Europe starts WC qualifying amid pandemic

·2-min read

The 55 national teams in Europe will start World Cup qualifying this week for the 2022 tournament in Qatar even as Asia and South America pause amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 10 European qualifying groups kick off on Wednesday and will play 75 games in eight days.

Some teams will play triple-headers in a schedule squeezed by the loss of dates in June because of the postponed European Championship.

No World Cup qualifying game in Europe has been lost to travel and quarantine restrictions.

Fears that players based in Germany would be denied travel did not materialise, so Robert Lewandowski can play for Poland in England and David Alaba will join Austria in Scotland.

The pandemic was felt in three teams losing what home advantage exists when most games are still played without fans.

Cristiano Ronaldo will not play for Portugal at home, but he will be on familiar ground in Turin, Italy.

Portugal chose the stadium of Juventus as the neutral host for their opening qualifier against Azerbaijan on Wednesday.

Norwegian star Erling Haaland will also play on neutral ground. Norway chose the Spanish city of Malaga for their home game against Turkey on Saturday.

Estonia will host the Czech Republic in the Polish city Lublin on Wednesday.

Defending World Cup champions France begins their qualifying campaign with Kylian Mbappe hitting his best form of the season. - a burst of 10 goals in seven games started with a hat trick in a Champions League win at Barcelona.

Les Bleus commence their campaign against Ukraine on Wednesday. The five-team group includes a third Euro 2020 qualifier in Finland.

Sweden's match against Georgia on Thursday looked to be a low-key game before Zlatan Ibrahimovic came out of international retirement.

The charismatic 39-year-old striker should make his first appearance for Sweden since Euro 2016, looking to add to his national-record 62 goals.

England are at home to San Marino with manager Gareth Southgate's biggest headache being who to choose to play alongside Harry Kane in attack.

Germany will start their qualifying program under Joachim Low and will continue in September with a new coach after his 15-year tenure, which included the 2014 World Cup title, will end after Euro 2020.

The 10 group winners will qualify directly for the finals tournament next year.

The 10 runners-up will advance to the playoffs next March, joined by two teams from the Nations League.

A 12-team knockout bracket of single-leg games will decide the final three European teams going to Qatar.