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Host nation Russia will take on Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Finals in June.
The draw for the group stages took place today, with the highlight pairing undoubtedly being a match between European Champions Portugal and near neighbours Spain in their opening Group B game in Sochi.
A fairly balanced draw left the 6,000 dignitaries assembled at the State Kremlin Arena in Moscow with no standout “group of death” to mull over, although some intriguing matchups do lie ahead once the tournament kicks off next summer.
Joining the hosts and the Arab nation in Group A will be Egypt and Uruguay, two sides who will be expected to negotiate the group comfortably - thanks in most part to their talismanic strikers - Mohamed Salah for the Egyptians, and the pairing of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez for the two-time world champions.
Morocco and Iran join the Iberian duo in Group B, while in Group C Didier Deschamps’ France side - one of the pre-tournament favourites - received a fairly comfortable draw, being pitted against Peru, Australia, and the Republic of Ireland’s conquerors Denmark.
Group D sees familiar foes meeting once more, as Argentina and Nigeria will compete against one another for the fifth time in the past six World Cups, while Iceland and Croatia - who met twice in qualifying - have been drawn together again.
Switzerland, who defeated Northern Ireland in their play-off to progress to the Finals, will form part of a tight race for second place in Group E with Costa Rica and Serbia, behind natural favourites Brazil.
The same can be said for Group F, with Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea all set to do battle in a closely-fought race for qualification to the last-16 stage. Performance against defending World Champions, and bookies favourites, Germany could well determine who qualifies, as it did for the Boys in Green in 2002.
England’s players will face familiar club foes - and some teammates - in the form of Belgium in Group G, which is completed by Tunisia and World Cup debutants Panama, while Group H looks the most finely balanced of them all, with no discernable favourites amongst the foursome of Poland, Senegal, Colombia, and Japan.
The 2018 World Cup gets underway in Moscow on June 14th at 9pm Irish time.
GROUP A Russia - Saudi Arabia - Egypt - Uruguay
GROUP B Portugal - Spain - Morocco - Iran
GROUP C France - Australia - Peru - Denmark
GROUP D Argentina - Iceland - Croatia - Nigeria
GROUP E Brazil - Switzerland - Costa Rica - Serbia
GROUP F Germany - Sweden - Mexico - South Korea
GROUP G Belgium - Panama - Tunisia - England
GROUP H Poland - Denegal - Colombia - Japan