Tough World Cup playoff draw for Seleção
Ever since the Seleção failed to win their World Cup qualifying group and were relegated into the playoffs, the overriding feeling was that avoiding Italy was paramount.
But Portugal’s strange propensity to land the toughest possible draw struck again, as Fernando Santos’s team were placed in Path 3, as were Italy.
To qualify for Qatar 2022 Portugal must beat Turkey at home, then the winner of the Italy-North Macedonia semi-final, also at home.
The draw was streamed live by Fifa.com and the coaches of both Italy and Turkey reacted immediately after learning the outcome.
“It’s a very difficult draw for us,” said Italy coach Roberto Mancini. “If we win our semi-final we go to play the final in Turkey or Portugal, very strong teams.”
Turkey coach Stefan Kuntz was realistic when giving his opinion, although he added a note of optimism. “Definitely path C is the most difficult and the hardest one.” said the German. “But the development of the team and all the staff over the last few weeks gives me a lot of hope and of course the big wish is to bring the most important game back to Turkey to see what we can achieve.”
Fernando Santos also gave his reaction to the draw shortly afterwards:
“There’s no point talking about Italy. Mancini was right when he began by saying ‘if we knock out North Macedonia…’ We have to focus on beating Turkey. That’s the important game.
“The draw is what it is. There are positives, starting with the fact we play at home. But to play [the final] at home we must beat Turkey. It’s good that we’re playing in front of our own crowd and that we avoid tiring journeys.
“Turkey are a team with lots of good players. Sometimes they click collectively, other times they don’t. We must take Turkey seriously. They cause lots of problems for their opponents. In principle, we’ll be playing teams who play 4-3-3, and that’s good. We need to prepare very well.
“Now’s the time to prepare, analyse, fine-tune the details of the training camp. It’s too far ahead to start thinking about the call-ups, although of course there are some players who will be in the squad as normal.
“My players and I are extremely confident.”
Suspensions / schedule
Portugal will be without João Cancelo and Renato Sanches for the Turkey encounter after both players picked up a second yellow card in the final Group A qualifying match against Serbia.
The Portugal-Turkey semi-final will be played on Thursday 24 March 2022. Should the Seleção win, they will host the final five days later on 29 March 2022.
by Tom Kundert