World Cup 2018 draw: How does the draw work and who could England face on the Road to Russia?

A look ahead to the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw

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The Independent Football

52 nations have been split into pots based on their latest Fifa ranking.

Each pot comprises nine countries, with the exception of Pot 6 which features the seven lowest ranked Uefa members.

Seven groups of six nations will be drawn, featuring one country from each of the six pots, whilst there will be two groups of five, only including countries from the first five pots.

However, owing to the political tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Caucasian countries shall be kept apart. Due to television rights, England must be placed in a group of six.

British viewers can watch the draw live on Sky Sports News HQ from 16:00 on 25/7/15.

Pot 1

Germany (2)

Manager: Joachim Low

World Cup Best: Winners (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)

Record vs England: W 14 D 3 L 12

Danger Man: Thomas Muller

The holders will be expecting to qualify with ease from any group that is thrown at them. The only concern could be that their squad is starting to age a little and some young blood may be required.

Belgium (3)

Manager: Marc Wilmots

World Cup Best: Fourth Place (1986)

Record vs England: W 2 D 4 L 15

Danger Man: Eden Hazard

A squad packed full of talent reflected by their number 3 World Ranking but have a history of coming up short at the World Cup finals themselves. Still very much a team to avoid in the qualification groups.

Netherlands (5)

Manager: Danny Blind

World Cup Best: Runners Up (1974, 1978, 2010)

Record vs England: W 5 D 9 L 5

Danger Man: Arjen Robben

As with Germany, the Netherlands are a slightly ageing squad with players such as Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar all in their thirties now. Former coach Guus Hiddink resigned in June following a very poor run of results.

Portugal (7)

Manager: Fernando Santos

World Cup Best: Third Place (1966)

Record vs England: W 5 D 8 L 9

Danger Man: Cristiano Ronaldo

A one man team? Perhaps. Portugal have been overly reliant on all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo for a few years now, and when he plays badly the team seem to also (Brazil 2014 exemplified this). Some lower pot nations may fancy them in their group as their assigned pot 1 team.

Romania (8)

Manager: Anghel Iordanescu

World Cup Best: Quarter Finals (1994)

Record vs England: W 3 D 6 L 2

Danger Man: Gabriel Torje

The 1990s were a golden era for Romanian football, with Gheorge Hagi leading the team to a World Cup quarter final in the USA in 1994. Their team has not had quite as much success recently, but their 8 World Ranking shows they are a force to be reckoned with.

England (9)

Manager: Roy Hodgson

World Cup Best: Winners (1966)

Danger Man: Raheem Sterling

The three lions have had little difficulty in recent years in qualification, but performances at the finals themselves have been disappointing to say the least. Hodgson will hope the younger players he brought to Brazil in 2014 will prove their worth in these qualification games.

Wales (10)

Manager: Chris Coleman

World Cup Best: Quarter Finals (1958)

Record vs England: W 14 D 21 L 66

Danger Man: Gareth Bale

Bale has popped up with key goals for the Welsh, most notably in their crucial 1-0 Euro qualifier against Belgium. A fresh bunch of talent have rocketed them into pot 1 amongst Europe’s best and underestimating the Welsh could be a grave mistake.

Spain (12)

Manager: Vicente del Bosque

World Cup Best: Winners (2010)

Record vs England: W 8 D 2 L 13

Danger Man: Andres Iniesta

A shameful display in Brazil 2014 will have left the Spaniards hurting. They still possess one of the most talented squads in international football and have some fantastic young players such as David De Gea, Marc Bartra, Koke and Alvaro Morata.

Croatia (14)

Manager: Niko Kovac

World Cup Best: Third Place (1998)

Record vs England: W 2 D 1 L 4

Danger Man: Luka Modric

With the likes of Alen Halilovic, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, Croatia have a plethora of midfield talent as well as Mario Mandzukic up front and veteran Dario Srna at the back. If Kovac finds an effective way to merge all this talent into a starting xi, the Croatians will certainly be considered a team to avoid in the draw.

Pot 2:

Slovakia (15)

Manager: Jan Kozak

World Cup Best: Second Round (2010)

Record vs England: P3 W0 D0 L3

Danger Man: Marek Hamsik

Captained by Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel and with former Premier League wingers Miroslav Stoch and Vladimir Weiss at their disposal, Slovakia will be confident of reaching just their second World Cup.

