Johannesburg - It did not take long for the bookmakers to install defending champions Germany and five-time champions Brazil as favourites to win next year’s World Cup in Russia following Friday’s draw.
There was no group of death after the draw in Moscow, but there will be some interesting clashes at next year’s soccer spectacle. The draw was relatively kind to most countries, if not all, and it shouldn’t be difficult for most of the favourites to get out of the group stages.
The opening World Cup game between Russia and Saudi Arabia might not be the most appealing, but day two’s fixture pitting former champions Spain and European champions Portugal will be the match to watch.
The hosts, who are the lowest ranked going into the event, will kick-start the event against the second lowest ranked Saudi Arabia and it might just set the tone for the tournament.
Uruguay, who have some of the best strikers in world football, Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani, will fancy their chances of getting out of this group.
But Egypt might be the surprise package of the group and will have hopes of proceeding to the second round.
If there is one match supporters can look forward to, it will be the duel between Spain and Portugal, which will pit club team-mates against each other when Spain’s captain Sergio Ramos comes up against Cristiano Ronaldo, who will lead European champions Portugal. The last time the two countries met in a World Cup was seven years ago in South Africa, when Spain emerged victorious on the way to their maiden World Cup title.
The other two members of the group, Morocco and Iran, are not expected to be much of a challenge to the two powerhouses.
Group G is another interesting one where team-mates will become foes. A clash between England and ever-improving Belgium will be the one to watch. Belgian players Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Marouane Fellaini – who all ply their trade in the English Premier League – will take on their English friends and club mates from Chelsea, Manchester United, City, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Belgian coach Roberto Martínez also spent most of his time in the Premiership and will have an insight into his opponents.
But it won’t just be a two-horse race, as African representative Tunisia might also have a say in who goes through from the group. First-time qualifiers Panama are not expected to pose a serious threat to the top two contenders.
Senegal have a tough one against Poland, Colombia and Japan in Group H, but they can easily come out of the group alive thanks to their array of stars.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles have to negotiate their way through a tough pairing with Argentina, Croatia and Iceland in Group D.
With their world-class players, neither Brazil nor Germany should have a hard time qualifying for the second round of the tournament. And France are expected to easily win Group C, where they have Peru, Denmark and Australia to contend with.
But all eyes will be on the opening game to see if the hosts can spring any surprises in front of their home supporters.