With the World Cup coming up, many are questioning how different it will be without Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah and Italy. The answer is simple: nothing. This year’s tournament looks to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for football fans around the world that they won’t want to miss out on.

“Mo Salah” is the name of a football player who plays for Liverpool and Egypt. He is one of the most exciting players in Europe right now. If he were to be unavailable, it would have a huge impact on the World Cup.

No Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah or Italy? What's at stake?

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most famous soccer players who may not be able to compete in the tournament. Getty Images/Tim Clayton/Corbis

Imagine a FIFA World Cup in Qatar without Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal or Mohamed Salah of Egypt. Or a tournament in which European and African champions Italy and Senegal both fail to qualify? The bad news for those listed, as well as fans across the world, is that some of the game’s biggest names will have their ambitions of playing in Qatar 2022 dashed in the coming days during the World Cup playoffs.

Seven countries will have qualified for this year’s World Cup via the playoffs before the conclusion of the international break. When the Intercontinental playoffs and the conclusion of the European trail including Ukraine take place in June, three more will be confirmed.

– Watch LIVE games and replays of the World Cup playoffs on ESPN+ (U.S.) – Watch ESPN FC every day on ESPN+ (U.S. only) UEFA | CAF UEFA | CAF UEFA | CAF UEFA | CAF UEFA | CAF UEFA

Some of Europe’s largest countries, such as Portugal and Italy, are on a knife’s edge after failing to win their qualifying groups. In Africa, several of the continent’s traditional powerhouse nations will lose out on five head-to-head ties over two legs.

It’s shaping up to be a tough and dramatic round of playoffs in Europe and Africa, so here’s a rundown of what to expect.

How does it work?

In Europe, the ten group runner-up, as well as the two highest-placed teams in the 2021 Nations League that did not finish in the top two (Austria and Czech Republic), have been divided into three playoff pathways.

There are four teams on each course, with two one-legged semifinals leading to a one-off final. In the semifinal, the seeded team plays at home, and a draw has already been made to determine who will play in the final at home.

As a result, there is no room for mistake. In both the semis and the final, there is just one game to determine who qualifies.

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Wales vs. Austria (Thursday, 2.45 p.m. ET, watch live on ESPN+) and Scotland vs. Ukraine (Thursday, 2.45 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) meet in Cardiff to set up a final in Cardiff or Vienna. The situation in Ukraine, on the other hand, implies that this road will not be completed during the international break.

Path B was supposed to include Russia vs. Poland in Moscow and Sweden vs. Czech Republic in Stockholm (Thursday, 2.45 p.m. ET, broadcast live on ESPN+), leading to a final in either Moscow or Chorzow, but FIFA has kicked Russia out of the tournament owing to their invasion of Ukraine. Poland is given a bye in the first round.

Path C is the true show-stopper, with Portugal vs. Turkey in Porto (Thursday, 2.45 p.m. ET., watch live on ESPN2) and Italy vs. North Macedonia in Palermo (Thursday, 2.45 p.m. ET., stream live on ESPN+) possibly setting up a World Cup showdown in Porto. If Turkey defeats Portugal on Thursday, they will face either Italy or North Macedonia in Konya.

– World Cup 2022 qualifying: How does it work? around the world

With five distinct ties being played over two legs in Africa, the teams have a little more breathing space. However, with the victors of each game qualifying for Qatar, some of Africa’s top teams and personalities will miss out.

Here’s how it works:

DR Congo vs. Morocco (live stream on ESPN+, Friday, 10 a.m. ET) Cameroon vs. Algeria (live stream on ESPN+, Friday, 12 p.m. ET) Mali vs. Tunisia (live stream on ESPN+, Friday, 12 p.m. ET) Ghana vs. Nigeria (Friday, 2.30 p.m. ET, watch live on ESPN+) Egypt vs. Senegal (Friday, 2.30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) Egypt vs. Senegal (Friday, 2.30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) Egypt vs. Senegal (Friday, 2.30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+)

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FIFA and UEFA have banned Russian teams and clubs from all tournaments, according to Gab Marcotti.

What influence has the Ukraine conflict had on the World Cup playoffs?

FIFA banned Russia from all competitive football after its invasion of Ukraine last month. The Russian Football Union (RFU) filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on March 15, but it was dismissed.

Prior to Russia’s elimination from the playoffs, Poland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic — Russia’s Path B foes — all released statements stating that they would not play any games against the Russians.

Poland has been awarded a bye to the Path B final, where they will meet either Sweden or the Czech Republic on March 29 at Slaski Stadium in Chorzow.

The Ukrainian Association of Football (UAF) asked that their playoff versus Scotland be postponed in Path A. Because more than half of Ukraine’s roster plays domestic football, the bulk of their players are unable to leave the nation or train for a World Cup playoff.

