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Favourable draw for holders Germany, Spain to meet Italy

World champions Germany will begin the road to their title defence in a favourable qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup in Russia which features the likes of Czech Republic and Norway.

Joachim Low’s side lifted the famous trophy in Brazil last year and will be expected to be among the 32 nations to feature in Russia following a kind draw in Saint Petersburg on Saturday.

Former Germany striker Olivier Bierhoff conducted the UEFA draw alongside Aleksandr Kerzhakov, with Low’s world champions also lining up against Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan and San Marino in Group C.

Old foes England and Scotland will compete to progress from Group F, with Slovakia also likely to be firmly in the reckoning – Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta their other opponents.

European heavyweights Spain and Italy will meet in Group G, while Republic of Ireland and Wales will not have far to travel when they lock horns in Group D.

Spain – seeking to make amends for a group-stage exit in Brazil – have met Italy regularly in recent years, the former winning the Euro 2012 final between the two nations.

Group A will see Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his Sweden side take on France, with Netherlands also in the mix.

Sweden’s 2014 World Cup play-off conquerors Portugal should have an easier time of it in Group B – Cristiano Ronaldo and co taking on the likes of Switzerland, Hungary and Latvia.

In African qualifying, 2010 hosts South Africa will seek to re-establish themselves after missing out on the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

Shakes Mashaba’s men face Angola first up, while Morocco and Tunisia face Equatorial Guinea and the winner of South Sudan and Mauritania respectively.

Following their run to the last 16 in Brazil, Algeria begin against Tanzania or Malawi, while another surprise package from 2014, Costa Rica, will feature in CONCACAF Group B alongside Panama.

United States will face Trinidad and Tobago in Group C, while Patrick Kluivert’s maiden qualification draw with Curacao could see them take on Honduras and Mexico if they get past El Salvador.

Oceania favourites New Zealand will feature in Group B alongside Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu.

The continent’s representatives in the intercontinental play-offs will play South American opposition, while CONCACAF will take on the Asian Football Confederation in the other fixture.

Sat 25 Jul, 2015
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