Austria (16)

Manager: Marcel Koller

World Cup Best: 3 (1954)

Record vs England: P18 W4 D4 L10

Danger Man: David Alaba

Flying high at the summit of their European Championship qualifying group, Austria are an ever-improving side. With the evergreen and ever-scoring Marc Janko up front being supported by Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic, they will have their eyes set on a first World Cup since France ’98.

Italy (17)

Manager: Antonio Conte

World Cup Best: Winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)

Record vs England: P26 W11 D7 L8

Danger Man: Gianluigi Buffon

Winners as recently as 2006, defeat to Portugal in a friendly has consigned Italy to Pot 2. With only the top placed team qualifying automatically, Conte must hope there is no repeat of the 2014 tournament, where the Azzurri  failed to get out of their – and England’s – group.

Switzerland (18)

Manager: Vladimir Petkovic

World Cup Best: Quarter-Finals (1934, 1938, 1954)

Record vs England: P23 W3 D5 L15

Danger Man: Xherdan Shaqiri

The Swiss boast a squad featuring some of Europe’s most exciting young talent. Left-back Ricardo Rodriguez, midfielders Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka and striker Josip Drmic make Petkovic’s side one to fear.

Czech Republic (20)

Manager: Pavel Vrba

World Cup Best: Group Stage (2006)

Record vs England: P2 D1 L1

Danger Man: Petr Cech

It’s been a long time since a Jan Koller-inspired Czech Republic lit up Euro 2004. An ageing squad is captained by the experienced Tomas Rosicky. However, with his new Arsenal teammate Petr Cech in goal, Rosicky will hope that he can lead his nation to their second World Cup.

Petr-Cech-REUT.jpg
New Arsenal signing Petr Cech plays for the Czech Republic

France (22)

Manager: Didier Deschamps

World Cup Best: Winners (1998)

Record vs England: P29 W8 D5 L16

Danger Man: Paul Pogba

The enigma that is the French national team will look to continue their resurgence under Didier Deschamps that has seen an atypical consistency enter their play. With Pogba, Benzema, Lacazette, Griezmann, Varane and Lloris among others, this generation of Bleus has the potential to emulate the World Cup winners of 1998 – a side captained by Deschamps himself.

Iceland (23)

Joint Managers: Lars Lagerback, Heimir Hallgrimsson

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: P2 W0 D1 L1

Danger Man: Gylfi Sigurdsson

Having never qualified for a World Cup, Iceland have chosen the perfect time to reach their highest ever FIFA ranking. After losing out in a two-legged playoff to Croatia for the 2014 tournament, Iceland will hope to go one better this time.

Denmark (24)

Manager: Morten Olsen

World Cup Best: Quarter-Finals (1998)

Record vs England: P19 W3 D4 L12

Danger Man: Christian Eriksen

With Christian Eriksen dictating proceedings for this Danish side, Denmark will hope to qualify for the tournament after missing out on Brazil 2014. A shortage of goals was Denmark’s downfall last time so the onus is on the self-assured Nicklas Bendtner to lead his side to Russia.

Bosnia & Herzogovina (26)

Manager: Mahmed Bazdarevic

World Cup Best: Group Stage (2014)

Record vs England: N/A

Danger Man: Miralem Pjanic

Although they didn’t make it past the group stage in Brazil, reaching the World Cup was an achievement in itself for a nation who only gained footballing independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. How Edin Dzeko fares up front will go a long way to determining the Balkan nation’s fate.

Pot 3

Ukraine (27)

Manager: Mykhaylo Fomenko

World Cup Best: Quarter Finals (2006)

Record vs England: W 1 D 2 L4

Danger Man: Andriy Yarmolenko

Yarmolenko was in outstanding form for Dyanmo Kiev last season, scoring 15 goals in 29 matches from the wing. Sevilla’s new signing Yevhen Konoplyanka is one to watch also.

Scotland (29)

Manager: Gordon Strachan

World Cup Best: Group Stage (1954, 1958, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1998)

Record vs England: W 41 D 24 L 47

Danger Man: Scott Brown

The Scots have not participated in a World Cup since 1998 and have never passed the group stage of the tournament. The likes of James Forrest, Ryan Gauld and Stevie May are part of the next generation of Scottish talent that will be aiming to remedy this.

