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England set for a World Cup qualifying meeting with the Auld enemy!
Vladimir Putin (somehow) managed to keep his shirt on, and no one throw a flutter of fake cash over Sepp Blatter, so things seemed to be running relatively smoothly at the preliminary draw for the Fifa 2018 World Cup in Russia. That is, for English fans at least, only until neighboring rivals England and Scotland were placed in the same qualifying group, signaling another almighty clash with the Auld enemy for The Three Lions to reach another major tournament. Richard Lewis watched the unnecessarily long draw for the qualifying stages of the World Cup, so you didn’t have to…
Putin’ on a show for the world to enjoy!
Every corner in the world (apart from the expelled Zimbabwe), was watching to see whether Putin turned up topless on a horse, oh, and the small matter of the draw to determine the qualifying group stages that will determine the thirty-one nations to join the hosts at 2018 World Cup. The likes of Roy Hodgson and other national team managers were in St Petersburg to learn the fate of England and the other European nations.
The live event lasted more than two hours and there was, however, one notable absentee from the ceremony, as Zenit St Petersburg and Brazil striker Hulk failed to attend the draw. Hulk claims he could not take part because of club duties but it seems more likely he is backing ex-Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong and trying to stand against the racism that plagues Russian football. The World Cup is meant to unite the globe, so racist chants need to be eradicated, or at very least strictly dealt with in Russia by the time the tournament is held.
From Russia with Love!
The British home nations seem to have paired up closely together in this latest draw, the single outlier being Northern Ireland facing current World Cup holders Germany in their group.
England will be relatively pleased with the draw, although the Scottish national team players (SNP for short) could yet again send shockwaves through English shores. Only a day after the Scots and English were paired together in a major sporting event, former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond talked up the potential of another referendum for the breakup of Britain.
Another interesting matter of the clash between the rivals is the day Fifa has chosen the encounter at Wembley to be played — Friday, 11th, November 2016, also known as Remembrance Day in the UK. To save some trouble, West Brom’s James McClean almost certainly won’t be present on the pitch on poppy day, as the Republic of Ireland have been placed in a group with Southern rivals Wales.
The return fixture between Roy Hodgson and Gordon Strachan’s men will be played at Glasgow’s Hampden Park on Saturday, 10th, June 2017. There is no love lost between the two nations, with England gaining the upper hand in recent friendlies, including The Three Lions’ 3-2 victory at Wembley in August 2013, in which Rickie Lambert scored the winner on his England debut.
The other sides in European Group F include Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta. It is realistic for England to aim at winning the group and for Scotland to aim at a second placed playoff finish. The Three Lions have already been acquainted with Slovenia and Lithuania, beating them both in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. Harry Kane scored on his England debut against Lithuania in March earlier this year.
A final in qualifying!
The draw also set some heavyweight qualifying clashes, with 2006 winners Italy and 1998 champions France not being top seeds. Thus, the final of Euro 2012 will be repeated in qualifying, as 2010 World Cup winners Spain were drawn with Italy. Euro 2016 hosts France, meanwhile, were placed in a group with the Netherlands —who have struggled since the departure of coach Louis van Gaal, who lead the Dutch to a third-placed finish at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Russia may already have a spot in the group stages of World Cup 2018 but thirty-one other countries will be fighting it out to take part in the first global football competition to be hosted over two continents despite the controversy over how they received the hosting right from Fifa in December 2010. Maybe England could have been the hosts if comedian Simon Brodkin had provided Sepp Blatter with that pile of cash a few years ago!
A rundown of the all the fairly complicated qualifying groups across all confederations can be found here.
Homepage photo credit: By Clément Bucco-Lechat, via Wikimedia Commons