2018 FIFA World Cup Preliminary Draw: UEFA Winners and Losers
Here, B/R takes a forensic look at the European section of the draw, picking winners and losers based on how the dominoes fell. Who has a great chance of sealing a trip to Russia, whose chances look slim, and which groups will provide the most excitement?
Read on to see our picks, and offer your thoughts in the comments below!
Oh, the joys of being in Pot 1.
Wales bagged themselves a top seed ahead of the qualifying draw and were rewarded with a fairly straightforward group on paper. Serbia and Austria are resurgent nations and could cause a few problems, but Republic of Ireland, Moldova and Georgia are inviting ties.
The path has been laid out for the Dragons, and it's laced with expectancy. The current crop, spearheaded by Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, should be able to negotiate Group D. Wales will reach only their second FIFA World Cup—their first since 1958.
FourFourTwo's Huw Davies rated his nation's chances at "doable" on Twitter—a more than modest assessment of a great draw.
Sweden. Poor, poor Sweden.
The Blagult have gone a little stale over the last few years, but their recent UEFA European Under-21 Championship victory has restored hope that their international side can rise again.
Unfortunately, said under-21 side, who will come to form the nexus of the senior setup over the next three years, faces the Netherlands and France in Group A—a veritable Group of Death if we've ever seen one.
Worse yet, the impending retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, now 33, will make things even harder for the Scandinavian outfit up front.
Start planning for 2022.
Poland landed in Pot 3 ahead of the draw, inviting dooming statements regarding the country's likely struggle to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But the process smiled upon Robert Lewandowski and Co., placing Romania (Pot 1) and Denmark (Pot 2) alongside them in Group E. It could have been so much worse.
The White Eagles could stake a claim to be the best side in this group, and that's one hell of a result given their pre-draw status. They could have drawn a combination such as England-France, so this must go down as both a great escape and a win.
Poland haven't qualified for the tournament proper since 2006.
When you make Pot 1, it's supposed to be fairly straightforward. You're supposed to avoid stronger sides and be able to recognise a clear path to the finals from the off.
But Croatia landed in a sticky situation, drawing Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey and Finland in a shortened Group I. That's the toughest concentration of teams across the draw by far.
Iceland are taking large, progressive steps forward and will provide a stern challenge—particularly at home in the arctic circle. Croatia only just squeezed past them in the FIFA World Cup play-off for 2014, and the Strakarnir Okkar project will be several years further down the line.
Turkey have had close to a decade in the doldrums following some sparkling performances earlier in the century, but with the likes of Hakan Calhanoglu establishing themselves as stars, they're on the up and up. Ukraine have been nearly men over the last few years and have the attacking weapons to hurt you no matter the occasion.
What a battle this is sure to be.
Winners: England and Scotland
"The draw has made a lot of people happy," Scotland manager Gordon Strachan admitted to Sky Sports News after the event. "Happy" might just be an understatement there.
Scotland have bagged themselves both a reasonable group and the chance to get one over the old enemy: England. Matches between the two are always fiery, making for a great spectacle and appropriately divvying up bragging rights for the years ahead.
England, too, can be pleased with an easy group, which they should win without too much trouble. The only problem is, will it adequately prepare them for the finals in 2018?