Poland (30)

Manager: Adam Nawalka

World Cup Best: Third Place (1974, 1982)

Record vs England: W 1 D 7 L 11

Danger Man: Robert Lewandowski

On top of a Euro 2016 qualifying group that includes Germany, Poland have asserted themselves well in recent years in the footballing world. Their 2-0 victory against the Germans in October 2014 was a particular highlight with goals from Arkadiusz Milik and Sebastian Mila.

Hungary (31)

Manager: Bernd Storck

World Cup Best: Runners Up (1938, 1954)

Record vs England: W 5 D 2 L 15

Danger Man: Balazs Dzsudzsak

The days of Ferenc Puskas & co are long gone but should the draw favour them the Hungarians will fancy themselves to get to the World Cup finals in 2018, something they haven’t done since 1986.

Sweden (33)

Manager: Erik Hamren

World Cup Best: Runners Up (1958)

Record vs England: W 7 D 9 L 8

Danger Man: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Runners up in 1958 but failed to qualify for Brazil 2014, losing their play off to Portugal. The Swedes, led by their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, have an experienced squad with the likes of Kim Kallstrom, Andreas Isaksson and Seb Larsson that will expect to qualify for Russia 2018.

Zlatan-Ibrahimovic.jpg
Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Albania (36)

Manager: Gianni De Biasi

World Cup Best: Never Qualified

Record vs England: W 0 D 0 L 4

Danger Man: Lorik Cana

Despite having never qualified for a World Cup, Albania’s FIFA world ranking of 36 is the highest in their history, so if they ever had a chance of qualification, this is it.

Northern Ireland (37)

Manager: Michael O’Neil

World Cup Best: Quarter Finals (1958, 1982)

Record vs England: W 3 D 7 L 27

Danger Man: Kyle Lafferty

After a series of good results in their Euro 2016 qualifiers, Northern Ireland will be confident heading into the World Cup qualification stage. Established Premier League players such as Steven Davis, Chris Brunt and Jonny Evans make up the backbone of this improving side.

Serbia (43)

Manager: Radovan Curcic

World Cup Best: Semi Final (1930), Fourth Place (1962)

Record vs England: W 0 D 0 L 1

Danger Man: Zoran Tosic

Nemanja Matic, Lazar Markovic, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Branislav Ivanovic, Dusan Tadic – Serbia have an abundance of talent in the Premier League and plenty outside of it with the likes of Zoran Tosic and Adem Ljajic. On paper one of the more dangerous sides in pot 3.

Greece (44)

Manager: Sergio Markarian

World Cup Best: Round of 16 (2014)

Record vs England: W 0 D 2 L 7

Danger Man: Theofanis Gekas

The Greeks will hope their economic performance isn’t reflected in their on-field performances. Unlikely though as they have not won a game since September 2014 including two losses to the Faroe Islands, leading to both the team and manager Sergio Markarian coming under intense scrutiny.

Pot 4:

Turkey (48)

Manager: Fatih Terim

World Cup Best: 3 (2002)

Record vs England: P10 W0 D2 L8

Danger Man: Arda Turan

Old stagers like Rustu Recber, Alpay and Hakan Sukur may be names of the past but, with captain Arda Turan, the talented 21-year-old Hakan Calhanoglu and an army of fervent supporters, Istanbul is an away day that no side will relish.

Slovenia (49)

Manager: Srecko Katanec

World Cup Best: Group Stage (2002, 2010)

Record vs England: P4 W0 D0 L4

Danger Man: Samir Handanovic

England saw off Slovenia twice in European qualifying but showed enough in both games to suggest that they will provide an unwelcome threat from Pot 4. Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic is one of Europe’s best – as, indeed, is his understudy: Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak.

Israel (51)

Manager: Eli Guttman

World Cup Best: Group Stage (1970)

Record vs England: P4 W0 D2 L2

Danger Man: Tal Ben Haim II

Creative shortage has long been Israel’s issue. Indeed, a 0-0 draw with England ultimately played a key role in the loss of Steve McClaren’s job. In the shape of Tal Ben Haim II – the namesake of the captain and former QPR defender, Israel have something different. Tricky and with an eye for goal, he is crucial to Israel’s chances.

