Either European Champions Italy and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will miss out on the 2022 World Cup after being placed in the same bracket of the European qualifying play-off draw.
Italy will host North Macedonia in their semi-final on March 24 with the winners away to either Portugal or Turkey on March 29 in the match which will decide who goes to Qatar next year.
Friday’s draw also offered up the potential for an all-British duel for a place in Qatar as Scotland welcome Ukraine and Wales take on Austria in their bracket. The decider will be in Cardiff or Vienna.
In path B, Russia take on Poland while Sweden will take on the Czech Republic, meaning that there could be a potential showdown between striking greats Robert Lewandowski and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Russia or Poland will have the home advantage.
But it is path C, with four-time winners Italy and Portugal which is the most mouth-watering.
Italy missed out on a place at Russia 2018 but have since rebounded under coach Robert Mancini to replace Portugal as Europe’s champions.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, promised that Portugal would make the finals, held from November 21 to December 18 next year, after his side threw away automatic qualification in their final group game.
Holders France, world No.1 side Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Croatia, Spain, Serbia, England, Switzerland, Netherlands, Brazil and Argentina have qualified to join hosts Qatar so far. The draw for the finals is expected to be made in April.
European play-off draw:
Path A – Scotland or Ukraine v Wales or Austria
Path B – Russia or Poland v Sweden or Czech Republic
Path C – Italy or North Macedonia v Portugal or Turkey