The Playoff Path
the end of the international break, it’s the perfect time to reflect on Scotland’s progress through this World Cup Qualifying campaign and look ahead to the challenges to come.
This week’s win in Vienna, paired with the home win over Moldova has massively boosted Scotland’s chances of making it to Qatar next Christmas – with a Playoff Place in our hands.
What do we need to make the Playoff, and what can we expect if we make it?
Securing the Playoff - v Israel
Scotland’s destiny is in our own hands.
To secure a place in March’s Playoff, we must first overcome familiar foes Israel. They have become an Achilles heel for Scotland in recent years, with the Scots returning one win in 90 minutes in the last six meetings since 2018 (you have to count the Euro 2020 Playoff Semi Final as a win, even if it was achieved on penalties).
However, in that period we’ve never faced Israel in front of a sold-out Hampden Park (which we will in October) and the last time we played them in March ’21, Che Adams was making his first start for Scotland and Billy Gilmour had never been called up.
I firmly believe we’re a better team now and can beat Israel.
Securing the Playoff – Tricky Trips
Should Israel be beaten, we will have opened up a four-point gap on Israel and Austria (assuming Austria beat the Faroes on MD7).
Our next two games are trips to the Faroe Islands in October and Moldova in November. Win both of those and the Playoff place would be ours before the visit of all-conquering Denmark to G42 on MD10.
While Steve Clarke’s Scotland side have successfully ground out results against lower nations, that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, Scotland have only once returned a maximum haul of 12pts from the bottom two seeds in qualifying since France ’98 (in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup).
Consistently for Scotland, this is where campaigns have fallen apart.
we should win in the Faroes and Moldova, there must be no complacency from the team or support.
While it’s impossible to say for sure, had Scotland returned 12pts from the bottom two seeds in every qualifying campaign since ’98, we’d have qualified automatically for two Euros and made the Playoffs five times!
Doing a Denmark
If we beat Israel, Faroes & Moldova – then we’ve secured the Playoff before Denmark come to Hampden.
If we’ve dropped points anywhere, then a result might be needed against Denmark. Given their form so far, that’s a tall order. Although they may well have long since won the group, meaning motivation could be an issue on a November night at Hampden in front of a buoyant home support.
Let’s hope we don’t need anything from this one….
So, we get the Playoff – then what?
This is where things get complicated.
The standard qualifying process for the 2022 World Cup will see 10 group winners qualify automatically.
13 teams from Europe (UEFA) qualify for the World Cup, leaving 3 spots up for grabs in the Playoffs.
The Playoffs will work the same way as they were supposed to for Euro 2020.
12 teams will enter the Playoffs – 10 group runners-up and 2 teams from last year’s Nations League (more on that later).
They will be seeded and drawn into groups of four – where a one-leg Semi Final (24-25 March 2022) will be followed by a one-leg Final (28-29 March 2022).
The three winners of the Playoff Finals will join the 10 Group Winners as Europe's 13 representatives in Qatar.
Are the Playoffs seeded?
They are – every group runner-up from World Cup qualifying is placed in a league table together.
The results against the team finishing bottom of the group are discounted (meaning our 1-0 win over Moldova might not count against us) and the 6 best ranked teams are seeded for the draw.
A key benefit of being seeded is we would host the Semi Final at Hampden. The host of the Playoff Final would be decided at random.
As above, the 10 group runners-up are joined by two Group Winners from the Nations League who haven’t qualified or made the Playoffs.
So, who could we face?
After October’s international break, Scotland sit second in our group and are ranked as the 4th best second place team, meaning a seeding for the Playoffs.
As it stands, the un-seeded group runners up we could face in a Hampden Semi-Final are Norway, Armenia, Albania & Ukraine. The two Nations League group winners who would be un-seeded are Wales & Austria.
Win that and we’d face a Final against one of the un-seeded teams above, or a seeded side which currently covers Serbia, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland & the Czech Republic.
There’s still a very long way to in qualifying and this picture will continue to evolve all the way through to November.
The road to Qatar is still long and winding, but the path to take us there is clear as day.