Australia were unable to finish on a high in the third round of World Cup qualifying as they fell to a 1-0 defeat in a dead rubber against Saudi Arabia in Jeddah. 

A 2-0 loss to Japan last Thursday ended the Socceroos' hopes of earning automatic qualification to Qatar 2022 with Salem-Al Dawsari's second-half penalty securing top spot in Group B for the Green Falcons. 

Awer Mabil narrowly missed the target from Martin Boyle's cross in the 12th minute and the latter had a goal ruled out following a lengthy VAR review shortly before half-time. 

Graham Arnold replaced Bruno Fornaroli with debutant Nicholas D'Agostino at half-time but Saudi Arabia continued to control possession. 

The hosts were awarded a penalty when James Jeggo clipped Sami Al Najei and Al Dawsari coolly guided the spot-kick into the bottom-right corner. 

Australia did not go close to finding an equaliser – Ajdin Hrustic wasted their best opportunity – and needed Mat Ryan to stop Firas Al Buraikan making it 2-0 in the final 10 minutes.

The Socceroos must now take on the United Arab Emirates for a place in an intercontinental play-off against a South American team, where a place in Qatar will be on the line. 

Will it be Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane? Italy or Portugal – or indeed neither? Can Canada end their long wait, and are the United States and Australia at risk of missing out?

Those questions and plenty more are set to be answered over the next week or so as World Cup qualifying concludes for many nations.

Just 15 of the 32 participants have so far been confirmed for Qatar 2022, leaving 48 teams battling for the 17 remaining spots.

Fourteen more countries will be assured of a finals berth come the end of next week in what is very much crunch time for those still in contention.

Stats Perform looks at the key talking points.

Egypt seeking revenge in AFCON final repeat

Less than two months on from meeting in the Africa Cup of Nations final, Egypt and Senegal face off over two legs for a place in Qatar.

Senegal prevailed in a penalty shoot-out to claim their first AFCON crown and, buoyed by that triumph, will consider themselves as favourites here.

While both teams boast an array of top-class talent, this fixture is being billed as a showdown between Liverpool team-mates Salah and Mane.

The two biggest stars in African football, only one of the pair will be part of the World Cup later this year – and neither will fancy watching it all unfold from home.

This is not the only grudge match taking place in the CAF section over the next week and a half, as fierce rivals Ghana and Nigeria will also face off in a two-legged play-off.

Cameroon are up against Algeria, Mali take on Tunisia and DR Congo meet Morocco in the other three ties, each of which will be concluded on March 29.

European heavyweights on collision course

Since the play-off draw in the UEFA section took place in November, all talk has centered around a potential meeting between Italy and Portugal for a place in the finals.

The winners of the past two European Championships, either the Azzurri or the Selecao will miss out on the biggest tournament of them all.

It should never have been this way, of course, as both teams were strong favourites to finish top of their groups and qualify automatically.

Italy finished second to Switzerland and Portugal were runners-up to Serbia, meaning the sides must now come through two qualifying ties.

First up for the reigning European champions is a meeting with North Macedonia in Palermo, while Portugal face Turkey in Porto, with the winners of both ties advancing.

Should, as expected, Italy and Portugal come through those semi-finals, the latter will have the advantage of staging the final on home soil five days later.

For Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, it presents what will surely be his last chance to play at a record-equalling fifth World Cup.

 

Pathways impacted by political events

Path C of UEFA qualifying is undoubtedly the most eye-catching, but there are also some tasty fixtures in the other two sections – not least a possible Home Nations derby.

Scotland and Wales were kept apart in the Path B semi-finals but could meet in the final should they overcome Ukraine and Austria respectively.

However, due to ongoing events in Ukraine, their game against Scotland has been pushed back – likely until June – as has the final involving either Wales or Austria.

In Path C, Russia had been due to face Poland, but the invasion of Ukraine forced FIFA and UEFA's hand and they have been banned from competing.

Poland have therefore been handed a bye to the qualifying play-off final, where either Sweden or the Czech Republic await. That match will be contested next week as planned.

Canada on verge of ending long wait, USA with work to do

The United States qualified for every World Cup between 1990 and 2014, but they missed out on a place at Russia 2018 after an embarrassing loss to Trinidad and Tobago.

Gregg Berhalter's side are by no means assured of one of the three automatic qualification spots in the CONCACAF section this time around, either.

USA sit second with three games to go, but they still have to travel to third-placed Mexico, as well as facing Panama and Costa Rica, who occupy fourth and fifth respectively.