Republic of Ireland (52)

Manager: Martin O’Neill

Wolrd Cup Best: Quarter-Finals (1990)

Record vs England: P61 W4 D9 L48

Danger Man: Aiden McGeady

An experienced side featuring Shay Given and Robbie Keane – both of whom played in Ireland’s last World Cup appearance in 2002, Ireland have shown their capability before as a potential banana skin for more vaunted sides. Only the cheating hand of Thierry Henry denied Ireland a place in South Africa 2010, whilst O’Neill’s men comfortably held England in June.

Norway (67)

Manager: Per-Mathias Høgmo

World Cup Best: Last 16 (1998)

Record vs England: P12 W2 D3 L7

Danger Man: Martin Odegaard

Norway haven’t qualified for an international competition since Belgium and the Netherlands hosted Euro 2000. An inexperienced squad without the qualities of John Arne Riise, John Carew and Morten Gamst Pedersen have the unenviable task of halting the slide.

Bulgaria (68)

Manager: Ivaylo Petev

World Cup best: Semi-Finals (1994)

Record vs England: P10 W0 D4 L6

Danger Man: Svetoslav Dyakov

With Dimitar Berbatov no longer playing international football, many will write off Bulgaria. However, optimism is high with the core of the squad made up of players from Ludogorets – the club that ran Liverpool close in the Champions League. The return to fitness of Valeri Bojinov is an added bonus.

Faroe Islands (74)

Manager: Lars Olsen

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: N/A

Danger Man: Brandur Hendriksson Olsen

Although the Faroe Islands finished below Kazakhstan in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with a solitary point, home and away victories over Greece have given the Faroese reason to believe that the future is brighter.

Montenegro (81)

Manager: Branko Brnovic

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: P4 W0 D3 L1

Danger Man: Stevan Jovetic

Never an easy game, England have only beaten Montenegro on one of four occasions. The dangerous front two of Jovetic and captain Mirko Vucinic have the locals dreaming of a first ever World Cup.

Estonia (82)

Manager: Magnus Pehrsson

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: P3 W0 D0 L3

Danger Man: Ragnar Klavan

The lowest ranked of the sides in Pot 4, the odds will be against Estonia making too many waves in qualifying. They do, however, have former Middlesbrough winger Tarmo Kink at their disposal. Kink, now 29, scored 31 goals in a six game loan spell at Viimsi back in 2001.

Pot 5

Cyprus (85)

Manager: Pambos Christodoulou

World Cup Best: Never Qualified

Record vs England: W 0 D 0 L 2

Danger Man: Demetris Christofi

The overwhelming majority of the Cyprus squad play in their domestic league, the Cypriot First Division. Keep an eye on Demetris Christofi who has scored three goals in five Euro 2016 qualifying games.

Latvia (87)

Manager: Marians Pahars

World Cup Best: Never Qualified

Record vs England: W 0 D 0 L 0

Danger Man: Aleksandrs Cauna

Retired midfielder Vitalijs Astafjevs currently holds the European record for the most international matches played, with 167 caps between 1992 and 2010.

Armenia (89)

Manager: Sargis Hovsepyan

World Cup Best: Never Qualified

Record vs England: W 0 D 0 L 0

Danger Man: Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Borussia Dortmund star Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the all-time top scorer and current star of this Armenia side. Manager Sargis Hovsepyan has the most caps for the national team, with 131.

Finland (90)

Manager: vacant

World Cup Best: Never Qualified

Record vs England: W 0 D 2 L 9

Danger Man: Roman Eremenko

Despite some notable former players such as Jari Litmanen, Sami Hyypia, Jonatan Johansson and Mikael Forssell, Finland have never qualified for a World Cup tournament.

Belarus (100)

Manager: Alyaksandr Khatskevich

World Cup Best: Never Qualified

Record vs England: W 0 D 0 L 2

Danger Man: Aleksandr Hleb

A tough Euro 2016 group that includes Spain and France has given captain Alyaksandr Martynovich & co little chance to demonstrate their talents. Could this be their time to shine?

