World Cup play-offs explained: Nine play-offs around the globe for Russia 2018

World Cup play-offs explained: Who could Northern Ireland and Rep of Ireland face?
Image: All you need to know about the upcoming World Cup play-offs around the globe

The final nine places at next summer's World Cup finals in Russia will be decided by the end of this month's international break.

Twenty-three teams have already qualified for the tournament, between June 14 and July 15 next year as Germany defend their crown as world champions.

But who will join them? There's still plenty to play for, and all will be sorted in the coming days ahead of the draw on December 1.

How do the play-offs work?

The play-off ties will be played across two legs, home and away, with away goals called upon should the tie finish a draw after both legs.

If both countries are level on away goals, the tie will be decided in extra time and, if necessary, penalties. Away goals will count in extra time.

Each of the winners will progress to the finals in Russia next summer.


Eight teams are vying for the four final places from the European section, with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland both involved. Arguably the star attraction, though, are four-time World Cup winners Italy, who must overcome a tough Sweden side to qualify after being in the same group as Spain.

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Live WCQ

First legs

  • Thursday, November 9: Croatia v Greece (7.45pm)
  • Thursday, November 9: Northern Ireland v Switzerland (7.45pm)
  • Friday, November 10: Sweden v Italy (7.45pm)
  • Saturday, November 11: Denmark v Republic of Ireland (7.45pm)

Second legs

  • Sunday, November 12: Switzerland v Northern Ireland (5pm)
  • Sunday, November 12: Greece v Croatia (7.45pm)
  • Monday, November 13: Italy v Sweden (7.45pm)
  • Tuesday, November 14: Republic of Ireland v Denmark (7.45pm)

All of the above games will be live across Sky Sports Football, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Mix.

Away goals

The away goals rule will be used to determine a winner of the ties if scores are level after the second leg - whether after 90 minutes or extra time

TURIN, ITALY - OCTOBER 06:  Head coach of Italy Gian Piero Ventura speaks with Leonardo Bonucci of Italy during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between I
Image: Italy have only failed to qualify for the World Cup once, in 1958


    The first of the intercontinental play-offs involves Australia and Honduras. The Socceroos reached this stage by finishing third in their Asian final round qualifying group and then beating Syria in a two-legged play-off.

    Honduras secured a play-off with a fourth-placed finish in the North American, Central American and Caribbean qualifying section, a place above the United States

    • Friday, November 10: Honduras v Australia (10pm)
    • Wednesday, November 15: Australia v Honduras (9am)
    Australia's Tim Cahill waves to the fans after Australia defeated Syria in their 2018 World Cup football qualifying match.
    Image: Australia face Honduras over two legs after seeing off Syria

    Oceania/South America

    New Zealand face Peru in the second intercontinental play-off, with the winners of this tie the last to confirm their finals place in the early hours of November 16 UK time. New Zealand are hoping to take up the sole place on offer to the Oceania section, while Peru are aiming to become the fifth South American side in Russia and qualify for a first World Cup since 1982.

    • Saturday, November 11: New Zealand v Peru (3.15am)
    • Thursday, November 16: Peru v New Zealand (2.15am)


    There are no play-offs needed here; the group stages conclude this month with three places still up for grabs. Tunisia need just a point at home to Group A's bottom side Libya to secure top spot, the Ivory Coast must beat Morocco in Abidjan to overtake the visitors in Group C, and Senegal know they must take two points from two games against South Africa to top Group D.

    The games that matter

    • Friday, November 10: South Africa v Senegal (5pm)
    • Saturday, November 11: Ivory Coast v Morocco (5.30pm)
    • Saturday, November 11: DR Congo v Guinea (5.30pm)
    • Saturday, November 11: Tunisia v Libya (5.30pm)
    • Tuesday, November 14: Senegal v South Africa (7.30pm)
    • Tuesday, November 14: Burkina Faso v Cape Verde Islands (7.30pm)
    2018 World Cup logo
    Image: There are still nine places up for grabs for the 2018 World Cup

    Already qualified

    Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Uruguay.

    People watch as the facade of Moscow's historic Bolshoi Theatre is illuminated with the official emblem of the 2018 FIFA World Cup to be held in Russia
    Image: The draw for the finals will take place on December 1 in Moscow

    What's next?

    The draw for the group stages of the 2018 World Cup will be held on Friday, December 1 in Moscow.

    It will take place at the State Kremlin Palace inside the Moscow Kremlin and you will be able to follow the draw live on Sky Sports digital platforms.

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