Sure, after roughly three years of qualifying, involving 871 video games across the globe, the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar — not to point out hundreds of thousands of soccer followers all over the world — might be holding their breath on Friday.
Who may play whom? Will there be a much-dreaded “Group of Dying?” Who’re the favorites? This is the lowdown on Friday’s extravaganza at Moscow’s State Kremlin Palace.
Lineker, Maradona and Cafu kind a glittering solid
The draw will happen at 3pm GMT (10:00 ET, 18:00 native) however, if you are pressed for time, tune in about half an hour later. That is when the precise draw ought to begin.
Former England striker Gary Lineker and Russian soccer reporter Maria Komandnaya will host the draw they usually’ll be assisted by superstars from every of the eight nations which have gained the World Cup.
It’s a glittering solid: Diego Maradona (Argentina), Cafu (Brazil), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy), Carles Puyol (Spain), Gordon Banks (England), Laurent Blanc (France), Diego Forlan (Uruguay) and Miroslav Klose (Germany, trophy bearer).
The draw assistant from the host nation is 91-year-old former Spartak Moscow striker Russia Nikita Simonyan.
The format, the groups
The 32 international locations are divided into 4 pots of eight.
In contrast to years previous, solely FIFA’s world rankings determines which nation goes into which pot and, for this draw, the game’s world governing physique has primarily based the seedings on October’s world rankings.
So, for instance, the seven top-ranked groups that certified, plus Russia, are in pot 1 and the subsequent highest-ranked eight are in pot 2 and so forth, ending with the bottom ranked eight in pot 4.
Pot 1: Russia, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France
Pot 2: Spain, Switzerland, England, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, Croatia, Peru
Pot three: Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Iran, Denmark
Pot four: Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Serbia
As host Russia was positioned in pot 1, a lift for them since Stanislav Cherchesov’s males — primarily based on these October rankings — are the lowest-ranked crew within the match at No. 65, two locations behind Saudi Arabia.
Amongst others within the elite tier are defending champions Germany, report five-time winners Brazil, European champions Portugal and 2014 World Cup runners-up Argentina.
The top outcome might be eight teams of 4 groups. There’s one final caveat — no group is allowed to function multiple crew from the identical confederation, other than members of European soccer’s governing physique UEFA, which, with 14 groups, supplied the very best variety of qualifiers.
Not more than two UEFA international locations are allowed in a bunch.
A “Group of Dying?”
Each main soccer draw appears to produce a so-called “Group of Dying.” The time period was reportedly first coined in reference to Group three of the 1970 World Cup, that includes reigning champions England, favorites Brazil, 1962 runners-up Czechoslovakia and Romania.
However, the “Group of Dying” is not essentially all the time a single entity — in 2014 it was broadly acknowledged that there have been three tough teams.
Friday’s draw may probably pit Brazil, former champions Spain, seven-time Africa Cup of Nations champions Egypt and Serbia in opposition to one another.
With Spain and England among the many second batch of groups, there are a selection of mouthwatering situations to speculate over earlier than the draw. Who couldn’t get excited in regards to the prospect of Germany, England, Egypt — returning to the World Cup for the primary time since 1990 — and Nigeria forming one group?
Who’re the favorites?
Defending champions Germany are bidding to grow to be the primary crew to retain the title since Brazil did so in 1962.
Ranked No.1 on the earth and unbeaten since their Euro 2016 semifinal defeat by France, Joachim Löw’s males had been peerless in qualifying, profitable all 10 of their matches and scoring 43 objectives within the course of.
5-time champions Brazil was the primary South American crew to qualify for Russia 2018 and their kind within the final 18 months has helped heal the injuries of that 7-1 semifinal thumping by Germany at their residence World Cup three years in the past.
Coach Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, referred to as Tite, has overseen an unlimited enchancment since he succeeded Dunga in June 2016. Brazil stay undefeated in aggressive fixtures for the reason that new man took cost and gained 10 of their ultimate 12 qualification matches.
With Lionel Messi of their ranks — the Barcelona star scored an unbelievable hat-trick to safe Argentina’s place in Russia – Argentina are among the many bookmakers’ favorites, as are earlier World Cup winners Spain, France and Portugal.
Belgium have promised a lot with the expertise at their disposal and after a high-quality qualifying marketing campaign — they topped their group with an unbeaten run — 2018 may very well be the 12 months the Purple Devils lastly blossom.
In Brazil in 2014, Bosnia & Herzegovina had been the one debutants within the match. In Russia, there might be two: Iceland and Panama.
Iceland grew to become the smallest nation — inhabitants of round 335,000 — to ever qualify for the World Cup by topping, fittingly maybe, Group I in Europe.
Whereas Iceland’s inclusion may not be a shock — they made the quarterfinals of Euro 2016, beating England en route — Panama’s most definitely is.
Panama did not even qualify for the ultimate spherical of 2014 World Cup qualifying within the Concacaf area and had been knocked out within the quarterfinals at this 12 months’s Gold Cup in a 12-team area.
Maybe unsurprisingly, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela declared a public vacation following qualification.
Though not a first-timer, Peru might be showing at soccer’s greatest social gathering for the primary time in 36 years, having crushed New Zealand 2-Zero in a two-leg playoff to safe the ultimate qualifying spot.
“An earthquake alert was activated due to the unI uderground vibration generated by the followers,” wrote the official seismology web page of Chile, which borders Peru.
Who might be lacking?
Spare a thought for Italian followers. The Azzurri — four-time winners — missed out on the World Cup for the primary time since 1958 after shedding a two-leg playoff in opposition to Sweden. It marked the top of legendary keeper Gianluigi Buffon’s 20-year worldwide profession.
Though Buffon, probably the most capped Italian in historical past, is probably going to be tormented when watching Russia 2018, he can a minimum of take solace from the truth that he was a key member of Italy’s World Cup profitable crew in 2006.
Different high-profile nations not within the draw are 2010 World Cup runners-up the Netherlands, conventional Concacaf powerhouse the US and Alexis Sanchez’s Chile.
Two current ever-presents of African soccer, Ivory Coast and Ghana, additionally failed to emerge from an arduous qualifying marketing campaign.
Each nations had certified for 3 successive World Cups, however failure to attain Russia 2018 ended up costing Belgian Marc Wilmots his job as supervisor of Les Elephants.