How big was Croatia’s 1-0 win over Russia on Sunday? Much bigger than we could have ever imagined!
Look, I’m not saying Croatia couldn’t have gotten through the playoff round if they needed to, but this will be the toughest playoff path for European nations in the history of World Cup qualifying. 12 teams will battle for the last three UEFA berths. The days of the 2-legged ‘home and away’ matches against the same team are over. In short, four teams will each play a mini tournament in March to see who goes to Qatar in 2022. Lose and you go home. In each of the three groups of four, there will be two one-leg semifinals with the winners battling it out days later in the World Cup decider. Even if you are a seeded team, you may not have the right to host the final leg on home soil. It’s a really tough situation for all teams involved with no margin for error.
Croatia didn’t just qualify automatically on Sunday but they dodged a HUGE bullet in not having to play some of Europe’s best teams in the playoff. Instead, Luka Modrić and the boys get to relax, kick their feet up, and play some friendlies in March while Cristiano Ronaldo and reigning Euro champions Italy battle for a spot in the World Cup.
I mean, just look at the teams. Every single one of the 12 playoff teams just played in EURO 2020. Portugal, Sweden, Wales, Ukraine, Austria, Czech Republic all made it to the knockout rounds. Italy won the whole thing!
This playoff is going to be absolutely nuts. Expect some solid competition to fall out.