World Cup draws haven’t always been kind to England.
At the last tournament in Brazil, the Three Lions were again unseeded and placed in a group with Italy, Uruguay and surprise package Costa Rica; in 2002, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side had to battle past Argentina, Sweden and Nigeria to reach the knockout stage.
Not that a kind draw always produces desired results, mind: England were unable to take full advantage of some favourable ball-picking in 2010 when they finished second after struggling against the USA, Slovenia and Algeria.
For Russia 2018, England have been placed in Pot 2 alongside Spain, Peru, Switzerland, Colombia, Mexico Uruguay and Croatia – meaning they can’t face any of those sides until the knockouts.
Please note: Nations from the same confederation cannot be drawn in a group together (except UEFA – up to two teams). This tournament’s pots are different to previous years; previously, teams outside of Pot 1 were grouped together geographically, rather than by FIFA ranking.
Pot 1: Russia
Other teams in pot: Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France
The hosts are clearly the weakest team in Pot 1, simply because they aren’t there on merit.
Despite drawing with England, Russia were one of the weakest teams at Euro 2016 and finished bottom of a group that also featured Slovakia and Wales. It hasn’t gone much better since: for the 2017 Confederations Cup they hosted, Mexico and Portugal advanced to the knockout stage ahead of them.
Ageing defenders Sergei Ignashevich and Vasily Berezutsky have moved on, but Russia’s lack of competitive football could leave them undercooked for next summer’s tournament. They did, however, claim a creditable 3-3 draw against Spain in their latest outing.
Pot 3: Iran
Other teams in pot: Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal
Iran are the lowest-ranked team in Pot 3 after qualifying for their fifth World Cup finals.
Coached by former Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz, Team Melli made it to Russia without losing a game – albeit against somewhat lowly opposition in the form of South Korea, Syria, Uzbekistan, China and Qatar.
Four of Iran’s 10 qualifiers ended in a draw, with three finishing goalless, and a lack of firepower up front will make it tough for them to reach the knockout stage for the first time.
Pot 4: Panama
Other teams in pot: Serbia, Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Morocco, South Korea, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia are the lowest-ranked team in the hat right now, but wouldn’t be able to be drawn alongside Iran in this hypothetical situation. For the same reasons, neither could the next-lowest nation, South Korea.
Panama, then, would represent the best-case scenario for England here after squeaking through CONCACAF qualifying to claim the last automatic spot behind Mexico and Costa Rica.
Los Canaleros did just enough to make their first ever World Cup, going through the campaign unbeaten at home but winning only one of their five away matches – something which doesn’t bode particularly well for a tournament in Russia.
Worst-case scenario...Pot 1: Brazil
Other teams in pot: Russia, Germany, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France
England may have just held the Seleção to a goalless draw at Wembley, but Tite’s side have been a breathtaking force for over a year and will head to Russia as joint-favourites alongside Germany.
Brazil blitzed CONMEBOL qualifying, becoming the first nation (other than Russia) to reach the tournament way back in March and finishing South America’s fiercely competitive group 10 points clear of second-placed Uruguay.
They conceded only 11 goals and scored 41 to finish with an almighty +30 goal difference – and will have an in-form Neymar in tow as their talisman. Gulp.
Pot 3: Iceland
Other teams in pot: Denmark, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Iran
Please, not again. Iceland’s victory over the Three Lions at Euro 2016 will be remembered as England's worst ever defeat at a major tournament – but as it turns out, it was no fluke.
Iceland finished top of a qualifying group containing Croatia and Ukraine to reach the finals for the first time in their history, conceding just seven goals in 10 group games.
With strong support they will be a tough nut to crack in Russia once again, and are the kind of team that England particularly struggle against. Shudder.
Pot 4: Nigeria
Other teams in pot: Serbia, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama, South Korea, Saudi Arabia
Nigeria are World Cup regulars, having qualified for six of the last seven tournaments (the exception was 2006).
This time around the Super Eagles won their tough qualifying group with ease, going unbeaten against Cameroon (2017 AFCON winners), Algeria (qualified for last two World Cups) and Zambia (2012 AFCON winners).
With their strong Premier League core – Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi have all impressed in recent seasons – Nigeria will be unwanted opposition in Russia.
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