World Cup 2018 qualifying draw underway
Italy, the 2006 world champion, paid the price for recent poor results by being drawn with 2010 victor Spain in the ceremony on Saturday at Konstantin Palace.
Group A also proves hard for the Netherlands as it slated the Dutch against Euro 2016 hosts France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg. Defending champions Germany, meanwhile, will face the first challenges to their crown against the likes of Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Norway.
The U.S. were drawn into Group C with Trinidad and Tobago, the victor of St. Vincent and Grenadines vs. Aruba, and the victor of Antigua and Barbuda vs. Guatemala.
Mexico is in Group A with Honduras, Canada or Belize, and El Salvador or Curacao. Group B includes Costa Rica, Jamaica or Nicaragua, and Haiti or Grenada.
There will be seven groups containing six teams, and two groups of five teams.
Somalia and Niger will meet in the first round and the winners play the Indomitable Lions over two legs in the second. Iceland’s form sees them top their group, but they are the team in that pot with the least players involved at the highest level with their clubs.
Words of welcomeAll of those enthusiasts had earlier been promised the warmest of welcomes by Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, who kicked off proceedings by addressing the 2,000 guests and viewers from across the world.
The 32-team tournament will start in just over three years’ time after over 800 qualifying matches.
Putin referred to the ongoing scandal briefly during the meeting.
Putin alluded to Fifa’s current crisis, in which senior football officials have been indicted in the US on corruption charges.
St. Petersburg is Putin’s home city and has previously hosted meetings of G8 and G20 political leaders in its palatial surroundings.
“This is an important day in the long and winding road to the 2018 Federation Internationale de Football Association World Cup”, said Blatter.
Within a week Blatter had stunningly announced he would leave the office he has held since 1998 after a new election to replace him. It is on February 26. He denies all wrongdoing. The nine winners of each group will qualify automatically for the tournament.
The draw was conducted by Blatter’s right-hand man, secretary general Jerome Valcke.
The continent’s representatives in the intercontinental playoffs will play South American opposition, while CONCACAF will take on the Asian Football Confederation in the other fixture.