Level on points with Mexico and four ahead of Costa Rica, it could be a tense finale to qualifying for the Stars and Stripes.

That should not be the case for Canada, who are eight points clear of fourth and are all but assured of ending their 36-year wait to make a second World Cup finals appearance.

Brazil and Argentina through, but who will join them?

The drawn-out South American qualifiers are nearing their conclusion and only four of the 10 sides know their fate at this juncture.

It has been plain sailing for Brazil and Argentina, who are assured of an automatic qualifying spot with three games to go, including a rescheduled meeting between the pair.

Behind those perennial World Cup representatives are Ecuador, who have been the surprise package in qualifying and can finish no lower than fifth.

Ecuador will not be content with anything other than a top-four finish, though, and they can make certain of that with victory over Paraguay.

Assuming Ecuador get over the line, that will leave Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia battling it out for progression, which sets up some intriguing fixtures.

Uruguay occupy fourth place, meaning their qualifying aspirations are in their own hands, but they have Peru and Chile – the two sides behind them – still to face.

Socceroos sweating on finals spot

Only four teams advance automatically from the CONMEBOL section, with the team in fifth entering a play-off against the winner of the AFC fourth round in a one-off tie in June.

That may well turn out to be Australia as the Socceroos are five and four points behind top two Saudi Arabia and Japan in Group B with two games to go.

However, those remaining two fixtures are against those nations occupying automatic qualification places, so Australia may yet sneak through.

Iran and South Korea have already made certain of progression in Group A, meanwhile, leaving the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq to compete for third place.

The two third-placed finishers – which, as it stands, are Australia and the UAE – will meet in a one-legged match ahead of that aforementioned play-off with a CONMEBOL side.

A brace from Abdullah Fawaz, including a late penalty, earned Oman a 2-2 draw with Australia, putting a dent in the Socceroos' hopes of an automatic qualifying spot for the 2022 World Cup.

While they are guaranteed at least a playoff spot in Group B of Asia's World Cup qualifiers, Australia now sit three points behind Japan and four adrift of leaders Saudi Arabia with two games to play.

Australia were denied the lead in the fifth minute after Trent Sainsbury's header from an Aaron Mooy free-kick was ruled out by an offside flag, but the visitors had a penalty just nine minutes later when Oman goalkeeper Faiyz Al Rusheidi brought down Martin Boyle, and Jamie Maclaren successfully placed his spot kick high to the keeper's left.

Oman levelled in sensational style early in the second half as Abdullah received a pass from the left by Munzer Al-Alawi before firing a fierce strike high into the top-left corner, giving Mat Ryan no chance.

Australia regained the lead with just over ten minutes to go when a cross from the left was headed down to substitute Mitchell Duke, who cushioned the ball back for Mooy to fire past Al Rusheidi.

However, more drama followed as substitute Muhsen Al Ghassani was felled by Fran Karacic in the box, and Abdullah sent Ryan the wrong way with his penalty to earn Oman a draw and dampen Australia's hopes of a top-two finish.

Australia ended a three-match winless streak in World Cup qualifying in emphatic fashion, with a 4-0 victory over Vietnam.

The Socceroos had drawn their previous two qualifiers in November, following a 2-1 reverse to Japan in October, leaving them outside the automatic qualification spots in Group B.

However, they got their bid for a place in Qatar back on track in style on Thursday in Melbourne, inflicting an eighth successive qualification defeat on Vietnam in the process.

Tomas Rogic thought he had put Australia ahead inside the opening 20 seconds, only for VAR to disallow the goal for Jackson Irvine straying offside.

Vietnam got no such reprieve when Jamie Maclaren headed home from Rogic's cross in the 30th minute, with the Celtic midfielder turning from provider to scorer on the stroke of half-time.

Slack defending gifted Australia a third when Craig Goodwin latched onto Mat Ryan's pass in the 72nd minute to score his first international goal, before Riley McGree picked out the bottom-right corner to make it 4-0, also his first strike for his country.

It was just the second time the nations have met in World Cup qualifying, with Australia – who are back to within two points of group leaders Saudi Arabia – making things rather easier for themselves this time after a 1-0 win in the first match.

 

The final play-off draw for the 2022 World Cup has taken place, with four teams to compete for two places in Qatar.

On Friday, following the draw for the European play-offs – in which Italy and Portugal were drawn in the same path – FIFA also completed the draw for the inter-confederation games.

These matches will take place in Qatar in June 2022.

