With the World Cup 6 1/2 months away, the eyes of the vast soccer society turned to Moscow for the Friday’s draw, which determined the eight first-round groups and set the path for the favorites to reach the final.
Should it come as any surprise that, with President Vladimir Putin in attendance at the State Kremlin Palace, Russia enjoyed a soft landing?
The tournament host — second-lowest ranked in the 32-nation field — dodged the other European entries and was paired with the lowest-ranked nation (Saudi Arabia), plus a country that qualified for the first time in 28 years (Egypt) and a strong Uruguay side. Russia and Uruguay are the clear favorites in Group A to advance to the round of 16.
Putin, no doubt, is smiling.
On the other side of the spectrum, Group F wins the award as the so-called Group of Death: reigning champion Germany; CONCACAF power Mexico; a Swedish team that ousted Italy in the qualifying playoffs; and South Korea, which is making its ninth consecutive appearance.
The tournament will run June 14 through July 15 in 11 Russian cities (12 stadiums). Russia will open the 64-match event in Moscow against Saudi Arabia.
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