World Cup 2022 European qualifying draw: format, pots and rules

World Cup 2022 European qualifying draw: format, pots and rules

Ten years on from Sepp Blatter calling the 2022 World Cup race for Qatar, European qualifying is about to take shape. Fifa say the event, live from Fifa HQ in Zurich on Monday, will be an “exciting virtual ceremony”.

What will it involve?

Fifty-five nations being drawn into 10 groups to compete for the 13 European spots available in Qatar. Follow it live at 5pm GMT on theguardian.com/football.

What is the format?

There are six pots: 10 nations in each of pots 1-5 and five in pot 6. They will be drawn into 10 groups: five groups of five (A-E) and five of six (F to J). Teams will play each other home and away between March and November next year. The 10 group winners qualify for Qatar, 10 runners-up go into the play-offs.

How do the play-offs work?

Those 10 runners-up, plus the two best-ranked but otherwise unqualified sides in the Nations League, will be split into three play-off paths in March 2022 to settle the final three places.

Who is in which pot?

As determined by the latest world rankings, the top sides are in pot 1, the next best 10 in pot 2, and so on. The five minnows are in pot 6.

Pot 1 Belgium, France, England, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands

Pot 2 Switzerland, Wales, Poland, Sweden, Austria, Ukraine, Serbia, Turkey, Slovakia, Romania

Pot 3 Russia, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Czech Republic, Norway, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Scotland, Greece, Finland

Pot 4 Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Israel, Belarus, Georgia, Luxembourg

Pot 5 Armenia, Cyprus, Faroe Islands, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Andorra

Pot 6 Malta, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, San Marino

How will the draw work?

Pot by pot – so pot 1 will be emptied, then it’s on to pot 2. As each nation is drawn it is allocated to a group in alphabetical order, from Group A to Group J. There are complications though: predefined constraints to keep certain sides apart to avoid political clashes, too much long haul travel or bad winter weather in one group, and fixture congestion. Full details, for purists, on fifa.com.

Will the show be exciting?

The pandemic has taken the edge off: expect a lower-key event than usual, with no national representatives. Daniele De Rossi and Rafael van der Vaart will pick the balls, Fifa’s acting director of competitions, Jaime Yarza, will host.

When does the tournament start?

The hosts kick off the first match on 21 November 2022 at the new €770m Al Bayt Stadium, where 100 workers went unpaid for seven months this year, according to Amnesty. Organisers say the stadium will prove to be “a unique place … and a shining example for the future”.