Spain and Croatia put themselves one game away from securing the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification, while Sweden’s hopes took a heavy blow with a surprising loss. (More Football News)
Spain beat Greece 1-0 thanks to Pablo Sarabia’s penalty to overtake Sweden, which slipped to a 2-0 loss at already-eliminated Georgia. Spain host Sweden on Sunday in one of three winner-takes-all matches to decide 2022 FIFA World Cup places.
Another decisive fixture pits Portugal against Serbia after a frustrating 0-0 away draw for Cristiano Ronaldo’s team against Ireland. Croatia and Russia also face off for a spot in Qatar after each had a big win Thursday.
Only group winners qualify automatically, and second-place teams head to the playoffs along with two teams selected on their record in the Nations League. The 12 teams in the playoffs will be fighting for three places at next year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar in brackets of four teams.
Sweden had its fate in its own hands in qualifying, and let it slip. Twenty-year-old winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia of Rubin Kazan may be little known outside of the Russian league where he usually plays, but he had a big impact with two second-half goals to surprise Sweden.
That gave Spain the chance to overtake Sweden and take advantage ahead of the decisive game against the Swedes on Sunday.
Spain had to work hard in its 1-0 win over Greece, sealed with a penalty, but moved one point ahead of Sweden. Spain only has to avoid defeat against Sweden in Seville. They drew 0-0 in the same city this year at the European Championships. The defeat to Spain ensured Greece can’t qualify.
Russia and Croatia each won big against overmatched opponents in games that were merely a warm-up for their qualifying decider. Croatia host Russia on Sunday and the winner will qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup automatically, with Russia going through if it's a draw.
Russia laid down a marker with a 6-0 demolition of Cyprus and Croatia responded with a 7-1 hammering of Malta with two goals from Lovro Majer. Malta’s goal also came from a Croatia player, as Marcelo Brozovic scored into his own net to make it 2-1 in the first half.
If the 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia is to qualify automatically for next year’s tournament in Qatar, they will need to be the first team to beat Russia under new coach Valery Karpin. His team has conceded just once in six games under Karpin.