The 2018 World Cup draw takes place in Russia on Friday afternoon, thus beginning the countdown to next year’s finals.
As of earlier this month, all 32 qualifiers have been confirmed, as well as the seeding in which they find themselves.
As expected, England find themselves in Pot 2 of the draw, meaning that the likelihood of their progression to the knockout stage is still high, but the presence of a top seed and the potential for a n awkward lower seed could throw a spanner into the works.
One positive from the way that the seeding worked out is that they will avoid a rejuvenated Spain, with Euro 2016 finalists France pipping Julen Lopetegui’s side to the top tier right at the death.
That being said, the Three Lions could still end up in a group with defending champions Germany, or Tite’s resurgent Brazil, as well as top seeds in the third or fourth pots – namely Denmark and Serbia (both of whom Ireland faced in qualification).
The Dream Draw:
Interestingly, Russia are the lowest-ranked team of the 32 to feature in the World Cup next year. That, primarily, is down to the fact that the only competitive action they have played since Euro 2016 was last year’s Confederations Cup. In a field that contains Brazil, Germany, Belgium, France and (despite their problems in qualifying) Argentina, drawing Russia is arguably England’s best hope of topping the group.
In terms of a third seed, Iran and Tunisia have to be the standouts. Many of the teams in this tier have at least one gamechanger of a player (Christian Eriksen with Denmark and the Liverpool pair Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah spring to mind) and Sweden have shown that they can handle the pressure, so the aforementioned duo have to be the aim.
Pot four contains a few banana skins, winnable matches sure but also the potential for an upset. Panama or Saudi Arabia are arguably the weakest sides in that pot and would probably pose less of a threat than the likes of Serbia, Nigeria or Australia.
Russia, England, Iran, Panama
The Nightmare Draw:
After England’s dismal failure to progress from their group they should be wary of any group they’re drawn in to some extent, but their task could be made so much harder if fate is not on their side.
World champions Germany are the obvious main danger in Pot 1, but England should probably fear Brazil that bit more. Tite has this side functioning now in a way that they have not done for some time, and the attacking threat of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho can be absolutely deadly.
In Pot 3, Christian Eriksen and Denmark are the highest-rated team and one need only look at the thumpings they inflicted on Poland and Ireland in qualifying to know the damage they can cause. Iceland, Sweden, Egypt and Senegal would be tricky enough ties too, but the Danes edge it in terms of the team to avoid.
To Pot 4, containing a number of big nations. Serbia, despite replacing their manager upon reaching the finals, grew into their qualifying group will will be a sting in the Pot 4 tail for whichever nation draws them, while Nigeria are the sort of technical young team whose lack of experience could be compensated for by their fearlessness. Australia and Japan would also be ones to avoid, though that is probably more down to reputation rather than current ability.
Brazil, England, Denmark, Nigeria
In this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish Football Podcast, we chat to David Cawley about his recent return to Sligo Rovers from Galway United, we look at the proposed promotion/relegation structure in the First Divison as well as recap all of the latest domestic news.