Germany and Spain will clash at this year’s World Cup after Friday’s draw in Doha placed the two former winners in the same group, while geopolitical rivals the United States and Iran were also drawn together.
Four-time World Cup winners Germany were in Pot Two, making them the obvious team to avoid for the top seeds in the draw in the Qatari capital. They were knocked out of the 2018 tournament in Russia in the group stage.
Germany and Spain are joined by Japan in Group E, which will be completed by the winner of an intercontinental play-off in June between Costa Rica and New Zealand.
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Iran and the United States last met at the 1998 World Cup in France when the Iranians won the politically-charged game 2-1 in Lyon.
England also found themselves in Group B and will face Iran in their opening game on the tournament’s first day, on November 21.
Gareth Southgate’s side, semi-finalists four years ago in Russia and runners-up at Euro 2020, might also come up against neighbours Wales or Scotland, although Ukraine could also take the last spot in the European play-offs, to be decided in June.
Hosts Qatar, who will be appearing at their first World Cup, will face Ecuador in the World Cup’s opening game at the 60,000-seat Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor, 35 kilometres north-east of Doha.
Qatar will also take on African champions Senegal as well as the Netherlands, who return to the World Cup after missing out in 2018, in Group A.
Reigning champions France will likely be pleased at finding themselves alongside familiar foes Denmark as well as Tunisia in Group D, which will be completed by the winners of the other intercontinental play-off, Australia, Peru or the United Arab Emirates.
Record five-time winners Brazil will play Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon in Group G, while two-time champions Argentina drew Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Robert Lewandowski’s Poland in Group C.
Last chance for Messi and Ronaldo?
It might be Lionel Messi’s last chance to win a World Cup as he will turn 35 before the tournament.
The same goes for Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be nearly 38 when Portugal come up against Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea in Group H.
Croatia, runners-up in 2018, were drawn with Belgium and Morocco in Group F, which is completed by a Canada side returning to the World Cup for the first time in 26 years.
Thursday’s event in Doha was attended by 2,000 guests, and featured former World Cup winners Cafu and Lothar Matthaeus among the draw assistants.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, was among those in attendance.
‘We will see Qatar as promised’
“I feel proud and happy that the world will see Qatar as we promised. We will provide an exceptional World Cup in our Arab world,” he said during a short speech.
The build-up to Qatar 2022 has been dominated by the off-field issues surrounding the awarding of the tournament.
It is the most controversial World Cup in history, with Qatar dogged ever since it was named host in 2010 by accusations of vote-buying –- which were hotly denied –- and questions over the country’s suitability.
It will be the first World Cup held in November and December, the move from the usual June and July slot necessary because of the extreme heat in the Gulf region at that time of year.
Concerns remain over the treatment of gay and transgender supporters coming to a country where homosexuality is illegal, as well as over the working conditions of hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers in the country, including those who built stadiums.
At Thursday’s FIFA Congress in Doha, Lise Klaveness, head of the Norwegian Football Federation, spoke out to say that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups had been awarded “in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences”.
“Human rights, equality, democracy, the core interests of football were not in the starting XI until many years later,” she said.