Dutch relief but Italy could meet Portugal in WC do-or-die play-off


Berlin, The Netherlands left it late on Tuesday but two goals in the dying minutes against Norway secured their place at the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar – and avoided the need to join giants Italy and Portugal in sweating on their berths through the play-offs.


It is scarcely believable that Italy, dominant European champions just six months ago, could miss out but Jorginho’s missed penalty against Switzerland and a turgid goalless draw in Northern Ireland left them second behind the Group C winning Swiss, dpa reports.


Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, continental champions in 2016 and Nations League winners three years later, stumbled even more at the finish, first drawing at Ireland and then throwing away a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 in injury-time at home to Serbia in a winner-takes-all finale to Group A.


“Football has shown us time and time again that sometimes the most difficult paths are the ones that lead us to the most desired outcomes,” Ronaldo said social media after the loss.


“The goal of being in the 2022 World Cup is still very much alive and we know what we have to do to get there.


“No excuses. Portugal on its way to Qatar.”


Ronaldo will be 37 by the time the finals come around in a year’s time and though arguably a shadow of the peak performer he once was, his missing the chance for a farewell at the World Cup would shock football.


Portugal cannot meet Italy in the play-off semi-finals, drawn November 26, as they are seeded alongside Scotland, Russia, Sweden and Wales. Turkey, Poland, North Macedonia, Czech Republic and Austria are the non-seeds.


But the teams will also be group into three ‘paths’ which are drawn openly meaning there could be a Portugal v Italy final while Poland’s world player Robert Lewandowski, Wales and Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale and Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic, though he is suspended for the semi, all add superstar glamour to proceedings.


As exciting as the March 24-29 ties will be, the Netherlands are delighted to be avoiding jeopardy, especially having missed the 2018 finals in Russia.


“It’s been a while since the Netherlands have participated in a big tournament, so I’m happy it’s finally that time again,” Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk said.


They join Spain, holders France, world number one Belgium, Denmark, Croatia, England and Germany in also proceeding directly to Qatar from European qualifying.


Brazil and Argentina, from the South American section, are so far the only other sides across the globe to have confirmed spots at the finals other than the hosts.


Source: Bahrain News Agency