World soccer's governing body conducted the 2018 FIFA World Cup draw on Friday in Moscow, with the outcome producing a host of pre-tournament storylines and one irresistible matchup: Spain vs. Portugal in Group B. It is the second consecutive round Team Melli is in the World Cup.
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.
Spain will have to face their neighbours, the European champions Portugal, in a tough-looking group after a 2018 World Cup draw which handed the hosts Russian Federation a seemingly straightforward route to the knockout rounds.
"They have just won the Euros, they have Ronaldo and also a great team, but we have great hopes and I believe a lot in this Spanish team", former Spain coach Vicente del Bosque told Spanish TV station Cuatro, whilst adding Spain "couldn't complain" about their draw. "The only thing we know is that [Liverpool forward Mohamed] Salah plays for Egypt ... and that [Edinson] Cavani and Luis [Suarez] play for Uruguay".
Neymar's Brazil must negotiate a group including Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia as the South Americans seek a sixth title. That means the Brazilians won't play any games in its base city of Sochi. "Despite the (travel) distances, there are quick way to get there".
Apart from Iceland, they will come up against Croatia and Nigeria in Group D as Messi looks to make up for losing the 2014 final to Germany.
"Croatia has an excellent midfield, Nigeria is unpredictable and has some very fast players, and Iceland comes in with little pressure", Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said.
"Iran has experience and the coach is also one of the most experienced in this World Cup".
Another newcomer, Panama, will take on England, Tunisia and Belgium in Group G.
Top coaches cautious after 2018 FIFA World Cup draw
"We've been good at writing teams off and then getting beat".
England's golden generation famously failed to deliver on the big stage, and Belgium has so far had the same issue with a group of players seen as the best in their history.
"But we also played without Victor Moses". "That brings that competitive level".
And France are expected to easily win Group C, where they have Peru, Denmark and Australia to contend with.
"It could have been worse", France coach Didier Deschamps said. It did not go unnoticed this year that former powerhouses like 2006 World Cup champion Italy, and 2010 World Cup runner-up The Netherlands as well as numerous other former teams, including the United States all came up short in qualifying.
It was Portugal, the reigning European champions, who were handed an Iberian derby in a glitzy ceremony held at the Moscow Kremlin and featuring an appearance from Russian President Vladimir Putin alongside Federation Internationale de Football Association president Gianni Infantino. What is certain is that we are going to make war.
In the hours before the draw, FIFA President Gianni Infantino denied that doping was a problem even as Russian Federation are at serious risk of being barred from the 2018 Winter Olympics for doping.
"Other countries have been watching us over the last few years and they have progressed and they have great players".
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