Friday 1 December 2017

United stars learn 2018 World Cup opponents

The draw for the group stages of next summer's World Cup has been made at the Kremlin State Palace in Moscow, host city of the final on July 14. 

There could be 18 United players involved in the greatest footballing show on earth, and the seven different nations our players represent have found our their fate once the tournament kicks off in June. A whole cluster of Reds will go head to head in one of the most-attractive looking ties of the group stage as England face Belgium in Group G, in what will be both teams final match of the section. 

Of course we don't yet know who will be chosen for the final squad, but United men Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Ashley Young will all be near the front of manager Gareth Southgate's thoughts as he prepares to finalise his team. They will take on Roberto Martinez's very talented and dangerous Belgium side, the 'other' Red Devils - spearheaded by United pair Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku, and with a whole host of other top Premier League players among their star-studded side. 

Tunisia and tournament debutants Panama are the other countries in the section. 

There will be a reunion of Reds old and new in Group B, as European champions Portugal, captained by Cristiano Ronaldo, face 2010 World Cup winners Spain - for whom David de Gea, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata are all set to feature. "La Rojo" will also be up against Iran, managed by former United assistant Carlos Queiroz, and a Morocco side who will play in their first World Cup since 1998.

Euro 2016 runners-up France - with Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial in their ranks - will be favourites to top Group C, which also consists of Denmark, Peru and Australia. 

Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo played a vital role in Argentina's run to the final in 2014, and Jorge Sampaoli's side will be among the favourites to go one better, with debutants Iceland, Nigeria and dark horses Croatia their group stage opponents.

Meanwhile, Serbia and Nemanja Matic, who topped a qualifying group that included Wales and the Republic of Ireland, face a difficult challenge in one of toughest looking groups. 
They're in Group E, where five-time winners Brazil, a talented Switzerland side and Costa Rica - the 2014 World Cup's surprise package - await. 

Victor Lindelof, whose Sweden side knocked out Matteo Darmian's Italy in a two-legged play-off to reach Russia - also face a stiff test of credentials as they take on world champions Germany, Mexico (featuring a certain Chicharito) and South Korea in Group F. 

There will be a few big name Reds - notably Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia), Antonio Valencia (Ecuador) and Daley Blind (Netherlands), who will only be on a watching brief after their countries failed to make it to the World Cup. 

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