Qatar World Cup draw whets sporting and political appetites

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The draw for this year’s World Cup in Qatar has thrown up some headline-grabbing fixtures both for sporting and political reasons.

The Group E matchc between Spain and Germany pits the 2010 and 2014 world champions against each other.

Meanwhile, Group C could see a meeting of the most recent Best FIFA Men’s Player winners, with Robert Lewandowski’s Poland drawn against Lionel Messi’s Argentina.

Lewandowski took the award in 2021 and 2020, while Messi was the winner in 2019.

The draw also features some politically-charged fixtures, to add to controversy seen in the years building up to the tournament.

In Group B, the United States will play Iran with diplomatic relations yet to be restored between the nations. The match is a repeat of their encounter at the 1998 World Cup in France, which Iran won 2-1.

Iran will also take on England, whose government has endured tense relations with Tehran — though there was some easing recently with the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who had been detained in Iran for six years.

The group could yet be completed by Ukraine, whose ability to qualify for the World Cup has been postponed by being invaded by Russia. The Ukrainians will have to overcome Scotland and then Wales in the playoffs to make the tournament in November.

Should Scotland or Wales qualify for the finals, then domestic UK interest will be spiked by a fixture against England.

The USA’s match against England also has history: the Americans famously upset England 1-0 at the 1950 World Cup at Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Then in 2010 they opened the tournament in South Africa with a 1-1 draw against the Three Lions.

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Qatar will open its first World Cup against Ecuador on November 21 after qualifying for the first time as host.

The Netherlands, a three-time World Cup runner-up, will start against Senegal, the new African champion.

The 2018 winners, France, are drawn against Denmark, Tunisia, and either Peru, Australia or the United Arab Emirates.

France and Denmark were in the same group four years ago and both advanced to the knockout stage. In 2018, they also faced Peru and Australia in their group so a three-team reunion is also possible depending on the outcome of an intercontinental playoff bracket in June.

Group F will pit the 2018 runners-up Croatia against semi-finalists Belgium, who lost to the eventual winners France. In the same group, Morocco get tough European opponents for the second tournament running, after being drawn against Spain and Portugal last time.

Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia were all in the same group in 2018 are are reunited in Group G. Brazil will open against Serbia, hoping for a repeat of their 2-0 victory four years ago.

Group H reunites Luis Suarez and Uruguay with Ghana for the first time since their infamous quarterfinals game at the 2010 World Cup. Suarez was sent off for punching away an almost certain winning goal for Ghana deep in extra time. The penalty was missed and Uruguay went on to win the shootout.

Kickoff times and stadiums for the matches will be decided this month. That lets FIFA allocate games to prime broadcast slots for viewers in a team’s home country.

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A total of 37 teams were involved on Friday because three entries in the 32-team lineup are not yet known. They are to be confirmed in June when the European and intercontinental playoffs finish.

The world champion will be crowned in December for the first time due to the final being moved from its usual July slot to avoid Qatar’s fierce summer heat.

Qatar has spent 12 years, since winning the World Cup bid, fighting to protect the hosting rights amid corruption investigations and regional disharmony.

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