One team from each of the federations of Asia (AFC), South America (CONMEBOL), the Caribbean, North and Central America (CONCACAF) and Oceania (OFC) will compete in the single-leg fixtures to settle the final two places in the 32-team tournament.

The AFC side, which will be the winner of the fourth-round play-off in the Asian zone, were drawn against the CONMEBOL team, which will be the fifth-ranked side in the South American qualifying standings - that spot is currently occupied by Peru, with four matchdays remaining.

In the other match, the winner of the OFC qualifiers will take on the fourth-placed team from the final round of CONCACAF qualifiers. 

The 2022 World Cup gets underway in exactly one year's time.

The tournament has courted controversy ever since its hosting rights were awarded, but it promises to be quite the spectacle in a part of the world that has never hosted it before.

Here is everything you need to know about the finals...

Where is the World Cup being held?

The 2022 World Cup takes place in Qatar. It is the first time the tournament will be held in the Middle East

The finals will be staged in five cities: Al Wakrah, Al Khor, Al Rayyan, Lusail, and the capital, Doha.

Qatar is the smallest country ever to host the World Cup. With a surface area of 11,500 square kilometres, it is the 158th largest country in the world and can be traversed in roughly two hours.

A peninsula nation whose economy is powered by oil and natural gas, Qatar has been constructing what FIFA describes as "some of the most eco-friendly and architecturally advanced sporting facilities ever seen" ahead of the tournament.

When does the tournament take place?

The 2022 World Cup will be held from November 21 until December 18, with 64 matches played. The time frame has been slightly condensed because of the impact a winter World Cup will have on many of the world's domestic seasons.

The opening match takes place at Al Bayt Stadium on November 21, with the group stage finishing on December 2. The round of 16 begins the following day.

The quarter-finals will be held on December 9 and 10, with the semi-finals on December 13 (at Lusail Stadium) and December 14 (at Al Bayt Stadium).

The third-place play-off is on December 17 at Khalifa International Stadium, with the final on December 18 at Lusail Stadium.

 

What are the venues?

The tournament is being held across five city regions: Al Wakrah, Al Khor and Lusail contain one stadium each, with two in Al Rayyan and a further three in Doha.

The venues and their capacities are:

Al Rayyan
Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium: 44,000

Education City Stadium: 45,350

Al Khor
Al Bayt Stadium: 60,000

Al Wakrah
Al Janoub Stadium: 40,000

Doha
Al Thumama Stadium: 40,000

Ras Abu Aboud Stadium: 40,000

Khalifa International Stadium: 40,000

Lusail
Lusail Iconic Stadium: 80,000

 

 

Which teams have qualified?

At the moment, the following teams have qualified for the finals:

Qatar (automatically qualified as host nation)

Denmark

Germany

Brazil

France

Belgium

Croatia

Spain

Serbia

England

Switzerland

Netherlands

Argentina

 

Why is it controversial?

The bidding process for the hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups has been beset by allegations of corruption.

Although a FIFA investigation cleared Qatar of wrongdoing, Swiss federal prosecutors opened criminal proceedings into the awarding of the two tournaments as part of a wider probe into alleged criminal activity concerning some former FIFA executives.

Concerns have also been raised about the treatment of migrant workers used in the massive construction projects for the tournament. Amnesty International said labourers in Qatar were subject to abuse, inhuman working conditions and little pay, describing "a playground for unscrupulous employers" in September 2019.

In response, Qatari authorities changed their employment law after entering a partnership with the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) aimed at reforming their labour policies. The introduction of a new minimum wage and a commitment to end the 'kafala' system, which made it impossible for workers to change jobs without their employer's permission, were welcomed by the ILO and Amnesty International.

The decision to stage the World Cup during the Northern Hemisphere's winter was taken due to the extreme heat common in summer in Qatar. However, moving the tournament to November and December, when the European club season is at its busiest, will create a knock-on effect for 2022-23.

The Premier League, for example, plans to take a seven-week break between November 13 and December 26 to accommodate the World Cup, while the Champions League final is set to be pushed back into June. There are concerns about the physical toll the prolonged season will have on players; Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow described it as a "crazy idea".

Australia were forced to settle for a point in their World Cup qualifier against China after a 1-1 draw in the UAE.

After winning 11 games in a row, including a 3-0 victory against China in the reverse fixture in September, the Socceroos are now winless in three – their worst such run since June 2018.

Australia led in this match, though, following a quiet start, as Martin Boyle's cross was headed in emphatically by Mitch Duke seven minutes before the break.

