European heavyweights Spain and Portugal will go head-to-head in the group-stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup after being pitted together in Friday’s draw in Moscow.

2010 winners Spain and reigning European champions Portugal will meet in the opening round of Group B fixtures in Sochi for a game that will likely go a long way to deciding who will win a section that also includes Morocco and Iran, who will be rank outsiders against FIFA’s third [Portugal] and sixth [Spain] best ranked teams.

Host nation Russia, currently languishing in 65th place in the FIFA world rankings, will fancy their chances of progressing to the knockout stages after a favourable draw which matched them with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay – who will begin as strong favourites to top the table – in Group A.

Russia will kick-off the tournament against Saudi Arabia in Moscow on Thursday June 14th, with their second fixture against Egypt expected to be decisive in determining who reaches the second-round.

Holders Germany begin the defence of their trophy with a game against Mexico, before rounding out Group F with games against Sweden and South Korea.

Five-time winners, and one of the pre-tournament favourites, Brazil are in Group E alongside Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia while Peru and Australia join France and Denmark in Group C.

Two sides will make their maiden appearance at a World Cup, with Iceland beginning against two-time tournament winners Argentina in Moscow and Panama taking their bow against much-fancied Belgium in Sochi. Nigeria and Croatia join Iceland and Argentina in Group D while Tunisia and England make up Group G alongside Belgium and Panama.

2018 FIFA World Cup draw in full

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark.

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria.

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia.

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea.

Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan.

The 2018 World Cup begins at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday June 14th with the final scheduled to take place at the same venue on Sunday July 15th.

Alistair Sargent, Editor

(-Picture, Mariya Butd)