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The excitement continues to build for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with the famous event rapidly approaching. Qualifiers for the tournament have already kicked off across the globe, with several teams in a commanding position despite only playing a handful of matches so far.
A total of 54 nations from Africa will compete for places at next year’s tournament, with 46 participating teams in Asian qualifying. The North, Central America and Caribbean process sees 34 countries battle it out, with ten teams participating in South America, and 11 in Oceania. And in Europe, 55 nations are all eyeing a spot in the prestigious competition.
We take a look at the current stage of the England World Cup qualifiers, with the country competing in Group I of the European section.
England World Cup qualifiers off to strong start
Gareth Southgate’s men have hit the ground running immediately, kicking things off with an emphatic 5-0 victory over minnows San Marino. Dominic Calvert-Lewin netted a brace, with James Ward-Prowse, Raheem Sterling and Ollie Watkins also on target.
Three days later, Harry Kane and Mason Mount secured a 2-0 win in Albania. And that was followed by a home victory over Poland shortly after, with Harry Maguire scoring late on in addition to Kane’s first-half penalty.
A number of European nations have, like England, played three games in the group stages so far. But not many have enjoyed as strong a start to the campaign, with the Three Lions sitting on nine points, with three wins from three. Also in that position are Italy and Denmark in Groups C and F respectively, as well as surprise package Armenia in Group J.
Remaining England World Cup qualifiers
England get things underway once again in Hungary at the beginning of September this year, followed by a meeting with Andorra at Wembley three days later. The Three Lions then travel to Poland on 8th September in arguably their toughest group game.
Domestic football then returns, but another international break a month later sees England visit Andorra on October 9th. Three days later, Southgate’s men welcome Hungary to Wembley, while exactly a month later it is Albania who travel to London. And England wrap up the group campaign with a trip to San Marino on November 15th, with Southgate and Co. undoubtedly hopeful top spot will have been clinched well before the flying visit.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest then that England will clinch that top spot in Group I, considering both their rapid start to the qualifying process and indeed the level of opposition.
How could the group end up?
On paper, Poland should be in a close second, but they haven’t enjoyed such a positive start to the campaign. They began with a 3-3 draw at Hungary, with star man Robert Lewandowski rescuing a point late on. The Bayern Munich striker then netted twice in the 3-0 win over Andorra, before he watched on as his side fell to a 2-1 defeat to England, with Lewandowski missing the match due to a knee injury.
His fitness is evidently key to his country’s success, but even without the formidable frontman, Poland should have enough in their attacking locker to climb into second spot in the group. Krzysztof Piatek and Arkadiusz Milik should be capable enough to step up in any further Lewandowski absence, while the experience and quality of Wojciech Szczęsny, Kamil Glik and Jan Bednarek will help keep things tight at the back.
Currently standing in their way, however, is both Hungary and Albania, who occupy spots second and third respectively. While the latter may continue to surprise, and can bank on their experience at Euro 2016, a place in Qatar may just be a step too far. Wins against Andorra and San Marino and a loss to England put them on six points from their three games.
It is the former then who are more likely to continue the fine form they have shown so far, with Hungary sitting on seven points thanks to wins over San Marino and Andorra and the aforementioned draw with Poland. RB Leipzig’s Willi Orbán should help control things in defence, while fellow Bundesliga men Roland Sallai and Adam Szalai each sit on two goals for the qualifiers so far.
Other fixtures alongside the England World Cup qualifiers
While the England World Cup qualifiers may be of huge importance, there is the small matter of the European Championships up first, with the delayed Euro 2020 tournament scheduled to take place this summer. Southgate and his fellow national team managers have been given a boost by the decision from UEFA to expand the squads from 23 players to 26, but many will still be left with a selection headache right up to the final deadline.
As-ever, the country have a few warm games to get the players into shape for the competition. Austria and Romania are the two chosen nations, with those encounters taking place on June 2nd and June 6th respectively.
England then kick their tournament off in the summer against Croatia on June 13th, before a highly-anticipated clash with Scotland on June 18th. They then take on the Czech Republic five days later, hoping to progress to the finals once again.
When is the 2022 World Cup?
Due to Qatar’s summer heat, the 2022 World Cup will be the first-ever time the competition is held in winter. It kicks off on November 21st in Al Bayt Stadium, Dakhira. The group games continue until December 2nd, with the knockout stages then getting underway on December 3rd. The final is scheduled for December 18th at Lusail Stadium, Al Daayen.
Qatar will get the action underway, with eight different venues to be used across five host cities throughout the tournament. Having previously been held in Europe, North America, South America, Africa and Asia, the competition will be held in the Middle East for the first time. It will also be the last World Cup to involve 32 teams, with the 2026 World Cup in the US, Canada and Mexico expected to involve 48 teams. Southgate’s men will hope to be part of both tournaments, with the recent England World Cup qualifiers a sign that the nation is going in the right direction.