In Africa, Nigeria and four other countries that represented the continent at the 2014 edition in Brazil will battle with 48 other nations for the five slots given to the continent.
In Europe, the world champions, Germany can be reasonably confident of getting the chance to defend their title at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That’s after drawing a relatively easy qualifying group. Some of their neighbours weren’t so lucky.
There were a lot of nervous faces at the draw in St. Petersburg after FIFA’s idiosyncratic seedings put top footballing nations like France and Italy in Pot two. But Germany’s national team manager Oliver Bierhoff brought the 2014 champs luck, picking out the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino to face the Germans in Group C.
The Czech Republic have a number of skilled players, and Norway are capable of the odd upset. But the draw for Germany could have been a lot worse, as Bierhoff freely acknowledged.
“I’m glad we’re not playing after France or Italy,” Bierhoff said after the draw. “For Spain, for example, it’s going to be pretty tough.”
In addition to Italy, 2010 champions Spain will have to face Albania, Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein – a group that likely had fans of La Roja exclaiming “Ay caramba!”
Europe will send 13 teams to Russia for football’s premier event in 2018. The nine group winners qualify, while the eight best second-placed teams play off for the remaining four places. The World Cup dreams of the worst of the runners-up will come to an immediate end.
The other killer draw was Group A. It has the third place team at 2014 World Cup, the Netherlands, squaring off against France as well as Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg.
Here are the other qualifying groups:
Group B – Portugal, Switzerland, Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia, Andorra
Group D – Wales, Austria, Serbia, Ireland, Moldova, Georgia
Group E – Romania, Denmark, Poland, Montenegro, Armenia, Kazakhstan
Group F – England, Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Malta
Group H – Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Estonia, Cyprus
Group I – Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland