DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Lionel Messi possibly facing Robert Lewandowski, Spain definitely playing Germany, and Luis Suarez potentially handed another game against old foe Ghana.
The draw for the World Cup group stage set up some intriguing prospects and will start on Nov. 21 with host Qatar playing Ecuador.
England will play the United States, and both must face Iran and potentially Ukraine.
A total of 37 teams were involved on Friday because three entries in the 32-team lineup are not yet known. They are to be confirmed in June when the European and intercontinental playoffs finish.
Kickoff times and stadiums for each game will be decided this month. That lets FIFA allocate games to prime broadcast slots for viewers in a team’s home country.
The top two teams in the standings of each group advance to the round of 16 knockout stage.
Here is where the teams landed for the Nov. 21-Dec. 18 tournament:
GROUP A — Qatar, Netherlands, Senegal, Ecuador
Host Qatar will make its World Cup debut against Ecuador on Nov. 21.
Netherlands, a three-time World Cup runner-up, will start against Senegal, the new African champion.
GROUP B — England, United States, Iran, Wales or Scotland or Ukraine
England will open against Iran in a first ever World Cup game between the countries. England and the U.S. will play each other in their second game. The drew 1-1 in their 2010 group when both advanced.
England’s final game could be a derby against either of its neighbors, Wales or Scotland, or Ukraine — those three teams are in a playoff bracket in June.
The U.S. and Iran previously met at the 1998 World Cup, where the Iranians won 2-1.
Group B teams should also start play on Nov. 21. That gives those teams fewer days to prepare for the World Cup but builds in more rest days if they go deep into the tournament.
GROUP C — Argentina, Mexico, Poland, Saudi Arabia
Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski — the holders of the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Best player in the world awards, respectively — are on track to meet when Argentina plays Poland in the last round of group games.
Argentina opens against Saudi Arabia, and Poland starts against Mexico.
GROUP D — France, Denmark, Tunisia, Peru or Australia or United Arab Emirates
Defending champion France and Denmark were in the same group four years ago and both advanced to the knockout stage. In 2018, they also faced Peru and Australia in their group so a three-team reunion is also possible depending on the outcome of an intercontinental playoff bracket in June.
GROUP E — Spain, Germany, Japan, Costa Rica or New Zealand
2010 champion Spain will face 2014 winner Germany in a tough group for Japan.
Costa Rica was a quarterfinalist in 2014, going deeper then than Spain, but must first get past New Zealand in a playoff in June.
GROUP F — Belgium, Croatia, Morocco, Canada
Belgium was a semifinalist four years ago and Croatia was the beaten finalist. Canada is an intriguing and difficult option from the lowest-ranked teams after topping its qualifying group ahead of Mexico and the U.S.
Morocco gets a group with two tough Europeans for back-to-back tournaments. Last time, it was Spain and Portugal.
GROUP G — Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Cameroon
Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia are quickly reunited after all were in the same group in 2018. Brazil will open against Serbia, which it beat 2-0 four years ago.
Brazil should be among the last teams to start play on Nov. 24 — more time for the squad to prepare but a more congested 25-day program if it is to win a record sixth title.
GROUP H — Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea, Ghana
Cristiano Ronaldo is on track to open his fifth straight World Cup finals by facing Ghana.
The group reunites Luis Suarez and Uruguay with Ghana for the first time since their infamous quarterfinals game at the 2010 World Cup. Suarez was sent off for punching away an almost certain winning goal for Ghana deep in extra time. The penalty was missed and Uruguay went on to win the shootout.
Earlier in the 2010 knockout rounds, Suarez scored twice when Uruguay also eliminated South Korea 2-1.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism