A global audience of approximately 94.8m tuned in to the show hosted by Dmitry Shepelev and supermodel Natalia Vodianova, blended football with snatches of Russian music and culture.
The draw itself – overseen for apparently the last time FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke – produced its own intrigue with Spain grouped against Italy and newly-crowned Copa America champions Chile facing Brazil on the first South American matchday.
Valcke indicated on Friday that he expected to be leaving his post when a new president succeeds Sepp Blatter at the end of February,
Earlier all the ultimate qualifying nations had been promised the warmest of welcomes by Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, who kicked off proceedings by addressing the 2,000 guests and viewers from across the world.
“Our country has a long-standing football history and the World Cup will definitely enhance the game’s reputation,” said Putin. “This is a tournament that will be wonderful not only for Russia but for all our neighbouring countries. It is Russia’s great pleasure to be hosting the World Cup, which will offer a great chance to show our country’s many faces to the world.”
FIFA president Sepp Blatter expressed his confidence that “the tournament is very much on track and Russia will be fantastic hosts.”
The draw process was interlaced with the usual entertainment items and began with the resolution of the intercontinental play-off system, pitting CONCACAF against AFC, leaving OFC’s hopefuls to face opponents from South America.
This was the only aspect of the draw which concerned teams in Asia, where qualifying is already under way. Tribute was paid, nonetheless, to two of the continent’s great early success stories, with Valcke highlighting the surprise wins enjoyed by both Bhutan and Guam.
Rinat Dasayev, Soviet goalkeeping legend, and Cameroon icon Samuel Eto’o, assisted Valcke in setting out the route for Africa’s contenders. Nigeria cannot afford complacency in meeting the winners of a tie between Swaziland and Djibouti, the continent’s lowest-ranked nation.
In central and north America the United States was grouped with Trinidad and Tobago while Mexico will be matched in their opening mini-league with Honduras.
CONCACAF Gold Cup finalists Jamaica must first negotiate a third-round tie with Nicaragua.
As usual Europe was left until last with Spain and Italy – winners in 2010 and 2006 respectively – drawn together in Group G.
Other groupings included France with Holland as well as a reiteration of the oldest international rivalry of all in England v Scotland.
Gordon Strachan, Scotland’s boss, said: “From the coaches’ point of view it is good that there will be these two big fixtures but I think first and foremost it is good for the fans of both nations.”
Defending champions Germany have a comfortable task after being matched with the likes of Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Norway.