FIFA announced on Monday that they removed the threat of bans for players participating in the play-offs of the European World Cup qualifiers. UEFA had previously asked the world governing body for help in clearing the files of footballers of the twelve involved national teams. More precisely, it concerns those players who received only one yellow card during the group phase.
In concrete terms, FIFA’s concession means that a player will not face a suspension for a single yellow card in one of the six semi-final matches. These matches will be played on Thursday, 24 March. Thereafter, the finals will follow on Tuesday, 29 March. This decision benefits around 100 footballers.
An inequality of opportunity was removed
The reason for the request by UEFA had been an inequality of opportunity. In one half of the groups each team had ten matches on the programme, and in the other half each side played eight matches. As a result, in the groups of five teams, and thus with eight matches per team, there was a lower probability of seeing yellow cards.
Four of the five groups of five featured participants in the 2021/2022 Nations League Final Four tournament. Two of them, Portugal, and Italy, failed to live up to their role as favourites in the World Cup qualifiers. Now, they must compete in the play-offs. The titleholders at the 2016 and 2020 EUROs could meet in the final of path C.
Assuming they prevail in the semi-final duels at home against Turkey and against Northern Macedonia. And it was Italy who were particularly affected by this issue. Here, ten players potentially facing suspensions after yellow cards in the semi-finals. That includes Federico Chiesa, who will be out for months after rupturing his cruciate ligament. However, nine teammates can breathe a sigh of relief.
The pardon does not apply to Ibrahimović
The situation is wholly different for Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swedish star striker rammed his left shoulder into the back of his opponent, César Azpilicueta. This happened in the final phase of the showdown for the Scandinavians in Spain. Although it was an assault, Ibrahimović only received a yellow card. However, it was his second in the World Cup qualifiers. Therefore, he will miss the home match against the Czech Republic. In the second semi-final in path B, Russia will host Poland. In addition, in path A, there are the clashes of Scotland vs. Ukraine as well as Wales vs. Austria.
The World Cup finals in Qatar, which will take place from 21 November to 18 December 2022, will involve 13 teams from the UEFA confederation. Ten of them won the group stage directly. The draw for the group stage will take place on Friday, 1 April.
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