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All 55 FIFA-affiliated national teams from UEFA will enter qualification. On 9 December 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency handed Russia a four-year ban from all major sporting events, after RUSADA was found non-compliant for handing over manipulating lab data to investigators. However, the Russia national team could still enter qualification, as the ban only applies to the final tournament to decide the world champions. If Russia were to qualify, Russian footballers could still potentially compete at the tournament, pending a decision from FIFA. However, a team representing Russia which uses the Russian flag and anthem cannot participate under the WADA decision.
The qualification format was confirmed by the UEFA Executive Committee during their meeting in Nyon, Switzerland on 4 December 2019, pending validation from FIFA. The qualification will depend, in part, on results from the 2020–21 UEFA Nations League, although to a lesser degree than UEFA Euro 2020. The structure will maintain UEFA's usual 'group stage/playoff stage' structure, with only the specific format of the play-offs amended.
Group stage: 10 groups of 5 or 6 teams (with the 4 teams that make the 2021 UEFA Nations League Finals put into the smaller groups) with group winners qualifying for the World Cup finals.
Play-off stage: The 10 group runners-up would be joined by the best 2 Nations League group winners based on the Nations League overall ranking which have not yet directly qualified or reached the play-offs. These 12 teams will be drawn into three play-off paths, playing two rounds of single-match play-offs (semi-finals and finals, with the home team to be drawn), with the 3 path winners qualifying for the World Cup.
The UEFA Executive Committee also approved the use of the video assistant referee system for the qualifiers, subject to the approval of FIFA.
Below is the schedule of the European qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
In March 2020, UEFA announced that the two matchdays planned to take place in June 2021 would be moved following the rescheduling of UEFA Euro 2020 to June and July 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To allow for the completion of the qualifying group stage in November 2021 as scheduled, UEFA announced on 24 September 2020 that the March and September 2021 windows in the FIFA International Match Calendar were expanded from two to three matchdays. The changes to the International Match Calendar for March and September 2021, which extended each window by one day, were approved by the FIFA Council on 4 December 2020.
Qualifying group stage
24–25 March 2021
27–28 March 2021
30–31 March 2021
1–2 September 2021
4–5 September 2021
6–7 September 2021
8–9 October 2021
11–12 October 2021
11–13 November 2021
14–16 November 2021
24–25 March 2022
28–29 March 2022
The draw for the first round (group stage) was held as a virtual event (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) in Zürich, Switzerland on 7 December 2020, 18:00 CET (UTC+1).
The 55 teams were seeded into six pots based on the FIFA World Rankings of November 2020, after the conclusion of the league phase of the 2020–21 UEFA Nations League. Pots 1 to 5 contained ten teams, while Pot 6 contained five teams. The teams were drawn into ten groups: five groups of five teams (Groups A–E) and five groups of six teams (Groups F–J). The draw started with Pot 1 and completed with Pot 6, from where a team was drawn and assigned to the first available group in alphabetical order. Therefore, each six-team group contains one team from each of the six pots, while each five-team group contains one team from each of the first five pots.
The following restrictions were applied with computer assistance:
Nations League finalists: The four teams participating in the 2021 UEFA Nations League Finals (Belgium, France, Italy and Spain) were drawn into a group with five teams (Groups A–E). Additionally, a group could contain a maximum of one Nations League finalist, but all four teams were in the same pot for the draw.
Prohibited clashes: For political reasons, matches between following pairs of teams were considered prohibited clashes, unable to be drawn into the same group: Kosovo / Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo / Serbia, Kosovo / Russia, Russia / Ukraine. (Armenia / Azerbaijan and Gibraltar / Spain were also identified as prohibited clashes, but the teams in the former pair were in the same pot for the draw, while the teams in the latter pair were restricted to different-sized groups based on draw pots and conditions.)
Winter venues: A maximum of two teams whose venues are identified as having high or medium risk of severe winter conditions could be placed in each group: Belarus, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russia, Ukraine.
The two "hard winter venues" (Faroe Islands and Iceland) generally cannot host games in March or November, and therefore could not be drawn together; the others shall play as few home matches as possible in March and November.
Excessive travel: A maximum of one pair of teams identified with excessive travel distance in relation to other countries could be placed in each group:
Azerbaijan: with Iceland, Gibraltar, Portugal.
Iceland: with Armenia, Cyprus, Georgia, Israel.
Kazakhstan: with England, France, Gibraltar, Iceland, Malta, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Wales. (Andorra and Faroe Islands were also identified with Kazakhstan for excessive travel distance, but the teams were in the same pot for the draw.)
Teams were allocated to seeding pots as follows (November 2020 FIFA Rankings shown in second column).
The fixture list was confirmed by UEFA on 8 December 2020, the day following the draw. Qatar are partnered with the five-team Group A, which enables the 2022 World Cup hosts to play centralised friendlies against these countries on their "spare" match dates. However, these friendlies do not count in the qualifying group standings.
The ten group runners-up and the best two Nations League group winners, based on the Nations League overall ranking, which have not yet directly qualified or reached the play-offs will contest the second round. They will be separated into three play-off paths, with each path featuring two single-leg semi-finals and one single-leg final. The home teams will be determined by a draw. The semi-finals will be played on 24–25 March, and the finals on 28–29 March 2022. The winners of each path will qualify for the World Cup.