Italy and Portugal, European champions in the same group of play-offs for the World Cup

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Portugal missed the automatic qualification in a dramatic loss to Serbia © AFP / File / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA

Paris (AFP), November 26 – European champions Italy and Portugal could meet for a place at the 2022 World Cup after being drawn Friday on the same path to the play-offs.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Azzurri and Portugal both finished second in their qualifying group, behind Switzerland and Serbia respectively.

Italy will host North Macedonia in the first round of play-offs in March, with Turkey heading to Portugal, before the winners face off for a place in next year’s finals in Qatar.

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

The winners of Portugal’s match against Turkey will host the final round match on Lane C.

“It’s a very difficult draw for us,” said Italy coach Roberto Mancini. “North Macedonia are 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 – hope to banish memories of their barrage grief of four years ago when they lost to Sweden and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

Portugal have participated in every major league since missing the 1998 World Cup.

They narrowly missed the automatic qualification when Aleksandar Mitrovic’s late goal gave Serbia a 2-1 win in the two teams’ final group game.

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Portugal manager Fernando Santos said the goal now was to “beat Turkey”.

“It’s the important game to qualify for the final and win it. We must now prepare well to be at a good level in March.

“Sometimes they (Turkey) play well, other times they don’t. It’s a team that always presents difficulties, but I have total confidence that we will go to the World Cup.

Elsewhere in the playoffs, British rivals Wales and Scotland could face off in the A lane final.

Scotland will host Ukraine in Glasgow in the semi-final. Wales face Austria in Cardiff, with the winners having the home advantage in the final.

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

“We have given ourselves a great opportunity,” said Wales manager Robert Page.

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

“We worked really hard to get this second place in the group and win this draw at home, and we were lucky in the draw that if we win this semi-final, we will also be at home for the final , so there is everything to play.

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Russia will face Poland in the track B semi-final, with the winners scheduled to host Sweden or the Czech Republic.

The Russians, who reached the 2018 quarter-finals as host nation, lost just one World Cup qualifying game at home – against Germany in 2009.


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