Raul Jimenez scored his 30th goal for Mexico to help fire his country into the 2022 World Cup, completing the line-up of Wolves players who could feature in Qatar this winter.
Earning his 95th international cap in the early hours of Thursday morning, the striker was in from the off against El Salvador in the final CONCACAF qualification fixture – knowing a point would be enough for Mexico to grab one of the three North America spots which would guarantee a place at the world’s biggest festival of football.
Mexico took a giant step into the finals when Uriel Antuna slammed the ball into the back of the net from close range inside the opening 20 minutes, while the Wolves number nine struck just ahead of the break.
Antuna found himself hauled down inside the box and up stepped Jimenez from the spot and with his trademark stuttered run-up, he waited for the El Salvador goalkeeper to make his move, before then slotting the ball into the opposite corner of the net – leaving Mexico with an unassailable lead while booking their place on the plane to Qatar.
By being the last Wolves international in action for his country during March, Jimenez joined several of his teammates who had already confirmed their spot at the World Cup finals later this year.
Midfielder Leander Dendoncker was the first of Wolves’ European players to qualify, with Belgium making it to the championships on 13th November 2021 following a 3-1 win over Estonia, which sat them at the top of the Group E table.
Just one day later, in what was the final UEFA group stage round of matches, Adama Traore’s Spain qualified thanks to a 1-0 win over Sweden and were quickly followed by Conor Coady and his England side, who put 10 past San Marino with the Wolves captain finishing the game with his national team’s armband.
Next up to guarantee their place in Qatar was Hee Chan Hwang and South Korea, after they qualified through the AFC Third Round on 1st February 2022. By making it to their 11th World Cup in total, Korea made it 10 successful qualification campaigns in succession.
But it was the last week has seen the biggest group of players representing the old gold give themselves a chance to be involved in the first ever winter World Cup, with Portugal and Wolves’ large Iberian contingent celebrating their play-off success over North Macedonia on 29th March, while Romain Saiss captained Morocco to the competition later that evening in a 4-1 win versus DR Congo.
With the World Cup set to start on 21st November and running until 18th December, the Premier League will take a short break to accommodate the tournament. This means the top-flight will begin a week earlier than usual, starting on 6th August 2022, with the final round of fixtures before the international competition being played over the weekend of 12th and 13th November.
Following the World Cup final, the Premier League will resume on Boxing Day and running to a few weeks later than normal on 28th May 2023, when all games will kick-off simultaneously, so there should be plenty of Wolves interest in this winter’s World Cup, with several of Bruno Lage's players in contention to represent their national teams in the pinnacle of international football.