Shaun Botterill Russia president Vladimir Putin (l.) and embattled FIFA boss Sepp Blatter take the stage during the preliminary draw for the 2018 World Cup in Russia at the Konstantin Palace in Saint Petersburg.
Holders Germany were drawn in Group C with Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino.
Old rivals England and Scotland were also paired in the same group, while the toughest section looks to be European Group A with the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg locking horns.
Papua New Guinea will be in Group A with the 2012 OFC Nations Cup champions Tahiti and runner’s up New Caledonia.
In CONCACAF qualifying for the World Cup, Mexico was placed in the same group with Honduras and two other teams to be determined, while the United States was matched up against Trinidad and Tobago and two other teams that have not yet qualified for the fourth round.
The extra time let FIFA officials relax a little longer after weeks of being rocked by fallout from the May 27 arrest of senior colleagues in Zurich, and unleashing of investigations into alleged racketeering, bribery, and corruption implicating football and marketing officials.
Federation Internationale de Football Association President Joseph Blatter has assured Russian President Vladimir Putin that the 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia, which he believes is especially important in the current geopolitical situation.
According to Putin, the World Cup would guide all visitors to “experience the unique history and diverse culture of Russia” as the matches would be held in 11 cities located in “Russian regions with distinctive traditions”, Xinhua reported.
In the zone of the Pacific in the first round of the group stage will meet the teams of American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga Islands range.
“Yesterday, and I’m so happy to announce it to you, Mr President, and for the Russian people, Fifa’s Executive Committee expressed again its trust and confidence in Russia for the organisation of this competition”, Blatter said in addressing Putin. Nine group winners qualify while the eight runners-up with the best record against the teams first, third, fourth and fifth in their groups proceed to play-offs.
The playoffs will then be played in November 2017.
“We see what is happening around football“, Putin told Blatter.
Antonio Conte said facing Spain will be “extra motivation” for Italy in 2018 World Cup qualifying.