Sunday, December 3, 2017


The draw for World Cup 2018 was completed on Friday in Moscow, with the 32 qualified teams having learned their fates.
There are big guns who will be worried about their progress in the competition, those concerned that they might not be stretched enough early on, and, of course, sides delighted by the prospects the draw has thrown up.


Having been seeded second, there were fears that Gareth Southgate’s side could be landed in a tricky group, but instead they have a pool that they should feel is very manageable. 
They open up against a Tunisia side that they will be favoured to beat, while a fixture against Belgium means that they will be up against a group of players that they will be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of.
But it is not on the group stage that the Three Lions should feel good about – their path to the quarter-finals looks relatively serene, with a potential knockout round match against Poland, Senegal, Japan or Colombia. 
Southgate has refused to write off England’s chances in this competition, and they have improved after this draw.
Another second seed who will be breathing something of a sigh of relief. When they were initially paired with Portugal in Group B, there were the makings of a ‘Group of Death’, yet subsequently Morocco and Iran were also placed in that pool.
While the North Africans will be no pushovers, they are more favourable opponents than others they could have faced.
Iran, meanwhile, come into the competition as dark horses, despite being ranked as high as 32 in the FIFA Ranking, but they are opponents that Julen Lopetegui’s side will feel confident of having enough to see off. They were the weakest of the third seeded sides.  
In the last 16, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay lie in wait, so their chances of going deep in the competition appear good.
Drawn in Group E, the five-time world champions begin their quest for a sixth title with a relatively clement group. After their stunning 7-1 loss to Germany in the semi-finals of 2014, there will be a great deal of pressure upon the Selecao to make up for that loss with some style.
The South Americans have been handed Switzerland as their second seeds, with that clash taking place at Rostov-on-Don in their opening match of the competition. Even if they were to spill points in that, which Neymar et al. are not expected to do, they follow that up with fixtures against Costa Rica and Serbia.
With so much talent in their ranks, there should be few fears about a surprise early exit, although if there were to be any surprises, Germany are a potential last-16 opponent for Tite’s men.


Although they boast a plethora of world-class players, they struggled to avoid elimination in the qualifying phase to reach Russia. Indeed, only a Lionel Messi masterclass against Ecuador in their final match guided them to the finals.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side have been drawn in one of the toughest groups on paper, with three tricky ties to negotiate before the knockout stage.
Messi & Co will face the unique challenge of Iceland, who were Euro 2016 quarter-finalists after dumping out England, plus fixtures against Nigeria and Croatia – two sides who will fancy their chances against opponents currently lacking in confidence.
If Argentina are to progress through to the last 16, they will have to improve dramatically in the months ahead. 
While it may seem strange to say it, but the apparently kind draw on paper will do little for France’s hopes of winning the World Cup. 
Les Bleus have been there before, with memories of South Africa in 2010 still fresh. On that occasion, they were paired with the hosts, Uruguay and Mexico, and were expected to cruise through. Instead, they found themselves on the first plane home, having approached the competition with a poor attitude.
Didier Deschamps has not yet effectively channelled the supreme talents of a great pool of players and France could have really used a strong competitive test before the last 16. If they are pushed in a group that contains Peru, Australia and Denmark, again, then it will likely be because they have not been at 100 per cent.
France could really have used a push before a potential last-16 encounter with Argentina, Croatia, Iceland or Nigeria.
The host nation could have wished for a far kinder drawn than they have been handed, particularly as their form has been wholly unspectacular in recent months. Indeed, despite playing every match at home during 2017, they have lost more fixtures than they have won.
Now they have been pitted in a really awkward group that includes an Egypt side expected to be dangerous and a Uruguay team bristling with the offensive talents of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. 
Consequently, they will have to perform on the opening night of the competition, when the pressure was going to be on them in any case. In that fixture, they will tackle Saudi Arabia in a game that they really cannot afford to lose now. 
Failure to beat the side 63 in the latest FIFA Ranking – the lowest in the competition – will leave them with no room for error and two tough opponents. Can Stanislav Cherchesov’s side line up to that pressure?
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