Despite creating little for the first hour, China were level on 70 minutes when James Jeggo was adjudged by a VAR review to have handled in the penalty area, allowing Wu Lei to send Mat Ryan the wrong way from the spot.

Both sides pushed for a winner in the closing stages, but neither came particularly close to getting it, forced instead to make do with a point apiece.

The draw sees Australia move on to 11 points in Group B in the third round of AFC World Cup qualifying, five behind leaders Saudi Arabia, while China have five points.

Australia's perfect record in World Cup 2022 qualifying was ended in a 2-1 defeat to Japan on Tuesday.

The Socceroos had won all 11 games on the road to Qatar – setting a record in the process – and each of their last 12 games stretching back into the last campaign.

But Ao Tanaka's early strike in Saitama and a late own goal from Aziz Behich, either side of Ajdin Hrustic's leveller, inflicted a first competitive defeat on Australia since January 2019.

Graham Arnold's side could now see top spot in Group B relinquished to Saudi Arabia, who play later on Thursday. Only the top two sides will qualify automatically for the World Cup.

Japan entered the game unbeaten in seven meetings with Australia and they were ahead inside eight minutes when Tanaka drilled a low shot into the bottom-left corner.

Australia went close to equalising before half-time as Adam Taggart's shot was tipped onto the upright and Aaron Mooy's effort was blocked in front of goal from the follow-up.

The visitors then had a penalty overturned as the officials felt Hidemasa Morita's challenge on Hrustic was outside the box, but the fouled player still made Japan pay as his powerful free-kick crashed in off the underside off the crossbar.

But it was Japan who snatched a winner with five minutes remaining.

Mat Ryan could only parry substitute Takuma Asano's deflected shot into the air and Behich, in an attempt to clear the ball from under the crossbar, turned it into his own net.

Martin Boyle stooped to conquer as Australia racked up a record 11th successive win in their World Cup qualifying campaign, battling to a 3-1 victory over Oman.

The Hibernian forward got down to head in the crucial second goal for the Socceroos at the Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar, and he has now been directly involved in eight goals in his last eight internationals, scoring five times and providing three assists.

Australia snatched a ninth-minute lead when Awer Bul Mabil lashed home a left-footed strike.

Graham Arnold's side were then indebted to goalkeeper Mat Ryan who kept them ahead with two fine saves, but he was beaten in the 28th minute as Al Mandhar Al Alawi pulled Oman level, sidestepping Harry Souttar and thrashing a shot high into the right corner.

Australia regained the lead in the 49th minute when Adam Taggart's shot was only parried as far as Boyle, who was deadly from close range.

The hard-earned success was sealed when Mitchell Duke side-footed into the left corner late on.

It means Australia have three wins from three in the third round of Asian World Cup qualifying, having won eight from eight in the second round, the stage at which they began their campaign.

They become the first team to have won 11 games in a single World Cup qualifying campaign.

Australia have won 12 consecutive qualifiers in all, including the 3-1 play-off win over Honduras that took them to the 2018 World Cup.

Nuno Espirito Santo revealed Son Heung-min is a doubt for Saturday's clash with Crystal Palace after returning injured from international duty.

The 29-year-old returned early from South Korea, missing their World Cup qualifier with Lebanon due to a calf problem suffered against Iraq.

And Nuno confirmed that Son, who has scored the most winning goals in the Premier League since the start of last term (8), may not feature at Selhurst Park.

"Like some of our players, he came back with some issues," said Nuno, who was named the Premier League's Manager of the Month for August on Friday.

"Sonny is not so well, but let's wait for the club to make the proper announcement and explain to you better what kind of injury he has."

Asked for further clarification, Nuno responded: "I don't know. Let's wait and see. The doctors will make the proper diagnostics."

The potential loss of Son will place further impetus on Harry Kane, who has been involved in 12 goals in 14 Premier League games against Palace (7 goals, 5 assists).

Indeed, only Thierry Henry (43) has scored more goals in London derbies than Kane (38) but Spurs will also be without Cristian Romero, Giovani Lo Celso and Davinson Sanchez as they look to maintain their perfect top-flight start.

When questioned on the whereabouts of his South American trio, Nuno explained: "I can tell you that they are in Croatia. That's what we decided to do to try to avoid more problems. 

"So the solution was to try to get them in a country where after that they can join the group. Now they are working with the sports science, a physio, in Croatia."

Rhyan Grant scored his first international goal as Australia sealed a 10th consecutive World Cup qualifying win with a 1-0 victory over Vietnam.

