27 Nov 2021, 10:13

European champions Italy, Portugal in same World Cup play-off bracket

  PARIS, Nov 27, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - European champions Italy and Portugal could
meet for a place at the 2022 World Cup after being drawn in the same play-off
path on Friday.

  The Azzurri and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal both finished second in their
qualifying groups, behind Switzerland and Serbia respectively.

  Italy will host North Macedonia in the play-off first round in March, with
Turkey visiting Portugal, before the winners face off for a spot at next
year's finals in Qatar.

  The draw means that one of the last two European Championship winners will
not be at the next World Cup. Portugal won the Euro 2016 title.

  The winners of Portugal's match with Turkey will host the final-round game
in Path C.

  "It's a very difficult draw for us," said Italy coach Roberto Mancini.
"North Macedonia is a very good team, and if we win we have to play away."

  Italy -- who beat England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final earlier this
year -- are hoping to banish the memories of their play-off heartache from
four years ago when they lost to Sweden and failed to qualify for the World
Cup for the first time since 1958.

  Portugal have featured at every major championship since missing out on the
1998 World Cup.

  They only narrowly missed out on automatic qualification when Aleksandar
Mitrovic's late goal snatched a 2-1 win for Serbia in the two teams' last
group match.

  Portugal coach Fernando Santos said all the focus now was "to beat Turkey".

  "It's the imortant match to go through to the final and to win it. We now
have to prepare well to be at a good level in March.

  "Sometimes they (Turkey) play well, other times not. They're a team that
always present difficulties, but I'm totally convinced that we'll be going to
the World Cup."

  Elsewhere in the playoffs, British rivals Wales and Scotland could play
each other in the final of Path A.

  Scotland will welcome Ukraine to Glasgow in their semi-final game. Wales
take on Austria in Cardiff, with the winners to have home advantage in the

  The Welsh are hoping to play in the global showpiece for the first time in
64 years, while Scotland have not qualified since 1998.

  "We've given ourselves a great opportunity," said Wales manager Robert

  "It was in 1958 that we last qualified for the World Cup finals and through
the play-offs again, so the incentive is there for us.

  "We worked ever so hard to get that runners-up position in the group and
earn that home draw, and we've had the luck of the draw that if we win that
semi-final we will also be home for the final, so there's everything to play

  Russia face Poland in the Path B semi-finals, with the winners to host
Sweden or the Czech Republic.

  The Russians, who reached the 2018 quarter-finals as the host nation, have
only ever lost one World Cup qualifier at home -- against Germany in 2009.


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