The 2022 World Cup draw is complete with European teams now knowing their opponents on the road to Qatar.
Gareth Southgate’s England were pulled out in Group I alongside Poland, who have faced the Three Lions in qualifying for the 1974, 1990, 1994, 2006 and 2014 World Cups, as well as taking on England in the finals in Mexico in 1986. England and Poland also met in qualifying for the 1992 and 2000 European Championships. They also face Hungary, Albania, Andorra and San Marino in matches which will be played between March and November next year.
Scotland are up against Denmark, Austria, Israel, the Faroe Islands and Moldova in Group F as they seek a first World Cup qualification since 1998. The Scots lost to Israel in a Nations League match last month.
The Republic of Ireland face reigning European champions Portugal, as well as Serbia, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in Group A, while Northern Ireland face a tough group against Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Lithuania.
Follow live reaction and analysis from the draw in Zurich:
ROAD TO QATAR STARTS NOW
No reaction from Southgate as yet so we’ll leave it there - stay tuned to the Independent website and app for the England manager’s thoughts in due course.
Meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead for planning the route to World Cup glory for all the European nations - some of which will have three competitions on the go at once during 2021!
Thanks for joining us for the 2022 World Cup draw - there’s also domestic matters to stay up to date with as Southampton head to Brighton on Monday night, so follow the action from the game below!
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We will get the England manager’s reaction to the draw soon, but good old Team England have left him on mute for the press conference. So he definitely has some thoughts, we just don’t know what they are. Any lip readers in the house?
On when precisely the fixtures will be played and in which order, the FA say:
“The dates for all of England's games will be confirmed on Tuesday 8 December, with fixture information…to follow in due course.”
Fans of a certain vintage will recall Hungary being one of the most feared national teams on the entire planet. It has been a while, though, and the modern side is…not as good.
England last faced them in a friendly in 2010, but this will be the first time the nations have faced off in competitive matches since 1983.
CAPS UP FOR GRABS
If our calculations are correct, England will play a minimum of 13 games between March and November. It’s likely to be a few more, too: a friendly or two before the Euros and the possibility of getting through to the knock-outs.
There could be some milestone appearances for some of the squad next year as a result: Eric Dier is just five caps short of 50, Marcus Rashford needs 10 to hit his own half-century, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling are a couple short of 60 each and a whole bunch of individuals will be hoping to score their first international goal, including Mason Greenwood, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham.
This is the sixth time England and Poland are in the same World Cup qualifying group. Most recently was 2014, even though it actually feels like it was about three international breaks ago.
What’s the plan here for Southgate, then? Split the qualifiers into two parts might be ideal: before the Euros next summer to plan for that starting 11, then afterwards focus on ‘renewing’ the team to an extent?
With everything so compacted and three games per international break, it’s an opportunity to basically use competitive matches - sort of - to build a starting line-up with understanding and have the squad depth challenging for places.
Scotland will have to beware of Austria’s varied Bundesliga talents including Marcel Sabitzer, David Alaba, Xaver Schlager and Valentino Lazaro, among others, while Denmark have Christian Eriksen, Yussef Poulsen and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the team.
And for England, it’s Robert Lewandowski, Arek Milik and Leeds’ Mateusz Klich to keep note of with Poland, and for Hungary perhaps Salzburg’s Dominik Szoboszlai and Leipzig pair Peter Gulacsi and Willi Orban.
Excited for the challenge or filled with trepidation?!
A few of the big-name players that the home nations and Ireland will be facing:
Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo are the headliners from Group A, but Serbia have several match-winners Ireland must beware of.
Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and the rest of the entire Belgium squad, pretty much, plus a couple of Czech youngsters such as Adam Hlozek and Alex Kral could be the threats to Wales.
Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo for the Swiss could trouble Northern Ireland, while Italy have the likes of Federico Chiesa, Ciro Immobile, Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Pellegrini among their attacking options.
HEAD TO HEAD
Elsewhere, England have won 15 of their 22 meetings with Hungary, all four games against Albania, all four against Andorra and all six against San Marino.
What’s the benchmark for a good qualifying campaign? Assuming six wins against the latter trio there, does it have to be a 100 per cent record or is a draw in Hungary acceptable, is defeat to Poland reasonable?
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