Putin and Blatter open road to 2018 World Cup final
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Russian president Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter, the head of world football's governing body Fifa, combined in St Petersburg on Saturday to launch the campaign that will culminate in the World Cup final on 15 July 2018 in Moscow.
Blatter told Putin at a gala ceremony at the Konstantin Palace that Russia had Fifa's trust as hosts of the next World Cup.
In turn, Putin thanked Blatter for focusing his attentions on the draw despite the corruption scandal enveloping his organisation.
Mutual appreciation aside, the logistics are daunting. More than 140 teams will be involved in a 33 month campaign. The nations will be whittled down to 31 and will join hosts Russia for the extravaganza which kicks off in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on 14 June.
Holders Germany were drawn in Group C with Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino.
Argentina, who lost the final in Rio last year, will play nine other South American teams in the qualifying rounds. The top four from that zone will advance directly and the fifth will progress to a play-off .
Elsewhere it’s slightly more complicated. There’s a three round process in the Oceania region. At that stage two groups of three will play for pole position and the top team will progress to a two-legged play-off.
Even then they’re not assured of appearing in Russia as they will have to go through an inter-continental play-off.
By contrast the Europeans have it easy. 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.
France have been placed in Group A with the Netherlands, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg.
Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal have been drawn in Group B with Switzerland, Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia and Andorra
Group G should be intriguing. Spain will go up against Italy. The teams will also take on Albania, Israel, FYR Macedonia and Liechtenstein.
Oliver Bierhoff, the Germany assistant coach, said he was pleased his country had avoided Italy and France. “Group G with Spain and Italy looks very tough,” he added.
Africa’s representatives will emerge from a three round format. The 20 winners from the second round will go into a third round comprising five groups of four. The winners of each group qualify for the World Cup. Ghana will be trying to play in their fourth consecutive World Cup finals.
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