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Inter-confederation playoffs qualifying change, one match instead of two-match tie, Socceroos, Australia

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The Socceroos could be forced into a do-or-die one-game playoff to make the World Cup under a reported change to the format of qualifying for the quadrennial event.

The NZ Heraldreports FIFA favours a new format which would change the inter-confederation playoff stage from a home-and-away, two-match format to one-off, single-leg matches held at a neutral venue.

Australia currently sits third in its AFC World Cup qualifying group, on 11 points behind Saudi Arabia (16) and Japan (12), with four matches to be played.

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A third-place finish would see the Socceroos face the third-place finisher from the other group – likely either UAE, Lebanon or Iraq – in a one-match playoff (already cut down from a two-match tie due to Covid), with the winner advancing to the inter-continental playoffs.

Currently the playoffs see one team from each of Asia, North/Central America (CONCACAF), South America (CONMEBOL) and Oceania drawn against each other, with the winners of the two ties claiming the last two spots in the World Cup.

Under the reported new format, rather than being played home and away, the inter-confederation ties would see one match played for each tie, likely in Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup.

Some of Australia’s most famous footballing moments, good and bad, have taken place through these playoffs.

Are the Socceroos on route to a one-game playoff to try and make the World Cup? (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Are the Socceroos on route to a one-game playoff to try and make the World Cup? (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

For 2006, the Socceroos lost 0-1 to Uruguay away but won 1-0 at home and then famously earned a spot in the tournament through a penalty shootout. Most recently for 2018 the Socceroos qualified after beating Honduras, 0-0 away and 3-1 at home.

But there has also been pain, with Australia losing 3-1 on aggregate to Uruguay for the 2002 World Cup, 3-3 on aggregate (away goals) to Iran for 1998, 2-1 on aggregate to Argentina for 1994 and 2-0 on aggregate to Scotland for 1986.

Oceanic World Cup qualifying will be held in Qatar next March, with New Zealand favoured to advance for the fourth time in a row. The CONMEBOL side is likely to be one of Colombia, Peru, Chile, Uruguay or Bolivia, while the CONCACAF nation will almost certainly be one of Canada, USA, Mexico or Panama.

The draw to see which confederations are paired against each other will be held later this month. The playoffs would be held in June 2022 ahead of the November-December World Cup.

Including hosts Qatar, 13 countries have so far qualified for the World Cup: UEFA group winners Germany, Denmark, France, Belgium, Croatia, Spain, Serbia, England, Switzerland and the Netherlands, plus CONMEBOL’s Brazil and Argentina.

The 2022 World Cup is set to be the last at 32 teams, after FIFA approved expansion to a 48-team event for 2026.

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Premier League 2021/22 talking points, results, news, reaction, ladder, Chelsea form, Ralf Rangnick, Manchester United

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Ralf Rangnick won his first match as Manchester United interim manager this weekend after the top three in the Premier League swapped positions, with Manchester City now in the driving seat.

Newcastle at last tasted victory to give new manager Eddie Howe hope they can escape relegation while Steven Gerrard won his third match in four since taking over at Aston Villa.

Here are three talking points from the action in the English top flight.

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‘NOT GOOD ENOUGH’: Arteta fumes as Gunners gunned down

Toffees notch sweet win over Gunners | 01:33

RANGNICK RESTORES ‘ORDER’ AT UTD

Ralf Rangnick was given an early sight of the job that lies ahead of him to ensure the Red Devils do not miss out on the top four.

The high-energy style the 63-year-old has built his reputation on in German football was on show early on at Old Trafford, just days after his arrival to replace the sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

But United struggled to maintain that intensity or break Palace down until Fred’s fine strike from outside the box 13 minutes from time.

A first home clean sheet of the season gives Rangnick a platform on which to build, but that was more due to the visitors’ caution and a glaring miss from Jordan Ayew than great defending.

United are now sixth in the table after a second straight win, just three points behind fourth-placed West Ham.

Rangnick bags first win with United | 01:26

However, Rangnick has an enticing run of fixtures coming up, with Norwich, Brentford, Brighton, Newcastle and Burnley to come before the end of the year.

United great Gary Neville said Rangnick got the “order” he would have wanted in the victory over Crystal Palace.

“I really enjoyed it,” Neville said on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football show. “Was it flamboyant football? Were Manchester United at their absolute best in the last hour? It was a struggle at times.

“… 48 hours to be with his team and lets be clear in the last six to seven weeks Manchester United have been a mess defensively. They hadn’t had a clean sheet at home in 16 matches.

“They were conceding goals like you wouldn’t believe, getting battered at home against Liverpool and City. All the over teams have cut through them. What Ralf Rangnick would’ve wanted yesterday was order. Order in the performance and I think we got that.”

LIVERPOOL’S FORGOTTEN ‘LEGEND’ DELIVERS WHEN IT MATTERS

Divock Origi marked his 100th substitute appearance for Liverpool on Saturday with the latest in his collection of crucial late goals.

Jurgen Klopp’s men had dominated Wolves at Molineux but could not find a way through until the Belgium forward struck in the 94th minute, sparking scenes of delirium from the Liverpool bench.

Other memorable moments for Origi have included an 87th-minute strike in the 2019 Champions League final win against Tottenham and a last-gasp winner in a 2018 derby against Everton.

“He is a top striker, a top boy,” said Klopp, who described the 26-year-old as a “legend”.

“He is already here at Liverpool for a long time — he came here very young and has scored some of the most important goals in the history of this club.”

Origi saves Liverpool | 01:29

PROBLEMS FOR CHELSEA AS DESPERATE MOVE BACKFIRES

It is too soon to talk of serious problems at Chelsea after they suffered just their second Premier League defeat of the season against high-flying West Ham.

But they have now dropped points in three of their past five league games at a time when Manchester City and Liverpool have hit the accelerator.

The Stamford Bridge side are built of tough stuff under Thomas Tuchel and the game at the London Stadium was just the third time in 53 matches under the German that they had conceded more than once.

Tuchel acknowledged West Ham’s winner from Arthur Masuaku was a freak goal but bemoaned earlier mistakes.

He will be concerned at the lack of goals from his main forwards, particularly the out-of-sorts Romelu Lukaku, who was used as a substitute at the London Stadium.

Masuaku cross downs Chelsea | 01:31

Defender Reece James and attacking midfielder Mason Mount are the club’s top scorers this season, with five goals each in all competitions.

Big summer signing Lukaku has struggled with form and fitness this season and has not scored since mid-September after a bright start at Stamford Bridge.

Tuchel conceded that he made a mistake in playing Lukaku at all against West Ham United after admitting the striker was not at the level of fitness required to play an influential role.

“It’s my fault,” the German boss said of Lukuka, who came on after half-time.

“I don’t think he is ready for 45 minutes physically but still we decided to bring him on for his height because we lost Kai (Havertz).

“Kai had a crucial role in defending set-pieces, which is a huge threat from West Ham, so this is on me. I took the decision so it’s my responsibility.”

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FA Cup draw in full: Man Utd get Gerrard's Aston Villa as minnows land dream Chelsea tie

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THE FA CUP draw has thrown up plenty of opportunity for giant killings when the third round gets underway shortly after the new year.

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta furious with players for failing to 'execute' plans vs Everton

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ARSENAL lost 2-1 to Everton on Monday night to put a serious dent in their Champions League hopes.

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