Coaches have their say on the World Cup draw

Coaches of Spain, Iceland, Germany, France, and Japan react to the group stage draw for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Germany's coach, Joachim Loew, says that he's "not scared" of the group opponents

The coaches of the 2018 World Cup favourites welcomed a draw that keeps most of them apart in the group phase. The exception is Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and 2010 winners Spain, who have been drawn in Group B, which also has Morocco and Iran.

Ronaldo's battle against Spain and many of his Real Madrid teammates in Sochi on June 15 is mouthwatering to say the least. This quadrennial tournament was mapped out by Friday's draw in the Kremlin.

Read: Portugal coach wary of Morocco and Iran

"They are the champions of Europe, they have fantastic players and we are talking about the highest level," said Spain coach Julen Lopetegui to Spanish TV station Cuatro.

Spain, which has clicked into gear again after underperforming in recent years, was 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-achiever England still faces a tough encounter against a free-scoring Belgian side featuring Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, the trio who play for the top three Premier League clubs currently. Tunisia and debutant Panama complete this 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 itself on a collision course with Germany and Spain if it fails to win its group. Harry Kane and his teammates begin their FIFA World Cup 2018 campaign against Tunisia in Volgograd -- at a stadium built on one of the main sites of the World War II Battle of Stalingrad -- on June 18.

World Cup newcomer Iceland was meanwhile handed a match against Lionel Messi and Argentina on June 16, a draw which was described as "romantic" by coach Heimar Hallgrimsson. 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.

Sampaoli: 'Ronaldo is extraordinary, but Messi is the best'

Tantalising prospects

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 between 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 champion 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. Messi will turn 31 during the tournament, meaning this will probably be his last chance to win the World Cup as well.

Group-by-group analysis (A-D)

Germany was 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 winner 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 has been in disarray since qualifying and is 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.

Avoided Spain

Japan faces 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.

Group-by-group analysis (E-H)

"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 on June 14, when host nation Russia takes on Saudi Arabia 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 drawing Egypt and Uruguay in Group A. "We just didn't want to get Spain from pot two.

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