IT has been squeaky bum time in World Cup qualifiers over the past week and some interesting results have left a few superstars facing the prospect of missing out on a chance to shine in Qatar next year.
Four-time world champions Italy and former European champions Portugal have been left facing the lottery of play-offs to book their places at (football’s) greatest show on earth.
Asia giants and six-time World Cup participants Japan along with inaugural World Cup winners Uruguay also have plenty of work to do.
So with England’s Lions already turning their attention to how they will handle the heat in the Middle East after breezing through qualification, we have picked out a team of global superstars who they might not have to play at next winter’s event.
RUI PATRICIO – Portugal
The experienced Roma and former Wolves shot-stopper has just clocked up a century of appearances for his country but fumbled Dusan Tadic’s shot over the line for Serbia’s equaliser on Sunday.
The Serbs went on to claim a shock 2-1 away win over Portugal which has left the hosts facing the lottery of the play-offs to qualify for Qatar 2022.
Patricio was not pleased after Portugal’s defeat to Serbia in a crunch qualifier[/caption]
VICTOR LINDELOF – Sweden
Sweden captain Lindelof was gutted as they conceded a late winner against Spain on Sunday which has left the Scandinavians in March’s play-offs.
The Manchester United defender could only look on in despair as former Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata stole in to chip home an 86th-minute winner.
Lindelof squared off against Morata in a World Cup qualifier Group B clash[/caption]
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MATTY CASH – Poland
Aston Villa right-back Cash made his debut for Poland in the latest round of World Cup qualifiers but could not prevent a surprising 2-1 home defeat by Hungary.
Daniel Gazdag’s 80th-minute winner confirmed Paulo Sousa’s Poles in the Group I runners-up spot behind England and they will now be in the play-offs.
Cash made his Poland debut this month[/caption]
LEONARDO BONUCCI – Italy
The Italians seemed to go out of their way to mess up qualification over the past week with frustrating draws against Switzerland and Northern Ireland.
It means the Euro 2020 winners and their imperious 114-cap Juventus centre-back Leonardo Bonucci will enter the knock-out format to book their place in Qatar.
Bonucci was brilliant for Italy against England in the Euro 2020 final[/caption]
GARETH BALE – Wales
It is the play-offs for Wales however they get on against Belgium tonight as they have already won their Nations League group.
That means Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale, who started his career as a left-back at Southampton, will undoubtedly be called upon to deliver another match-winning contribution in the knock-out games in the spring.
Bale’s Wales have secured a play-off spot through the Nations League[/caption]
TAKE KUBO – Japan
Japan and their hot-prospect winger Kubo are currently third in their play-off group behind Australia and leaders Saudi Arabia, and are heading for a play-off.
Kubo, a Real Madrid player on loan at Mallorca, is precocious enough to have sparked a squabble for his signature between Real and Barcelona – but you might not see him in Qatar.
Japan winger Kubo is tipped for big things in La Liga[/caption]
JORGINHO – Italy
The Chelsea midfielder is regarded as one of the best players in the Premier League at the moment but he has had a disappointing week with his country.
Draws in qualifiers against Switzerland and Northern Ireland mean the Blues star might miss out on Qatar – which would be music to the ears of most of his Prem rivals at the tournament.
Jorginho has been in brilliant form for Prem leaders Chelsea this season[/caption]
ERLING HAALAND – Norway
Any neutral is likely to say it would be a shame if Borussia Dortmund phenom Haaland misses the chance to shine in Qatar – but that is a distinct possibility now.
A goalless draw at home to Latvia means Haaland’s Norway are now in a scrap with the Netherlands and Turkey to progress from Group G.
Haaland is regarded as one of the very best players in world football[/caption]
CRISTIANO RONALDO – Portugal
Portugal’s talisman looked close to tears as they let a lead slip against Serbia which saw them lose 2-1 and left them facing the lottery of the play-offs.
Manchester United’s main man will probably be sobbing if he does end up missing out on qualifying for a joint-record fifth World Cup appearance.
Ronaldo has been in brilliant form for Manchester United but Portugal may miss out on Qatar 2022[/caption]
ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI – Poland
Poland only lost once in qualifying – against England at Wembley – but it still means they will head into the play-offs.
Failure to win in the knock-out stage will deny spectators the chance to see their 74-goal all-time top scorer and Bayern Munich legend Lewandowski in Qatar.
Lewandowski has been in brilliant for Poland this season but they finished behind England in qualifying[/caption]
LUIS SUAREZ – Uruguay
Defeat to Argentina on Saturday left Uruguay outside the play-off positions in their qualifying group and in a battle with Chile and Colombia to progress.
Nobody will ever forget Atletico Madrid goal-machine Suarez’s infamous bite on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup and he will be chomping at the bit to get to book his place at the tournament again.