Photo: UEFA
Photo: UEFA

Summer's European Championships may still be front of mind, but this month the continent's focus shifts to Qatar 2022 as qualifying has begun for next year's World Cup.

Nations were due to play two of their qualifiers this month but the pressure on the international schedule brought on by COVID-19, which forced Euro 2020 to be postponed to this summer, means that instead there will be three matchdays to fit in as Europe rushes to conclude its qualifying before the end of the calendar year.

How qualifying works

Photo: UEFA
Photo: UEFA

Team in each of the 10 groups play one home and one away match against the other four or five teams in their group, which are seeded in six separate pots to keep the continents' top teams separate. The winner of each group will be guaranteed a spot at next winter's World Cup.

Where matters become rather more complicated is in the awarding of the remaining three spots. In previous years these would have been decided by play offs among the group stages second place teams. Instead those 10 nations will be joined by the best two Nations League winners that finished outside the top two in the groups. So, for instance, in the unlikely event that France were to finish behind Ukraine and Finland in Group D they would be one of the 12 teams in the second round of qualifying.

Those 12 will be split into three groups of four who would play one-legged semi-finals and a final for a qualifying spot. Those matches are due to take place in March 2022.

UEFA World Cup qualifying schedule 2021 (Matchdays 1-3)

Wednesday, March 24

Match Time (ET) Channel/Streaming
Turkey vs. Netherlands 1 p.m. ESPN+
Belgium vs. Wales 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Cyprus vs. Slovakia 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Estonia vs. Czech Republic 3:45 p.m. ESPN3
Finland vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
France vs. Ukraine 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Gibraltar vs. Norway 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Latvia vs. Montenegro 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Malta vs. Russia 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Portugal vs. Azerbaijan 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Serbia vs. Republic of Ireland 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Slovenia vs. Croatia 3:45 p.m. ESPN3

Thursday, March 25

Match Time (ET) Channel/Streaming
Bulgaria vs. Switzerland 1 p.m. ESPN3
Israel vs. Denmark 1 p.m. ESPN+
Andorra vs. Albania 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
England vs. San Marino 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Germany vs. Iceland 3:45 p.m. ESPN2
Hungary vs. Poland 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Italy vs. Northern Ireland 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Liechtenstein vs. Armenia 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Moldova vs. Faroe Islands 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Romania vs. North Macedonia 3:45 p.m. ESPN3
Scotland vs. Austria 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Spain vs. Greece 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Sweden vs. Georgia 3:45 p.m. ESPN+

Saturday, March 27

Match Time (ET) Channel/Streaming
Montenegro vs. Gibraltar 10 a.m. ESPN3
Russia vs. Slovenia 10 a.m. ESPN+
Belarus vs. Estonia 1 p.m. ESPN3
Croatia vs. Cyprus 1 p.m. ESPN+
Netherlands vs. Latvia 1 p.m. ESPN+
Norway vs. Turkey 1 p.m. ESPN2
Czech Republic vs. Belgium 3:45 p.m. ESPN2
Republic of Ireland vs. Luxembourg 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Serbia vs. Portugal 3:45 p.m. ESPN+
Slovakia vs. Malta 3:45 p.m. ESPN+

Sunday, March 28

Match Time (ET) Channel/Streaming
Kazakhstan vs. France 9 a.m. ESPN3
Albania vs. England Noon ESPN+
Armenia vs. Iceland Noon ESPN+
Denmark vs. Moldova Noon ESPN3
Georgia vs. Spain Noon ESPN+
Austria vs. Faroe Islands 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Bulgaria vs. Italy 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Israel vs. Scotland 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Kosovo vs. Sweden 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
North Macedonia vs. Liechtenstein 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Poland vs. Andorra 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Romania vs. Germany 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
San Marino vs. Hungary 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Switzerland vs. Lithuania 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Ukraine vs. Finland 2:45 p.m. ESPN3

Tuesday, March 30

Match Time (ET) Channel/Streaming
Azerbaijan vs. Serbia Noon ESPN3
Cyprus vs. Slovenia Noon ESPN+
Belgium vs. Belarus 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Croatia vs. Malta 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Gibraltar vs. Netherlands 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Luxembourg vs. Portgual 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Montenegro vs. Norway 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Slovakia vs. Russia 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Turkey vs. Latvia 2:45 p.m. ESPN3
Wales vs. Czech Republic 2:45 p.m. ESPN+

Wednesday, March 31

Match Time (ET) Channel/Streaming
Armenia vs. Romania Noon ESPN3
Andorra vs. Hungary 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Austria vs. Denmark 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
England vs. Poland 2:45 p.m. ESPN2
Germany vs. North Macedonia 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Greece vs. Georgia 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Liechtenstein vs. Iceland 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Lithuania vs. Italy 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Moldova vs. Israel 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Northern Ireland vs. Bulgaria 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
San Marino vs. Albania 2:45 p.m. ESPN3
Scotland vs. Faroe Islands 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Spain vs. Kosovo 2:45 p.m. ESPN+
Ukraine vs. Kazakhstan 2:45 p.m. ESPN+

