Friday, 1 December 2017

England to discover World Cup opponents at glittering Moscow draw

The Russia 2018 World Cup logo on the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow
We'll have more of an idea after Friday afternoon's draw in Moscow to decide the make-up of the eight groups.

Brazil or Poland as early opponents? Serbia or Saudi Arabia?

Most England fans would have a pretty quick answer to those questions.

It's what they are all playing for

The real answers will come in a glittering - or overblown - ceremony, depending on your point of view, at Moscow's State Kremlin Palace concert hall.

The 32 finalists will each be placed in one of four pots according to their October world ranking (with the exception of Russia, who go automatically into pot 1 as host nation).

Having sailed through their qualifying group without losing a match, England are in pot 2.

What they will now discover is which three other teams - from pots 1, 3 and 4 - will be in their group for next summer's finals.

Russia (current world ranking 65) would be ideal from a footballing point of view, but do you really want to face the host nation in front of a sell-out passionate home crowd?

Next most favourable according to current rankings would be France (9th). England might well be happier with Poland (7th), who are over-reliant on one man, Bayern Munich sharpshooter Robert Lewandowski.

They would want to avoid most of the rest, including the world's top two, reigning champions Germany and five-times winners Brazil.

England cannot face anyone else from their own pot 2, thus avoiding 2010 Champions Spain and also Uruguay, who helped knock them out of the last World Cup at the group stage.

The highest-ranked team in Pot three is in-form Denmark, featuring Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen, but no group is allowed to feature more than two European teams, so if England are indeed grouped with, say, Germany from pot 1, the toughest option from pot 3 could be Senegal, including Liverpool forward Sadio Mane.

That would leave Australia as the highest-ranked possible opponents from pot 4.

So Germany, Senegal and Australia are the most-feared possible option according to rankings.

And the best scenario on the same basis? Russia (with that home advantage proviso), Iran and Panama.

Equally important for the fans: Where will England play? If they are unlucky, they could have to travel more than 6,000 miles to get to the three group matches.

That, too, we will find out in Moscow.

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