Scotland are strong favourites to secure second place in their World Cup qualifying group and with it a place in the play-offs to make it to Qatar 2022.
Courier Sport examines the path that is opening up in front of Steve Clarke’s men after Tuesday night’s late win against the Faroe Islands and the obstacles still to be negotiated.
"Tonight, three points was the most important thing."
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) October 12, 2021
Finishing the Group F job should be a given now, surely?
Scotland still have a healthy four-point advantage over Israel, while Austria are now out of the running.
It means the most they need from their two remaining fixtures is one victory.
With Moldova up next the smart money is on the final match against runaway leaders Denmark being a dead rubber in terms of the runners-up spot – a prospect that looked fanciful after the Scots’ slow start.
So to the play-offs then – how many places are up for grabs in Europe?
Just the three unfortunately.
The 10 group runners-up and the two highest-ranked teams from the Nations League who have not already qualified or finished in a runners-up spot make up the 12 fighting it out for those slots.
There will be three four-team play-off paths to settle things.
That means two rounds then?
Indeed it does.
Just like for the recent European Championships.
Again, the format will consist of two, single-match knockout rounds.
The semi-finals will be hosted by the six best-ranked runners-up from the qualifying group stage.
Then the finals will be determined by an unweighted draw.
Are Scotland likely to be one of the ‘home’ six for the semis?
Well, kind of.
A lot can change in the last two matches across all the different groups.
But as it stands, the Scots are in the top six.
It should be noted that points against the sixth-placed team in the group, Moldova, won’t count as some sections only have five nations in them.
Shall we watch that one again? 🤩
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) October 9, 2021
And, that last-day clash with Denmark has the potential to scupper those semi-final seeding hopes.
If the music stopped now, Portugal, Switzerland, Scotland, Spain, Poland and Croatia would be at home and the Czech Republic, Norway, Romania, Ukraine, Wales and Austria would be away.
Whatever permutations you come up with, it’s almost certain that Clarke’s side would have to beat a top level opponent to make it two major finals in a row.
When are the play-offs to be played?
The semi-finals are scheduled for March 24 and 25, 2022 and then the finals will be on March 28 and 29.
Let’s be optimistic and put the draw for the Qatar World Cup finals in the diary while we’re at it – April 2022.
At that point the 13 European nations will join the 19 countries to have qualified from the other five Fifa confederations and be separated into four pots based on their Fifa world rankings.
Uefa can have a maximum of two teams in the same group.