Europe’s traditional powerhouse nations will all be seeded in the UEFA World Cup qualifying draw for the first-ever time.
It means they will be kept apart in the draw, being held in Zurich on Dec. 7, and will not have to face each other in a qualifying group, which would consign one to a playoff at best.
World champions France are seeded for the first time in 12 years. For the 2014 competition they were drawn into a group with Spain and had to overcome a playoff against Ukraine to reach the finals. For 2018 they topped a group which also included Sweden and Netherlands, and went on to win the competition in Russia when they beat Croatia 4-2 in the final.
Italy also return to the top seeds, after failing to make the finals in 2018 when they finished runners-up to Spain and losing to Sweden in the playoffs.
The seeding is based upon on the latest FIFA World Ranking, following the completion of the UEFA Nations League. Romania and Wales were top seeds in 2018 but both have seen their FIFA World Ranking fall in recent years.
Pot 1: Belgium, France, England, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands
Pot 2: Switzerland, Wales, Poland, Sweden, Austria, Ukraine, Serbia, Turkey, Slovakia, Romania
Pot 3: Russia, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Czech Republic, Norway, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Scotland, Greece, Finland
Pot 4: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Israel, Belarus, Georgia, Luxembourg
Pot 5: Armenia, Cyprus, Faroe Islands, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Lithuania, Latvia, Andorra
Pot 6: Malta, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, San Marino
One nation from each pot will be drawn into a group, creating five groups of six and five groups of five. Belgium, France, Italy and Spain will be drawn into a group of five to leave the October 2021 dates free for the UEFA Nations League semifinals and final.
Thirteen countries will go to the 2022 Qatar World Cup from Europe. The 10 group winners will qualify automatically, with the 10 runners-up entering the playoffs. The two best UEFA Nations League group winners who do not finish in the top two will complete the playoffs, with the 12 nations split into three paths forming two semifinals and a final in each.
The ranking order for a World Cup playoff, as required, for Nations League group winners is: France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Wales, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Montenegro, Albania, Armenia, Gibraltar, Faroe Islands.
The qualifiers begin in the March international break with a treble-header of games and will be completed in November, with the playoffs to be held in March 2022. The Qatar World Cup is scheduled to run from Nov. 21 to Dec. 18 of that year.