World Cup Qualifying Draw – Need to Know
Euro 2020 Finalists Scotland (I’ll never tire of writing that) have achieved a lot under Steve Clarke. While the 22-year-long exile from Major Finals is over, attention now turns to returning Scotland to the Greatest Show on Earth, the FIFA World Cup.
Scotland’s route to Qatar 2022 will be set on Monday 7 December at 17:00 GMT. Here is everything you need to know & all the key talking points ahead of the Draw.
Scotland’s FIFA World Ranking (48th) means a place in the Third pot of seeds.
Scotland will be drawn into a group of five* or six rivals, with home & away games against each determining a group winner (who qualifies automatically) and a group runner-up (who gets a Playoff Path).
*Scotland will be in a five team group if we draw one of the Nations League Finalists (Belgium, France, Italy or Spain) from Pot One.
Playoffs will follow the same format as Euro 2020 - four teams paired in a Playoff Path with one-leg Semi-Finals and one-leg Playoff Finals to secure qualification.
Full seeding is below along with our feelings on best / worst draw from each Pot.
Pot 1 – Here be Monsters
The big dogs. While there are a couple of nations in here (Denmark, Croatia) that we might fancy taking points from, my theory of the case is you want a Top Seed who will beat everyone. That way, it becomes a straight shootout with the Second Seed for the Playoff Place.
In Qualifying for Euro 2016, Scotland took 4pts from Ireland & 2pts from Poland. However, that was offset by Ireland taking 4pts from top seed Germany while Scotland lost both games to Die Mannschaft.
Best / Worst According to FIFA Ranking: Belgium (1). Netherlands (14)
Pot 2 – Make or Break
With 2nd place in the group getting a Playoff path to the World Cup, the team Scotland draw from Pot 2 will be critical to our chances. The teams in Pot 2 are a fascinating mix. While some, including Poland and Switzerland are impressive outfits, there are teams you’d like to think we could get ahead of. We have recent experience of beating Serbia and Slovakia for example. Romania need not be anything to fear either.
Uncharted territory: Scotland have never played Turkey in a competitive game, playing out a 2-4 friendly loss in 1960.
Best / Worst According to FIFA Ranking: Switzerland (16), Romania (37)
Pot 3 – That’s Us
We’re coming out of Pot 3. Probably for the best as I didn’t fancy meeting Russia or Erling Håland’s Norway.
Pot 4 – Tricky Ties to be Navigated
Pot 4 is full of teams you’ve seen Scotland drop points to in recent years. Lots of potentially tricky away games in places like Bosnia, North Macedonia, Georgia or *shudder* Israel. However, there are some decent ties here too. Luxembourg find themselves in Pot 4 and would be my ideal pick.
Uncharted Territory: Scotland have never played Montenegro.
Best / Worst According to FIFA Ranking: Bosnia (55), Luxembourg (98)
Pot 5 & 6 – Has to be 12 Points
This is where so many qualifying campaigns since 1998 have run aground. Countries that qualify for tournaments take 12pts from the bottom 2 seeds. It’s as simple as that.
Since 1998, Scotland have only managed that once, taking 12pts from Latvia & San Marino in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. Despite that, taking 3pts from the other two teams in the group (Belgium & Croatia) ended our qualification hopes.
So many points have been dropped against countries including Estonia, Faroe Islands, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Macedonia & Kazakhstan.
If Scotland are to have a chance of qualifying, taking 12pts from Pot 5 & 6 is non-negotiable.
Had Scotland taken full points from both bottom seeds in every qualifying campaign since 1998, they would have qualified automatically for Euros 2004 & 2008 while getting Playoffs for Euro 2016 and World Cups in 2006, 2010, 2014 & 2018.
Kosovo have been on a steady upward climb since playing their first competitive game in 2016 so will hopefully be avoided. The Faroe Islands have risen to Pot 5 and would be my choice, while another trip to San Marino in Pot 6 would be ideal.
Uncharted Territory: Scotland have never played Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kosovo & Andorra.
Pot 5 Best / Worst According to FIFA Ranking: Armenia (99), Andorra (151)
Pot 6 Best / Worst According to FIFA Ranking: Malta (176), San Marino (210)
Make Mine a Treble
The World Cup Qualifying schedule is still affected by Covid. March & September will see Scotland play three qualifiers in each (assuming we’re in a group of six).
While Scotland coped well in October, returning three wins, November’s away triple header was clearly harder on the players with Scotland losing in Slovakia and Israel. The rigours of an international triple header on the squad will have to be taken seriously by Clarke and his Sport Science team.
The Ides of March
The World Cup Qualifiers kick off in March 2021 with a triple-header of matches. This will be the last opportunities for Steve Clarke to see his side in competitive action ahead of selecting his squad for Euro 2020.
Therefore, competition for places in that squad will be fierce with players knowing performances in March could make or break their chances of selection in June.
Hopefully, this focus will translate into strong performances to give Scotland a platform to build on after Euro 2020 is completed and World Cup qualifying resumes in September.
World Cup Revenge Tour
In the wee hours after Scotland’s penalty shoot-out win over Serbia, I tweeted that Scotland’s Glorious Failure era was over. Dead. 1998 – 2020. RIP.
From my perspective, I never want to hear the phrase ‘glorious failure’ ever again. This group of players and management need never be weighed down by the emotional baggage of the past again.
With that in mind, I’d be keen for Scotland to draw every team who have had their fun with us over our banter years. There are scores to settle and ghosts to exorcise all over Europe.
Wales, Moldova, the Faroes, Lithuania, Georgia and the rest.
Bring them on.
Steve Clarke World Cup Revenge Tour. Let’s do it.