may feel he’s earned another shot at the big one.