Macedonia (105)

Manager: Ljubinko Drulovic

World Cup Best: Never Qualified

Record vs England: W 0 D 2 L 2

Danger Man: Agim Ibraimi

Were ranked 46 in the world by FIFA in October 2008 but have plummeted to 105 since. All-time top scorer Goran Pandev retired in 2013.

Azerbaijan (108)

Manager: Robert Prosinecki

World Cup Best: Never Qualified

Record vs England: W 0 D 0 L 2

Danger Man: Rashad Sadygov

Nicknamed ‘the Terminator’, Rashad Sadygov has been the captain of Azerbaijan since March 2004. Despite a glittering career, he missed the registration deadline for the Azerbaijani football club side Neftchi Baku in 2006 and so played for his local basketball team for a year. A man of many talents.

Lithuania (110)

Manager: Igoris Pankratjevas

World Cup Best: Never Qualified

Record vs England: W 0 D 0 L 1

Danger Man: Saulius Mikoliunas

Succumbed to a 4-0 defeat to England in March where Harry Kane scored his first England goal within 79 seconds of coming on as a substitute. Every time Saulius Mikoliunas has scored, the team have won the match and kept a clean sheet.

Moldova (124)

Manager: Alexandru Curtianu

World Cup Best: Never Qualified

Record vs England: W 0 D 0 L 4

Danger Man: Alexandru Epureanu

Following Moldova’s 4-0 defeat to England in September 1997, British comedian Tony Hawks challenged each Moldovan team member to a game of tennis. ‘Playing the Moldovans at Tennis’ was released as a film in spring 2012.

Pot 6:

Kazakhstan (142)

Manager: Yuri Krasnozhan

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: P2 W0 D0 L2

Danger Man: Alexander Merkel

Kazakhstan’s chances of causing an upset in qualifying could depend on the outcome of Alexander Merkel’s international future. The former AC Milan prodigy is Kazakh-born to German parents and moved to Germany aged just six. Despite representing Germany at youth level, Merkel is keen to play for the country of his birth.

Luxembourg (146)

Manager: Luc Holtz

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: P9 W0 D0 L9

Danger Man: Aurélien Joachim

As always, Luxembourg will start the qualifying campaign as rank outsiders. However, a remarkable 1-1 draw with Italy in 2014 shows that slow progress is being made in Luxembourgish football.

Leichtenstein (147)

Manager: Rene Pauritsch

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: P2 W0 D0 L2

Danger Man: Mario Frick

While Leichtenstein are unlikely to pull up any trees in qualifying, their remarkable 40-year-old captain, Mario Frick, continues to lead the line. A former Serie A stalwart, Frick partnered Mauro Camoranesi and Adrian Mutu in a three-man Verona attack.

Georgia (153)

Manager: Kakhaber Tskhadadze

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: P2 W0 D0 L2

Danger Man: Jano Ananidze

With a strong core of young players now plying their trades in Europe’s major leagues, Georgian football is on the rise. Despite struggling in recent qualifying groups, strong showings against Germany and Ukraine have given cause for optimism. Diminutive playmaker Jano Ananidze was once courted by both Liverpool and Arsenal.

Malta (158)

Manager: Pietro Ghedin

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: P3 W0 D0 L3

Danger Man: Michael Mifsud

Under the stewardship of former Italy Women’s manager Pietro Ghedin, Malta have struggled to pick up results. However, with ‘the Maltese Mosquito’ Michael Mifsud, a one-time scourge of Manchester United during his Coventry City days, buzzing around up front, they do hold some threat.

San Marino (192)

Manager: Pierangelo Manzaroli

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: P5 W0 D0 L5

Danger Man: Andy Selva

A dream draw for opposition managers and strikers alike, plucky San Marino will hope to improve on their 2014 qualifying campaign when the side scored just once, conceding 54. Who knows? With a bit of luck, La Serenissima could be celebrating a fourth ever clean sheet or even a second ever win.

Andorra (202)

Manager: Koldo Alvarez

World Cup Best: N/A

Record vs England: P4 W0 D0 L4

Danger Man: Marc Vales

Ranked below San Marino, things don’t look promising. Having scored just 21 competitive goals in their history – five of them by centre-back Idlefons Lima – the root of Andorra’s problems is obvious.