Europe's World Cup qualifier playoff draw was released Friday, with Italy and Portugal occupying the same group in the 12-team bracket.
Why it matters: The draw ensures that at least one of the world's eight best teams — and the winners of the past two European Championships — will be absent from the 2022 World Cup.
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Italy, which lost its qualifier playoff four years ago, has never missed consecutive World Cups. Before 2018, the only other time the Azzurri failed to qualify was in 1958.
Portugal hasn't missed the World Cup since 1998, and Cristiano Ronaldo is a perfect three-for-three in major tournament playoffs (2010 and 2014 World Cups; Euro 2012).
How it works: 12 teams were drawn into three groups, or paths, of four. The winner of each path — comprising single-elimination semis and finals being played next March — qualifies for the World Cup.
Path A: Scotland vs. Ukraine; Wales vs. Austria
Path B: Russia vs. Poland; Sweden vs. Czech Republic
Path C: Italy vs. North Macedonia; Portugal vs. Turkey
Go deeper: Final World Cup spots around the world (Sporting News)
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