Coaches hail tantalising World Cup draw

Sports Saturday 02/December/2017 17:04 PM
By: Times News Service
Coaches hail tantalising World Cup draw

Moscow: The coaches of the 2018 World Cup favourites welcomed a draw that keeps most of them apart in the group phase -- with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and 2010 winners Spain.
Ronaldo's Group B battle against Spain and many of his Real Madrid teammates in Sochi on June 15 will be an early highlight of a tournament that was mapped out by Friday's draw in the Kremlin.
"They are the champions of Europe, they have fantastic players and we are talking about the highest level," Spain coach Julen Lopetegui told Spanish TV station Cuatro.
Spain, clicking into gear again after underperforming in recent years, were seen as the team to avoid after missing out on a place among the top seeds.
When the hand of Diego Maradona dipped into the glass bowl and pulled out England in Belgium's Group G -- avoiding Brazil, Argentina and Portugal -- the English press termed it "the day the Hand of God made amends". In the 1986 World Cup, the Argentinian infamously scored against England using his hand -- and claimed divine intervention had played a role.
Perennial under-achievers England still face a tough encounter with a free-scoring Belgian side featuring Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, both of whom play in England. Tunisia and debutants Panama complete the group.
"We've been good at writing teams off and then getting beat. We've got to be prepared for every game," said England manager Gareth Southgate.
England could in theory find themselves on a collision course with Germany and Spain if they do not win the group.
Harry Kane and his teammates begin against Tunisia in Volgograd -- in a stadium built on one of the main sites of the World War II Battle of Stalingrad -- on June 18.
World Cup newcomers Iceland were meanwhile handed a match against Lionel Messi and Argentina on June 16 -- a draw coach Heimar Hallgrimsson described as "romantic".
He said he had already spoken to his scout in Argentina.
"He told me just one thing -- number 10," a laughing Hallgrimsson said in reference to Messi's number.
The glitzy draw, featuring a short speech from Russian President Vladimir Putin, also laid out potential routes to the final, revealing tantalising prospects such as a Spain v Argentina quarter-final, and possible semi-finals of Spain against Germany or France versus Brazil.
Ronaldo will be 33 come next year's finals, meaning this will probably be his last shot at World Cup glory.
Reigning world champions Germany, the much-fancied Brazil of Neymar, and France will all be delighted with their draws, but the prospects appear tougher for Argentina.
Apart from Iceland, they will come up against Croatia and Nigeria in Group D as Messi looks to make up for losing the 2014 final to Germany.
The Barcelona man turns 31 during the tournament, meaning this is probably also his last chance to win the World Cup.
Germany were placed with Mexico, Sweden and South Korea in Group F as Joachim Loew's men try to become the first nation to retain the title since Brazil in 1962.
"I am certainly not scared," Loew told ZDF television, but he warned the chasing pack was closing in.
"Other countries have been watching us over the last few years and they have progressed and they have great players. This will be an exciting World Cup."
Five-time winners Brazil, eager to exorcise the demons of 2014 and their 7-1 semi-final humiliation against Germany on home soil, will expect little trouble in progressing from Group E ahead of Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia.
France coach Didier Deschamps will be confident of winning Group C ahead of Australia, Peru and Denmark.
"Whatever the group, the French team have to qualify for the knockout round and have to finish first in the group," Deschamps told BeIN Sport.
Australia have been in disarray since qualifying and are now searching for a new coach following the resignation of Ange Postecoglou.
The Socceroos' assistant coach Ante Milicic was optimistic though.
"Although it's a difficult group, we believe in ourselves and definitely we can advance from the group," he said.
Japan face a tough task to finish in the top two of Group H that features Robert Lewandowski's Poland, Senegal and Colombia.
Japan's veteran coach Vahid Halilhodzic vowed to avenge his side's humiliating 4-1 thrashing by Colombia at the 2014 World Cup.
"The Colombia game will be key. For Japan it will be chance to get revenge for the last World Cup," the firebrand Franco-Bosnian said.
The tournament kicks off when host nation Russia take on Saudi Arabia on June 14 in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, which will also host the final on July 15.
"I cannot say whether I'm happy or not," Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said, after also drawing Egypt and Uruguay. "We just didn't want to get Spain from pot two."