ZURICH: Most of the teams whose names will be drawn in their World Cup finals groups on December 1 in Moscow are now known.
The group stage of European qualifying is now over, leaving just four two-legged play-offs to take place from November 9-14. Away goals will be a deciding factor if necessary, both before and after extra time.
The best eight teams who finished second in the group stage compete in them with the draw taking place at 1300 BST on Tuesday October 17 in Zurich.
This will see the eight teams split into two pots – seeds and non-seeds.
The seeds will be determined by the FIFA world ranking list which will be published the day before, October 16. However, calculations already show that the pots will be as follows:
Seeds: Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Denmark.
Non-seeds: Northern Ireland, Sweden, Republic of Ireland, Greece.
One ball from each pot will be drawn. The two balls will then be placed into a third pot and drawn out one by one. The first team to be drawn from this third pot will be at home in the first leg.
Two intercontinental play-offs will also be held in November. Again, the winners will qualify for the finals in Russia.
One will see Oceania’s representatives New Zealand take on Peru, who finished fifth in South American qualifying.
The other play-off will see Australia (from the Asian qualifying process) face the fourth-placed team in North, Central America and Caribbean qualifying, Honduras.
The figures in brackets are the number of places allocated to each geographical confederation. Half places can be explained by the fact that two intercontinental play-offs will be held in November (see above).
Notables who will not be in Russia, include the Netherlands, Chile, African champions Cameroon and the USA.
Of the remaining nine spots, six will come from next month’s play-offs. November will also see the completion of the African qualifying process in which three groups are still to be decided. Tunisia need a draw in their final game to reach Russia, Morocco require a victory and Senegal must win one of their two remaining matches to qualify.
Russia 2018 will have a familiar look to it with 32 teams competing in the same format which FIFA has used since the 1998 edition of the tournament – eight groups of four with the two top in each progressing to the knockout stages.
Both the opener and the final will take place at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, which has just been refurbished and its capacity increased to 81,000. It is one of two venues in the capital, the other being Spartak Moscow’s Otkrytiye Arena which will be known as Spartak Stadium during the tournament.
The Luzhniki, which played host to the 2008 Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea, will also stage one of the semi-finals with the other in St Petersburg – the only other ground with a capacity of more than 50,000.
There are 12 stadia being used in total, the others being in Ekaterinburg (pictured below with its temporary seating), Kaliningrad, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saransk, Sochi and Volgograd.
While the qualifiers will not have to head to the far east of the country, the venues are still scattered across four different time zones. That has resulted in matches being given a variety of different kick-off times, the earliest of which will be 1100 BST and the latest 2000 BST.
The most popular kick-off time is 1900 BST (25 of the 64 games will start then), but the final is scheduled for 1600 BST. Other matches will start at 1300, 1400, 1500 or 1700 BST.
The draw for the 2018 World Cup finals will take place in Moscow on Friday December 1.
For it, the 32 qualifiers will be placed into four pots of eight and then drawn into the eight groups, A-H.
FIFA has already decided on how the teams will be allocated to these pots.
Hosts Russia will be placed in pot one (and are already guaranteed slot A1 in the draw). The FIFA world ranking of October 16 will be used to rank the rest of the nations. The highest-ranked teams will then be added to pot one, the system continuing through the pots until the lowest-ranked fill pot four.
However, it will not be as simple as just pulling one ball out of each pot to form the groups as no team from the same confederation (with the exception of UEFA) will be drawn into the same group.
With England currently only 15th in the ranking list, they look likely to be in pot two meaning they could face the likes of Brazil or holders Germany in their group.
Tickets went on general sale last month and the initial sales window remains open until this Thursday (October 12). During this phase, fans will be able to enter a ballot to secure tickets for any game. Once the finalists have been determined, a first-come-first-served phase will be held from November 16-28.
Ticket sales will reopen on December 5 by which stage the fixtures will be known with the finals draw having taken place (see above).
The cheapest ticket – for a group-stage match – is US$105 (£79 at current exchange rates). The most expensive seat at the final will cost an eye-watering $1,100 (£829).
Full details can be found on the official FIFA website where ticket applications can be made.
For those with a ticket, Russia will allow visa-free access to the country. Those planning to travel without a ticket will still require a visa though.
Having completed their qualifying campaign unbeaten, England will now turn their attention to the pre-World Cup friendly programme.
They have already arranged two such games in November. They will host Germany at Wembley on November 10 before Brazil arrive at the national stadium four days later.
The following international window, from March 19-27, offers the opportunity for two more friendlies.
Then there will be end-of-season World Cup warm-up games, the first of which is likely to be staged a few days after the Champions League final which takes place on May 26.
No World Cup is complete without a mascot and 2018’s will be Zabivaka the wolf, selected from a choice of three (ahead of a tiger and a cat) by the Russian public.