Group H Group B
South Korea Iran
Last Friday’s much anticipated draw for the opening phase of next November’s tournament will see Portugal negotiate a tricky but negotiable path to the knock-out stage with the Paulo Bento-managed South Korea, Uruguay or Ghana, albeit beatable, unlikely to prove pushovers.
England, on the other hand, should enjoy a stress-free start to the competition, neither the United States, Iran or eventual play-off winners between Scotland, Wales and the Ukraine expected to trouble Gareth Southgate’s squad unduly.
Elsewhere, Spain and Germany should dominate Group E as should Belgium and Croatia in Group F. Brazil must be favourites to top Group G, but will be tested by Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon while holders France can come through Group D alongside Denmark. Group A has Holland, Ecuador and Senegal as top contenders for the first two places, with hosts Qatar making up the numbers. Lastly, Saudi Arabia are likely to be the Group C whipping boys for closely matched Argentina, Poland and Mexico.
By SKIP BANDELE