Saint Petersburg - Preparations for Russia's 2018 Soccer World Cup will get
officially underway with the qualification draw across five confederations
taking place on Saturday just as FIFA continues to reel from a corruption
Sepp Blatter confirmed earlier this week that he will step down as president
after 17 years at the head of the game's governing body when a new president is
elected at an extraordinary elective congress on February 26.
Blatter was showered with fake dollar bills by a prankster at a press
conference on Monday as he outlined reforms for the disgraced organisation
including limits on terms for leaders, tougher background checks on executive
committee members and the publication of salaries of top officials.
The 79-year-old's decision to step down just days after winning a fifth term
as president in June came on the back of corruption charges being filed in the
USA against seven FIFA officials.
The seven are among 14 people -- soccer officials and sports business
executives -- accused by US authorities of receiving over more than $150
million in bribes to secure television and marketing contracts for football
Swiss authorities have also launched an investigation into the process which
saw Russia and Qatar awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively.
However, Russia is pressing ahead with its preparations to host the largest
single-event competition in world sport with Russian President Vladimir Putin
expected to share the stage with Blatter during Saturday's draw.
Moscow has attempted to portray the US corruption probe as a
Western-orchestrated attempt to strip Russia of its right to host the event.
Billions of dollars will be poured into infrastructure projects as well as
providing the 12 stadiums across 11 host cities to welcome the tournament
between June 14 and July 15, 2018.
The draw will involve 141 national sides from all but the Asian
confederation as their qualification process has already begun.
Russia are the only side to qualify automatically as hosts, so world
champions Germany will have to secure one of the remaining 13 qualifying spots
available to the European nations if they are to defend their crown in three
The nine winners of the European groups drawn at the Konstantin Palace on
Saturday will progress along with the winners of four playoff matches between
the eight best second-placed sides.
Africa's five representatives will be decided by the winners of five groups
of four sides after two preliminary rounds have whittled the participating
nations down from 53 to 20.
Four South American sides will qualify directly after a marathon 18-match
round robin between all 10 competing nations with the fifth-placed side
guaranteed an inter-confederation playoff.
CONCACAF, the North and Central American confederation, will have three
direct entrants, whilst the Asian confederation retains its four places despite
a poor showing at last year's World Cup in Brazil.
The other three teams for the inter-confederation playoffs will come from
the fourth-placed side from CONCACAF, the best side from Oceania and the
fifth-best side from Asia.
A draw will also determine which confederations are paired together in the