UEFA World Cup: Standings

Groups

Group A

POS NATION PLD W D L GD PTS

1

Portugal

3

2

1

0

+3

7

2

Serbia

3

2

1

0

+2

7

3

Luxembourg

2

1

0

1

-1

3

4

Ireland

2

0

0

2

-2

0

5

Azerbaijan

2

0

0

2

-2

0

Group B

POS NATION PLD W D L GD PTS

1

Spain

3

2

1

0

+3

7

2

Sweden

2

2

0

0

+4

6

3

Greece

2

0

2

0

0

2

4

Georgia

3

0

1

2

-2

1

5

Kosovo

2

0

0

2

-5

0

Group C

POS NATION PLD W D L GD PTS
1 Italy 3 3 0 0 +6 9

2

Switzerland

2

2

0

0

+3

6

3

Northern Ireland

2

0

1

1

-2

1

4

Bulgaria

3

0

1

2

-4

1

5 Lithuania 2 0 0 2 -3 0

Group D

POS NATION PLD W D L GD PTS

1

France

3

2

1

0

+3

7

2

Ukraine

3

0

3

0

0

3

3

Finland

2

0

2

0

0

2

4

Bosnia and Herzegovina

2

0

1

1

-1

1

5

Kazakhstan

2

0

1

1

-2

1

Group E

POS NATION PLD W D L GD PTS

1

Belgium

3

2

1

0

+10

7

2

Czech Republic

3

1

1

1

+3

4

3

Wales

2

1

0

1

-1

3

4

Belarus

2

1

0

1

-6

3

5

Estonia

2

0

0

2

-6

0

Group F

POS NATION PLD W D L GD PTS

1

Denmark

3

3

0

0

+14

9

2

Scotland

3

1

2

0

+4

5

3

Israel

3

1

1

1

+1

4

4

Austria

3

1

1

1

-2

4

5

Faroe Islands

3

0

1

2

-6

1

6 Moldova 3 0 1 2 -11 1

Group G

POS NATION PLD W D L GD PTS

1

Turkey

3

2

1

0

+5

7

2

Netherlands

3

2

0

1

+7

6

3

Montenegro

3

2

0

1

+3

6

4

Norway

3

2

0

1

+1

6

5

Latvia

3

0

1

2

-3

1

6

Gibraltar

2

0

0

3

-13

0

Group H

POS NATION PLD W D L GD PTS

1

Croatia

3

2

0

1

+3

6

2

Russia

3

2

0

1

+2

6

3

Slovakia

3

1

2

0

+1

5

4

Cyprus

3

1

1

1

0

4

5

Slovenia

3

1

0

2

-1

3

6

Malta

3

0

1

2

-5

1

Group I

POS NATION PLD W D L GD PTS

1

England

3

3

0

0

+8

9

2

Hungary

3

2

1

0

+6

7

3

Albania

3

2

0

1

+1

6

4

Poland

3

1

1

1

+2

4

5

Andorra

3

0

0

3

-7

0

6

San Marino

3

0

0

3

-10

0

Group J

POS NATION PLD W D L GD PTS

1

Armenia

3

3

0

0

+4

9

2

North Macedonia

3

2

0

1

+5

6

3

Germany

3

2

0

1

+3

6

4

Romania

3

1

0

2

-1

3

5

Iceland

3

1

0

2

-2

3

6

Liechtenstein

3

0

0

3

-9

0

Format for European qualifiers

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

There are two stages to qualifying:

Group stage

Teams will be split into ten groups of five or six (the four teams who reached the 2021 UEFA Nations League finals – Belgium, France, Italy, Spain – will be in the smaller groups). The ten group winners qualify for the World Cup.

Play-offs

The ten group runners-up are joined by the two best group winners of the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League overall ranking that have neither qualified directly for the final tournament as European Qualifiers group winners, nor entered the play-offs already as European Qualifiers group runners-up. The 12 teams will be drawn into three play-off paths for one-off semi-finals and a final. The three path winners qualify for the World Cup.

When do the matches and finals take place?

Matchday 4: 1–2 September 2021

Matchday 5: 4–5 September 2021

Matchday 6: 7–8 September 2021

Matchday 7: 8–9 October 2021

Matchday 8: 11–12 October 2021

Matchday 9: 11–13 November 2021

Matchday 10: 14–16 November 2021

Play-offs: 24, 25, 28, 29 March 2022

How to watch UEFA World Cup Qualifiers in the U.S.

Photo: ESPN
Photo: ESPN

UEFA European qualifiers will be streamed on ESPN+ (English) and TUDN (Spanish) in the United States. Matches on TUDN can be streamed via fuboTV.

UEFA qualifiers can be seen on ESPN+. An ESPN+ subscription costs $5.99 per month or $59.99 annually. It can also be bundled with Disney+ and Hulu for $12.99 per month (Hulu with ads) or $18.99 per month (Hulu without ads).

How to stream FIFA World Cup European qualifiers live in the UK

Coverage of the FIFA World Cup 2022 European qualifiers is split between pay-TV service Sky Sports and free-to-air channel ITV in the UK, with the paid-for service getting the bulk of the coverage.

If you're not a Sky subscriber, you can still easily watch World Cup qualifiers online or on TV via Sky's excellent value streaming offshoot, NOW (formerly Now TV).

A NOW Sports Membership will also get you access to all Sky Sports channels and costs £9.99 a day, though the monthly pass is much better value at £34. It will let you watch all of the Premier League matches aired by Sky for the rest of the 2020/21 season, plus PGA Tour golf, Test cricket, Formula 1, and more.

Live games featuring Wales will be shown on Welsh-language channel S4C and its S4C Clic streaming service.

How to stream FIFA World Cup European qualifiers live in Canada

TLN has got coverage of select live games from the FIFA World Cup 2022 European qualifying stage, with highlights of others being available via UEFA.tv in the region.

How to stream FIFA World Cup 2022 European qualifiers live in Australia

If you're planning on watching World Cup European qualifiers in Australia, then you'll need to be an Optus Sports subscriber as the network holds exclusive live broadcast rights to the matches Down Under.

****READ MORE: How To Watch FIFA World Cup 2022 European Qualifiers From Anywhere: Quick Links, Guide to Live Stream

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