The defender nodded home in the 43rd minute after Ajdin Hrustic's searching cross picked him out at the back post.

It maintained the Socceroos' perfect qualifying record on the road to Qatar 2022.

Grant was an unlikely match-winner, opening his account on the occasion of his 14th cap with what proved to be the visitors' only shot on target at an empty My Dinh Stadium.

Despite appearing a little shot-shy on this outing, Graham Arnold's men have scored 32 goals in their winning streak, while Tuesday's clean sheet means they have conceded only twice.

Arnold's men resume their qualifying campaign with games against Oman and Japan next month.

Australia made it nine World Cup qualifying wins in a row on the road to Qatar 2022 with a straightforward 3-0 triumph over China at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha. 

The Socceroos finished top of their group in the previous round and made a winning start to the third qualifying stage thanks to goals from Awer Mabil, Martin Boyle and substitute Mitchell Duke. 

China had won their previous four qualifiers and managed to restrict their opponents to minimal opportunities in the opening quarter of the contest on neutral territory. 

But Mabil acrobatically volleyed home to give Australia the breakthrough – the goal allowed to stand despite a high boot from the winger – and Boyle fired in a second from the edge of the box less than two minutes later. 

Graham Arnold's side had a penalty shout for handball turned down, but they had a third goal that their dominance deserved with 70 minutes on the clock. 

Duke was on hand to tap home after Mabil was denied from one of his five shots on target – the joint-most of any player in a game in the 2022 Asian World Cup qualifiers – as he scored just 59 seconds after being introduced off the bench. 

That was the fastest any substitute has scored in the Asian qualifiers since Tana Chanabut for Thailand after 36 seconds against the United Arab Emirates in October 2016.

Australia sealed a perfect passage through to the 2022 World Cup third qualifying round thanks to Harry Souttar's header in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Jordan in Kuwait.

The Socceroos were already guaranteed top spot in Group B and made it eight wins from eight in qualifying for the first time ever with their three points at the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium.

Souttar's goal – the Stoke City defender's sixth in five internationals – ended Jordan's hopes of qualifying and that frustration told as Mousa Suleiman was shown a late red card.

Jordan had lost only one of their previous seven internationals but struggled to create any meaningful opportunities, which was also true of their opponents for large parts.

Trent Sainsbury sent an unmarked header just past the post and James Holland's strike soon after hit the upright as Australia's superiority slowly started to show.

And that pressure paid off as Souttar met Martin Boyle's inswinging corner to put his side on course for their first ever back-to-back victories against Jordan.

Tempers then flared in the 87th minute following Ehsan Manel Haddad's challenge on Aziz Behich, culminating in Suleiman being sent off for clashing heads with the Australia wing-back.

Christian Eriksen remains in a stable condition in hospital pending further examinations, the Danish Football Union (DBU) said in an update to the midfielder's condition on Sunday.

The football world has rallied around Eriksen after he collapsed on the pitch during Denmark's Euro 2020 game with Finland on Saturday.

Eriksen fell to the ground with no other player around him during the first half in Copenhagen.

Team-mates and referee Anthony Taylor called for immediate help from medical staff, with the players forming a protective barrier around Eriksen while efforts were made to resuscitate him.

He was subsequently transferred to hospital, with UEFA saying Eriksen had been "stabilised". The DBU added that he was "awake" and set for "further examinations".

Following a lengthy suspension, the match was resumed and Finland went on to win 1-0.

A DBU statement read: "This morning we have spoken to Christian Eriksen, who has sent his greetings to his team-mates. His condition is stable, and he continues to be hospitalised for further examination.

"The team and the staff of the national team has received crisis assistance and will continue to be there for each other following yesterday's incident.

"We would like to thank everyone for the heartfelt greetings to Christian Eriksen from fans, players, the Royal Families from both Denmark and England, international associations, clubs etc.

"We encourage everyone to send their greetings to the Danish FA, where we will make sure they are all passed on to Christian and his family."

One of his Inter team-mates, Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku, showed his support for Eriksen after netting the opening goal in his country's 3-0 victory over Russia.

The striker shouted "I love you Chris" into a television camera having put the Red Devils in front.

And, following his decisive penalty in South Korea's 2-1 victory over Lebanon on Sunday, former Tottenham team-mate Son Heung-min ran to the camera and said "Chris, stay strong, I love you."

Denmark face Belgium in their next Euro 2020 game on Thursday.

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