The path is set: Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal know exactly what they need to do to make it to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. But it won’t be easy for the 36-year-old superstar to qualify for what will likely be his final World Cup.
After the draw for the European playoffs, Portugal will need to survive two matches if it is to advance to its sixth straight World Cup. The first comes against No. 37-ranked Turkey on March 24 or March 25. Get past the Turks, and a matchup against the winner of the Italy vs. North Macedonia match awaits a mere five days later.
The good news for Ronaldo fans is that his team will be playing at home for both games. Lose either match and it would mark the first time Portugal would miss a World Cup since France 1998.
MORE: The other matchups in Europe’s World Cup playoffs
Playoff Semifinal: Portugal vs. Turkey
|Date||European Playoff Path C Semifinals||Time (ET)||TV channels||Stream|
|Thurs, March 24||Semi #1: Italy vs. North Macedonia||2:45 p.m.||TBD||TBD|
|Thurs, March 24||Semi #2: Portugal vs. Turkey||2:45 p.m.||TBD||TBD|
It’s been nearly 14 years since these two nations faced off in a competitive matchup, but history clearly favors the Portuguese. In all five showdowns in official competitions, Portugal has always come out on top.
MORE: Which teams have qualified to the 2022 World Cup?
They have also met in three friendlies in their history and their most recent match was one of those exhibitions back in June 2012. That result should have Portugal fans on high alert: Turkey went into the Estadio da Luz and came out 3-1 winners in Portugal’s final tuneup ahead of Euro 2012. The Portuguese did bounce back to make it all the way to the Euro 2012 semis, where they lost to Spain on penalty kicks.
Turkey, which has a population of more than 83 million (Portugal’s population is 10 million), has only played in two World Cups in its history (1954 and 2002) and it has dropped to No. 37 in the FIFA world rankings. But it gave the Netherlands a run for its money in Group G of European qualifying, finishing just two points behind the Oranje in the final standings, thus qualifying for the playoffs. It went 6W-1L-3D, beating the Netherlands 4-2 at home and losing 6-1 in Amsterdam.
You never know what you’ll get from Turkey: They can look like world-beaters one day and they can be underwhelming on others. What’s certain is that they’ll be gritty and hard to break down, taking their chances on counterattacks and set pieces. The pressure will be squarely on Portugal at home.
🧮 – To reach the path C play-off final:
8⃣7⃣% 🇮🇹Italy (ranked 7 by our World Football Ranking)
8⃣1⃣% 🇵🇹Portugal (8)
1⃣9⃣% 🇹🇷Turkey (41)
1⃣3⃣% 🇲🇰North Macedonia (61)
To qualify for #WorldCup2022 from path C:
4⃣% 🇲🇰North Macedonia
— Gracenote Live (@GracenoteLive) November 26, 2021
Playoff Final: Portugal vs. Italy or North Macedonia
|Date||European Playoff Path C Final||Time (ET)||TV channels||Stream|
|Tues, March 29||Portugal/Turkey vs. Italy/N. Macedonia||2:45 p.m.||TBD||TBD|
If Portugal can get past Turkey, then a showdown awaits against Italy or North Macedonia for a ticket to Qatar 2022. This will also be played on Portuguese soil, and in addition to the homefield advantage, Portugal will benefit from avoiding travel.
A meeting between Portugal (No. 8) against defending European champion Italy (No. 6) for a spot in the World Cup would be epic. Either nation missing out on Qatar 2022 would make headlines.
MORE: Why is Portugal forced to play in the playoffs?
The Italians have the edge in official competitions with a 5W-2L-1D record. Since the turn of the century, Italy has also won four friendlies against Portugal, but their last meeting in a major competition came in the UEFA Nations League with two matches played in 2018. Both were tight affairs, with Portugal shutting out Italy on both occasions 1-0 and 0-0.
But should No. 67-ranked North Macedonia spring the surprise against Italy in the semifinals, it won’t be intimidated by a trip to Portugal after playing in its first major international tournament at Euro 2021. It also drew Portugal 0-0 in a friendly trip to Lisbon back in May 2012. Portugal won narrowly 1-0 in the only other friendly head-to-head in 2003.