Thursday 22 August 2019

Who might England face in the World Cup group stage?

You know England are going to the World Cup, but do you know who they could face?

England manager Gareth Southgate
England manager Gareth Southgate

By Max McLean

With Peru the last of 32 teams to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, all that leaves is for the group stage draw on December 1 to decide England’s fate.

However, with all 32 teams already sorted into four pots based on October’s Fifa rankings, we can deduce who England might face, and who they might not.

No country from the same confederation may be drawn in the same group, except for Uefa, who may have as many as two teams in the same group. With that in mind, here are some potential groups England might find themselves in next summer.

England’s group of death

Germany, Costa Rica and Nigeria

Leroy Sane playing for Germany against England

The good news for England is they are unlikely to draw a group as tough as they did in Brazil four years ago, when they were lumbered with four-time winners Italy, two-time winners Uruguay, and eventual 2014 Group D winners Costa Rica.

Based on Fifa’s October rankings, which have been used to seed all four pots, the nightmare group for England is Germany, Costa Rica and Nigeria.

While Denmark are the highest ranked team in pot three, and Serbia the highest ranked team in pot four, England can’t be drawn with more than one other European side.

Should England replicate their most recent World Cup result against each of those teams, Gareth Southgate’s side would end the 2018 group stage with just two points.

An easier path

Russia, Senegal and Saudi Arabia

England manager Gareth Southgate during a friendly against Germany

England proved at the 2010 World Cup that any group can be tough, scraping through to the knockout stage with two draws and a win against the USA, Algeria and Slovenia respectively.

That said, Southgate will hope for three games that give his team a chance to warm into the tournament.

Pot one also includes hosts Russia, who are 58 places below France in the Fifa world rankings. Were England to draw Senegal from pot three and Saudi Arabia from pot four, they would have achieved the easiest group possible based on Fifa’s rankings.

The group of goals

Belgium, Tunisia and Japan

Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku celebrates a goal

Some teams performed more potently than others during qualifying – what would be the most threatening draw for England’s defence?

Germany and Belgium both scored 43 goals in qualifying – at 4.3 goals per game, that makes them the biggest goal threat England could face.

Tunisia would represent the greatest goal threat from pot three, having scored at just under two goals a game in their final group qualifying stage.

All that would leave England with Japan or Saudi Arabia from pot four, who both scored at 1.7 goals per game in their round three Asia qualifying group.

Who will England avoid – for now?

Spain celebrate winning the 2010 World Cup

No team from the same pot may be drawn in the same group, which means there are seven teams England are certain not to face until the knockout rounds, should they make it that far.

The 1966 World Cup champions will certainly be glad not to face Spain at such an early stage in the competition – the 2010 winners made short work of their qualifying group, winning nine and drawing one.

Meanwhile, the Three Lions will also avoid James Rodriguez’s Colombia, Luis Suarez’s Uruguay and Luka Modric’s Croatia, who help make up a dangerous looking pot two.

PA Media

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