Purely luck of the draw

A banner with the World Cup logo at the Kremlin in Moscow, where the draw will take place today.
A banner with the World Cup logo at the Kremlin in Moscow, where the draw will take place today.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

World Cup qualifiers await their fate in Moscow, while Fifa scoffs at fixing theory

MOSCOW • The Kremlin will host the 2018 World Cup draw today and the stars expected to take centre stage in Russia will be watching the glittering ceremony with interest.

Neymar will be among the millions eager to discover the fate of all 32 teams as his Brazil side seek a record-extending sixth title.

"We're going to put some popcorn in the microwave, and call family and friends. Everyone will have a keen eye on the television," said the forward. "I believe that we're ready to take on anyone."

The Selecao are revitalised after their nightmare 1-7 semi-final loss to Germany on home soil in 2014, when Joachim Low's men went on to lift football's biggest prize.

After beating Lionel Messi's Argentina in the final at the Maracana in Rio, Germany are seeking to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain the trophy.

"I'll be following it, so long as we don't have training or a match," Messi told Fifa's website, having earlier admitted that he hopes to avoid Spain in the group stage.

Germany, Brazil and Argentina are all in the first pot along with France, European champions Portugal, Belgium, Poland and the hosts.

  • Draw mechanics


    •Pot 1: Russia, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France.

    •Pot 2: Spain, Peru, Switzerland, England, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, Croatia.

    •Pot 3: Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Iran.

    •Pot 4: Serbia, Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama, South Korea, Saudi Arabia.


    Each team have been assigned to one of four pots, based on their world ranking. One team from each pot will be placed in each of the eight World Cup opening round groups, though there may be adjustments at times to keep teams from the same confederation apart in the group stage.


    There can be no more than two European teams or one from any other continent in a single group. 


Those nations are certain of avoiding each other, but danger lurks in pot two, where the Spanish - rebuilt into a formidable force by Julen Lopetegui after poor showings in 2014 and at Euro 2016 - lie along with England.

In a new simplified format, the teams will be placed in pots one to four based on the highest to lowest Fifa world rankings with the exception of Russia, the lowest ranked at No. 65, who are automatically placed in pot one alongside the top seeds.

Each pot will be emptied one by one into eight groups - Group A to Group H - which will contain four teams each.

Two non-European teams from the same confederation cannot be in the same group to avoid geographic clashes. With 14 qualified European teams, there cannot be more than two European teams in the same group.

With the two qualifiers from each group making up the last-16 knockout stage, plenty is at stake, prompting conspiracy theories that the draw could be rigged.

Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter claimed last year that some European football draws have been fixed in the past with the use of hot and cold balls.

European football's governing body Uefa labelled the claims "completely absurd", while the sport's world governing body, Fifa, assured fans the draw will not be manipulated.

"There's no truth to that," Chris Unger, Fifa director of competitions, said in response to speculation about the use of warmer or colder plastic balls.

"They're all the same; they don't feel any different, they don't look any different with the exception of the red balls, which are there for a purpose.

"It's entirely random and by chance how the groups get formed at the end."

The draw ceremony will give Russia the chance to showcase the cities and stadiums that will host the teams next June and July, with 1986 Golden Boot winner Gary Lineker and Russian sports journalist Maria Komandnaya the main presenters.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2017, with the headline 'Purely luck of the draw'. Print Edition | Subscribe