Paris: There is a possibility that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will meet in the World Cup for the first time, if Portugal and Argentina can both make it into the final.
Former winners Spain and Germany will clash at an early stage, in Group E, which appears to be the trickiest group in the draw with two heavyweights along with Japan and the winners from the play-offs between Costa Rica and New Zealand.
England were given a relatively easy draw, and the focus of the Three Lions’ Group B will be on the matchup between the United States and Iran.
The draw for the World Cup on Friday has thrown up some intriguing fixtures in the quadrennial premier football tournament, which will be held in the Middle East for the first time, and also in winter for the first time, from November 21 to December 18, Xinhua reports.
1. Messi and Ronaldo’s last chance?
Ronaldo celebrated his 37th birthday in February, and his arch-rival Messi will turn 35 in June. The best two footballers in the past 15 years have both claimed the title in respective continental tournament, but have not realised their dream at World Cup, and Qatar is very likely to be their last chance.
As Portugal and Argentina were placed in different halves, the only possibility that the two players face each other would be in the final. It will be the fifth World Cup tour for both, but they had never met before.
Argentina, who finally won a Copa America last year, kick off their campaign against Saudi Arabia, and then Mexico before their final group match against Poland, in which the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi will encounter the current FIFA Best Player Robert Lewandowski.
Ronaldo and his Portugal will have a chance to take revenge on Uruguay for their 2018 round of 16 defeat in Group H. But there will be another team also waiting for the same chance — Ghana, who had been eliminated by the South American powerhouses in the 2010 quarterfinals in a dramatic way.
Luis 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.
Being in Group H means that if you go all the way into the final, you will have a more compact schedule than your rivals in the last showdown, but Portugal’s head coach Fernando Santos looked into it in a different way.
“This will be a very tiring tournament, but a late start means more time to prepare my team,” he said.
2. Who are the winners of the draw?
No one had defended the trophy since Brazil back in 1962, but France have a squad that gives them a great opportunity to break the curse.
The defending champions were put into a group with no other heavyweights from Europe, although they will play Denmark in their second match. Tunisia appeared to be the underdogs in the group as the final place will go to either the United Arab Emirates, Peru or Australia.
Belgium, who have just been knocked off their perch as the world No.1 by Brazil, were drawn along with Canada, Morocco and Croatia in Group F. With superstars like Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois in the squad, this may be the best chance for the Red Devils’ golden generation to bid for a World Cup trophy.
The Netherlands went into the draw as the Pot-Two team, but were put in a group with the theoretically weakest seeding side — hosts Qatar. The other two teams in the group are African champions Senegal and South America’s Ecuador which means the Netherlands will be the big favourites to get out of the group.
Gareth Southgate’s England reached the semifinals four years ago and will start this year’s run against Iran, who have never made it out of group stages in their previous five attempts.
England will also face the United States and potentially a British derby against Scotland or Wales should either of those sides clinch the last ticket to Qatar by beating Ukraine in a play-off.
3. Which is the Group of Death?
Four-time World Cup winners Germany were in Pot Two, making it possible for the formation of a Group of Death. Finally, Hansi Flick’s team were drawn into Group E with 2010 winners Spain, and the two traditional giants were joined by Japan and the winners of an intercontinental play-off between Costa Rica and New Zealand.
It is definitely the toughest group in Qatar, with two former world champions and arguably Asia’s strongest contender. Japan went through the Asian qualifying pool with a seven-point gap over Australia.
The Blue Samurai had already shocked the world four years ago in Russia, where they were very close to eliminating Belgium in the round of 16, wasting a two-goal lead and being defeated by Nacer Chadli’s late winning goal in injury time.
A potential final team in the group could be Costa Rica, another tricky team who were familiar with this kind of situation as the Caribbean side came through their own Group of Death in 2014 — featuring England, Italy and Uruguay, and made it into the quarterfinals.