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England land Belgium, Spain face Portugal

2018 World Cup draw pairs Germany with Mexico, Portugal with Spain

WT24 Desk

Germany will face Mexico in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will open against neighbours Spain, after FIFA conducted the draw in Moscow on Friday, ESPN reports.

Germany, winners of the 2014 event and FIFA’s top-ranked team, will face Mexico before taking on Sweden and South Korea in Group F.

Portugal and Spain, who haven’t played each other since Spain prevailed on penalties in the semifinals of Euro 2012, will meet in Group B alongside nearby Morocco as well as Iran, who are managed by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz.

Despite being placed in the second pot of teams, England largely escaped a difficult draw and will face Belgium, Tunisia and Panama.

Hosts Russia, guaranteed a top seed despite being FIFA’s lowest-ranked team in the draw, will open the tournament against Saudi Arabia on June 14 at the 81,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, before taking on Uruguay and Egypt.

Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said of his side’s opponents: “We’ve never played any of these teams and I’ve never seen them. The only thing we know is that [Liverpool forward Mohamed] Salah plays for Egypt … and that [Edinson] Cavani and Luis [Suarez] play for Uruguay.”

The draw, with FIFA’s October rankings that were used for seedings:

  • Group A: Russia (65), Uruguay (17), Egypt (30), Saudi Arabia (63)
  • Group B: Portugal (3), Spain (8), Iran (34), Morocco (48)
  • Group C: France (7), Peru (10), Denmark (19), Australia (43)
  • Group D: Argentina (4), Croatia (18), Iceland (21), Nigeria (41)
  • Group E: Brazil (2), Switzerland (11), Costa Rica (22), Serbia (38)
  • Group F: Germany (1), Mexico (16), Sweden (25), South Korea (62)
  • Group G: Belgium (5), England (12), Tunisia (28), Panama (49)
  • Group H: Poland (6), Colombia (13), Senegal (32), Japan (44)

Lionel Messi and Argentina had one of the more difficult draws of the top seeds, getting two European teams — Croatia and debutants Iceland — as well as Nigeria. Iceland, the smallest nation to ever play at the World Cup, will play the two-time champions on June 16 at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.

Familiar foes Argentina and Nigeria are in the same World Cup group for the third straight time and for the fifth time since 1994.

Brazil, FIFA’s second-ranked team, escaped a major challenge and will face European sides Switzerland and Serbia in addition to Costa Rica.

Based on the draw’s results, Brazil have the best chance to win the World Cup at 20.8 percent, followed by Spain at 15.9 percent and Germany at 10.9 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index.

France will face three teams who came through qualifying playoffs last month: Peru, Denmark and Australia.

With Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan, Group H is the only group not to feature any previous World Cup winners. No group has two former winners for the first time since 2006.

After playing each team in their group, the top two teams advance to the knockout stage. The winner of Group A will face the runner-up of Group B, with Groups C and D, E and F, and G and H similarly paired.

That means if Mexico finish second in Group F (31 percent chance via SPI), El Tri would be drawn against Brazil as long as Neymar and company win Group E (70 percent chance via SPI). Mexico have been eliminated in the round of 16 at six straight World Cups.

“None of us wanted an easy group,” Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa said. “If you’re playing the World Cup, you want to face the best. And if you want to reach the final, you have to play great matches.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the draw ceremony and promised “a great festival” at next year’s tournament. On stage with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Putin painted a picture of Russia as a welcoming nation with a rich sports history.

“Our country can’t wait to host the World Cup and intends to host it at the very highest level,” Putin said. “Anyone who has come to Russia even once knows how we welcome our friends.”

Putin extolled the values of fair play and “friendly and honest competition,” values which Russian officials have been accused of betraying when it hosted the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Olympic doping scandals, political tension and controversy around the World Cup bidding process have often overshadowed Russia’s preparations for the tournament.

Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko delivered a fierce defense of the country’s reputation earlier Friday, portraying Russia and its athletes as victims of an international conspiracy to portray the country as “an axis of evil.” Mutko also vowed to defend them “to the last bullet.”

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