The countdown for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is officially on following the conclusion of the UEFA qualifying section.
While teams such as England, France, Belgium and Germany sealed their places in next winter’s showpiece event without too much bother, there are some nations in real danger of missing out.
Amongst the British teams in the play-offs are Scotland and Wales along with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, while Italy were beaten to top spot by Switzerland in a surprise twist.
There are only three spots up for grabs in the revamped play-off system and that could see some of Europe’s most renowned players missing out on the event in the Middle East in November 2022.
Likewise, in South America the race to seal the final spots could go down to the wire, although Brazil and Argentina are both assured of their places in next year’s tournament.
But there are several nations pinning their hopes on the play-offs to make it to the World Cup in 2022.
Daily Star Sport has rounded up some of the biggest names who are currently in jeopardy of missing out on the month-long trip to Qatar…
Ronaldo has his sights set on continuing playing until he is 40, which would be an impressive feat in itself for the Portuguese superstar.
But that would put the next World Cup out of his reach, as he would be 41 by the time that comes around in 2026.
The all-time record international goalscorer will need to be at the top of his game to ensure the Selecao don’t miss the cut.
But there will be concerns in the Portugal camp after his recent outburst at manager Fernando Santos, following their 2-1 defeat to Serbia.
The prospect of Lionel Messi and no Ronaldo in what could be their final World Cup? It simply cannot be.
It would seem strange to have a tournament welcoming the best footballers from all over the globe.
And yet, when the international sides head to the Middle East in just over a year’s time, Haaland will not be on the plane.
The 21-year-old has proved himself to be a goal machine in his short time at Borussia Dortmund, scoring 61 goals in as many games for the German outfit.
But clearly, his five goals in six qualifying matches were not enough to push the Nordic nation through in a group that also contained The Netherlands and Turkey.
Like his fellow Manchester United team-mate Ronaldo, Victor Lindelof could be facing World Cup heartache after being consigned to the cruel nature of the play-offs.
The Sweden captain could only watch on in devastation as Alvaro Morata scored a crucial winner for Spain to beat the Scandinavian side 1-0 on Sunday.
That goal confirmed Spain as group winners and consigned Sweden to the dreaded play-offs in March.
Only three nations can make it through and on the formbook alone, Sweden may have to prepare for disappointment if they draw one of the big guns.
Austria were somewhat fortunate to be in the hat for the play-offs after a poor qualifying campaign in which they finished fourth behind Denmark, Israel and Scotland.
But their performances in the Nations League have rescued Franco Foda’s men, as they secured their spot along with the Czech Republic through the recently-created UEFA competition.
However, their hopes now hinge on being able to beat teams such as Italy, Turkey and Wales, which could prove to be a tall order.
Considering their dismal display at the Euro 2020 tournament this summer, the Real Madrid star may be denied the chance to feature at what could be his final World Cup.
Few players have enjoyed a more successful 2021 than the Chelsea midfielder, who has been tipped to rival Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah for the Ballon d'Or.
But it remains possible that the Azzurri may not progress from the play-offs and that could harm his chances to claim the award.
The 29-year-old has been in superb form since the turn of the year, helping the Blues to the Champions League and then playing a key role in Italy’s Euro 2020 success over England.
But the World Cup could prove to be one step too far for the penalty expert, who missed out on featuring at the 2018 tournament when Italy failed to qualify.
The former Liverpool star is still turning out for Uruguay some 11 years after that infamous handball against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals.
But his chances of making a fourth World Cup appear to be slim at best given their current position in the South American qualifying section.
Brazil and Argentina have already booked their places, while Colombia and Ecuador are well-placed to take the next two automatic spots.
That would leave Uruguay scrapping with Peru and Chile for the final places and, after a 3-0 defeat by Bolivia, Suarez may be forced to accept his fate in staying at home.
Competition for a World Cup place from the African qualifying campaign is notoriously difficult to obtain. Just ask Aubameyang.
The 33-year-old has surely missed his final shot at going to a World Cup after Gabon failed to qualify from their group which contained Mohamed Salah’s Egypt.
Four years from now, he will be 37 and the Arsenal forward has already shown signs of decline, suggesting he may decide to retire from international duty before too long.
Making the 2026 tournament looks unlikely on current evidence and for Aubameyang, he may have to focus on AFCON glory from now on.
Like Haaland, the Arsenal playmaker will have to find another way to occupy his time in November and December next year.
The 22-year-old played a key role for Norway in their qualification campaign, but was unable to guide his nation to the finals.
Still, he is young enough to make the cut for the 2026 edition and considering the talent coming through for Norway, they may stand a better chance of qualifying.
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