The delay has been sanctioned by FIFA, and although no date has been set for the rescheduled Scotland-Ukraine match, sources have informed ESPN that the match might take place in June. If the disagreement persists, FIFA will have to make a difficult choice about when Path A will be completed.

The second semifinal, between Wales and Austria, will be held in Cardiff on Thursday, with the victors facing Scotland or Ukraine in the final at a later date and time to be determined.

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Gab and Juls talk about Italy’s World Cup playoff match versus North Macedonia.

That are the top personalities in Europe who could be left out?

One of the two most recent European champions will not be able to compete. One of the most powerful footballing countries in the world will miss out on Qatar due to Portugal and Italy being placed on the same road.

It would be devastating for Italy if they did not qualify. The four-time World Cup champions were eliminated from the competition in 2018 after losing a two-legged playoff to Sweden, and they now face the same fate less than a year after defeating England in the Euro 2020 final. Jorginho’s 90th-minute penalty miss against Switzerland in Rome last November lost the Italians first place in Group C, and now the Azzurri must defeat North Macedonia before facing Portugal or Turkey in a one-off final for a place in Qatar.

It’s also feasible that Cristiano Ronaldo will not play in the World Cup final in Qatar. The 37-year-old, who is the all-time best scorer in men’s international football, has said that he would retire after the World Cup, but he may not make it that far. Portugal would have avoided the playoffs and qualified as group champions if Aleksandar Mitrovic had scored a 90th-minute goal for Serbia in a 2-1 victory in Lisbon last November. The Euro 2016 champions now have two difficult games to play in order to qualify for the next round.

In Path B, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 40, is back in the Sweden team and hoping to compete in Qatar after missing out in 2018. However, if the AC Milan striker makes it there, Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski will miss out on the World Cup, as his Poland squad would face the winner of Sweden vs. the Czech Republic in the final following a bye against Russia. So a Lewandowski vs. Ibrahimovic clash in Chorzow on March 29 might be on the cards.

That are the great stars who could be overlooked in Africa?

Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah will not be present in Qatar in 2022. Getty

The African playoff path was drawn by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) on Jan. 22, the halfway point of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. As a consequence, the seeded draw was based on the FIFA World Ranking before the competition, with the top five teams in one pot and the rest in the other.

The consequences of that decision have been highlighted by the playoff draw, which will pit the two AFCON champions — Senegal and Egypt — against each other for a spot in the 2022 World Cup. If the CAF had done the draw after the tournament, Egypt would have been one of the top seeds, and Africa would not have had to choose between two of its finest teams for a spot in Qatar.

Apart from one of Africa’s top two sides losing out, Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah are both likely to lose out on the World Cup. Mane and Salah are two of Africa’s biggest, if not THE biggest, football talents. Following their goal-scoring exploits with Liverpool, they are also household names in the Premier League and Champions League. However, one of them will be at home for the World Cup in November and December.

Cameroon vs. Algeria will see one World Cup regular qualify at the cost of another, while Ghana and Nigeria, two of Africa’s traditional powers, will also compete for a place.

Do you know whether there are any other playoffs?

All of the teams are vying for a spot in Qatar 2022. AMA Matthew Ashton courtesy of Getty Images

Between March 27 and 30, Qatar will host a four-team playoff to determine which team from the Oceania (OFC) region would advance to the Intercontinental playoffs.

However, Vanuatu was forced to withdraw from the qualifiers over the weekend due to an outbreak of COVID-19 infections, and the Cook Islands also revealed a number of positive results, so the Solomon Islands and Tahiti are expected to advance by default and face New Zealand and Fiji in Qatar this week. The winner of the Oceania playoffs will compete in Qatar on June 13-14 against the fourth-placed team from North America (CONCACAF) for a spot in the World Cup.

On June 13-14 in Doha, the fourth-placed Asian team (AFC) will meet the fifth-placed South American squad (CONMEBOL) for one qualifying berth. The AFC squad will be either Australia or the United Arab Emirates, who will face Peru from CONMEBOL in the final round of qualifiers.

When will the World Cup draw take place?

It’s not as far away as you believe. The Qatar 2022 group stage draw will take place on April 1 at 7 p.m. local time (4 p.m. GMT / 11 a.m. ET) at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center.

Thirty-two countries will be seeded into eight groups of four, with the draw based on FIFA World Rankings. Teams competing in the June playoffs will be divided into groups based on a qualification system.

Other than UEFA, teams from the same continental confederation cannot be placed in the same group. A maximum of two UEFA countries may be grouped together.

The 2022 World Cup kicks out on November 21 in Qatar, with the first match taking place at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor. The final will be held on December 18 at Doha’s Lusail Stadium.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Italy going to Qatar 2022?

A: Yes, Italy is going to Qatar 2022.

Is Italy in the 2022 World Cup?

A: The 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar.

Why did Italy not make the World Cup?

A: Italy did not make the World Cup because their team failed to qualify and lost out in a knockout game against Sweden.

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