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Will Ronaldo Make The Qatar 2022 World Cup?

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By Godswill Inneh

A World Cup without arguably the best Footballer in history would be unimaginable, wouldn’t it?

This is however looking to be the case as Portugal lost their group decider to Serbia yesterday. In a tense encounter at the hosts’ Estadio da Luz, Aleksandar Mitrovic headed home deep into stoppage time to complete the comeback and seal Serbia’s place at the World Cup next year, while stunning the hosts.

Portugal came into Sunday’s meeting needing just a draw or a win to go through to Qatar, and had initially taken the lead very early on through Lille midfielder Renato Sanches. This was as good as it got however for Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates, with the Manchester United forward having an atypically quiet night in front of goal. Ajax stalwart Dusan Tadic brought the game level shortly after the half-hour mark, and the game pressed on in pulsating fashion as both sides pushed for the winner.

Aleksandar Mitrovic was introduced at half time, and he proved to be the game winner as he snatched a stoppage time opportunity to damage the hosts’ chances of going through, and he was booked for his celebrations, having flung his shirt off, but the in-form Fulham forward is unlikely to have cared. Cristiano Ronaldo did have a chance to level late on, but he blazed a shot wide.

ALSO READ: Ronaldo: We Can Still Qualify For The World Cup

This means that Portugal can no longer qualify automatically for the World Cup, but what it also means is that their only chance to do so, is via the playoffs.

WHAT ARE THE PLAYOFFS?
The playoffs are one-off matches to decode who goes to the World Cup. The play-offs will take place early next year between March 24 and March 29. It means Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot will play crucial games at what could be a critical point in Manchester United’s season. The draw for the play-offs will take place on Friday, November 26 at 4pm.

HOW DO THE PLAYOFFS WORK?
There will be 12 total teams in the play-offs. These are made up of 10 teams who finished second in their group, plus two top ranked teams from the UEFA Nations League who have not yet qualified. There will be three groups, each with a one-off semi-final and a final. Just three teams from the 12 will make the World Cup. That makes Portugal’s defeat to Serbia potentially a very costly one.

WHO COULD PORTUGAL BE FACING?
Joining Portugal in the play-offs are Victor Lindelof’s Sweden, who lost to Spain and have finished second in their group. Scotland, North Macedonia and Russia are also into the play-offs after they secured second spot in their group. Other groups are yet to be completed and will be over the coming days. Teams currently occupying second spots which are subject to change include Wales, Finland, Turkey, Poland, and Switzerland. Netherlands and Italy, could conceivably drop in, while Norway and Ukraine could yet make it. Austria and Czech Republic currently stand to qualify for the play-offs via UEFA Nations League standings.

As keen followers of football, it would be disastrous for the FIFA World Cup as an event to not have Cristiano Ronaldo present. It would be the first in 4 different editions to not showcase the Portuguese superstar, if it were to happen. Portugal could join some of the very high-profile nations like Chile, Italy, USA and the Netherlands in 2018, Nigeria in 2006, France in 1990 and 1994, England in 1994, and Argentina in 1970 who have failed to make football’s biggest showpiece. That being said, history does favour big teams in the playoffs, with Portugal being the main case study. They’ve qualified for the World Cup 7 times, with an overall qualification record of 277, withe an average of 1.910, making them statistically one of UEFA’s best representatives not to actually win the competition itself.

There’s no gainsaying that Ronaldo is one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, as well as one of the most famous and adored. What makes next year’s World Cup so significant is that it is most definitely going to be the last of the Superstar’s decorated career, as he will be way into his 40s by the time the 2026 edition comes along. (we wouldn’t put it past him though)?. There is therefore an added importance attached to Qatar 2022, not just for Ronaldo, but for his lifelong rival, Lionel Messi. They have nothing else to prove to us all, but it could be the perfect way to sign out on the international stage.

Another angle to examine this is from the perspective of the image of FIFA, and the World Cup itself. A World Cup without arguably the best football ever wouldn’t bode so well for the outlook and general feel of the mundial, because this is Cristiano Ronaldo we’re talking about here. The man who shifted the world’s attention when he sealed a move to Juventus from Real Madrid back in 2018 during the Russia edition. He is marketable, he is a world-famous celebrity, and he is also an outrageously influential personality. He has that power in his profile, hence, we don’t even want to imagine what Qatar would look like next year.

That is why it is almost unthinkable that Ronaldo and co. may not make the World Cup. They are not down and out, and they retain a chance via the playoffs, albeit a slim one. But time and time again, Ronaldo has proven to step up when his team needs him the most. We watch on with hated breaths.

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