KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Qatari World Cup organisers will have breathed a huge sigh of relief after completion of the draw for the finals at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center.
Highlights of the generally balanced eight groups included the matching of former champions Spain and Germany in Group E and a politically delicate inclusion of England, Iran and United States in Group B. Uncertainty accompanies the fourth slot which has yet to be decided between Scotland or Ukraine or Wales.
Hosts Qatar will play Ecuador in the Opening Match on November 21 in the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.
Every major sporting event brings an avalanche of skepticism and criticism down on the head of the host, whether the issues are human rights, international status or preparatory capability.
The first Arab World Cup, in November and December, had the worst possible start with the scandal which swirled around the award by the corruption-riddled FIFA executive committee back in December 2010 but now, finally, the weight of international debate will begin to swing towards the football itself.
The draw was due to last little more than an hour, conducted by actor Idris Elba and sports broadcaster Reshmin Chowdhury with the goldfish-bowl assistance of former winners Cafu (Brazil) and Lothar Matthäus (Germany) plus Adel Ahmed MalAllah (Qatar), Ali Daei (IR Iran), Bora Milutinović (Serbia/Mexico), Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria), Rabah Madjer (Algeria) and Tim Cahill (Australia).
FIFA president Gianni Infantino set the formalities under way with the essentially predictable plea for peace before France coach Didier Deschamps delivered the trophy he had won as captain in 1998 and then national team coach in 2018.
Then it was all eyes on the draw itself, smoothly and flawlessly conducted by Jenas, as follows:
Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands.
Group B: England, Iran, United States, Scotland or Ukraine or Wales.
Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland.
Group D: France, UAE/Australia/Peru, Denmark, Tunisia.
Group E: Spain, Costa Rica or New Zealand, Germany, Japan.
Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia.
Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon.
Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea.