How will postponements affect the World Cup playoffs?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ll be fully aware of the current situation in Ukraine. As a result of Russia’s invasion, numerous events have been affected, including the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup and, more specifically, the playoffs.

The main issue regarding the all-important playoffs is around scheduling. Due to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the Russian football team has been banned from competing in the international competition. Subsequently, several nations aiming to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup have had matches rearranged and venues changed ahead of what is a crucial round of matches for the competing nations.

One of the main sides that has had their schedule ruined is Poland, a neighbouring nation who were drawn against Russia in a four-team mini-bracket, with the winner then earning a place at arguably the biggest sporting competition on the planet. Somewhat understandably, and after following the lead of others, such as the Sweden and the Czech Republic football associations, Poland refused to play against Russia in any new format. Subsequently, with Russia also being the host venue for the potential playoff final against Sweden or Czech Republic, everything was thrown up in the air and, ultimately, no nation wanted to come against Russia.

Despite all of the confusion, decisions on how to proceed have been made and seem fairly straightforward enough for fans of each nation to understand. In short, Russia’s opponents Poland will be given a bye to the next round and are scheduled to face Sweden or Czech Republic on March 29 for a place in the finals in Qatar in November. Additionally, Ukraine’s request to postpone its fixture against Scotland was approved by FIFA and will now take place in the June international window, with Poland offering to host all of Ukraine’s home encounters while they’re unable to hold matches in their own country. The danger for Scotland is that they’ll face a fired-up and fearless Ukrainian side in June, wherever the match is held.

Thankfully, for Wales, the massive playoff game against Austria is still going ahead as planned, with the match scheduled to take place on March 24 at 7.45pm. Of the home nations, Wales has the worst World Cup record but they’re a side that is capable of providing a shock or two on the biggest stage of all, especially when taking into account their amazing run to the semi-finals at Euro 2016. With both Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey expected to spearhead the Wales attack once again, no side will relish coming up against a dangerous Welsh setup.

In terms of the other matches taking place alongside the Wales against Austria and the Sweden against Czech Republic clashes on March 24, Italy will fancy their chances against North Macedonia, while Portugal faces a tricky tie against a dangerous Turkey team. The winners of each clash will then advance to the play-off finals which take place on March 29 for all nations apart from Scotland and Ukraine.

So, given the situation with Russia and the fact that any side that could potentially face-off against them is refusing to do so, the new schedule is as follows below:

Path A

Scotland vs Ukraine – Thursday, March 24 (7.45pm kick-off) – Postponed until June

Wales vs Austria – Thursday, March 24 (7.45pm kick-off)

Path B

Russia vs Poland – Thursday, March 24 (5.00pm kick-off) – Cancelled: Poland given bye

Sweden vs Czech Republic – Thursday, March 24 (7.45pm kick-off)

Path C

Italy vs North Macedonia – Thursday, March 24 (7.45pm kick-off)

Portugal vs Turkey – Thursday, March 24 (7.45pm kick-off)