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Welcome, once again, to the world. The balls have been cracked, the teams grouped off, the dates and venues parcelled out. After a glossy, agreeably fast-paced draw ceremony on the lighted stage of the Kremlin, Russia 2018 is go, the 21st Fifa World Cup officially a lockdown.
The draw itself was a grand affair, with luminaries from Diego Maradona to Gordon Banks ranged behind their gleaming punch bowls. From the opening moments there was a familiar rush of intrigue as Group B threw up Portugal against Spain in Sochi, an authentically mouthwatering World Cup prospect.
As for England, well, the balls were kind. Maradona refused to produce an easy headline, pulling out Croatia when it might have been England to face Argentina in Group D. Diego also spared England a group-stage meeting with Germany, putting Mexico in with the holders.
Finally England were placed in Group G, with Belgium an intriguing opponent given the powerful Belgian presence in the Premier League, not to mention the recent shift in footballing power between the two nations. Bring us your golden generation. And yes. We have been here before.
As Panama and Tunisia joined England in Group G, the Fifa host Gary Lineker didn’t miss the chance to make a droll remark about Diego “always being good with his hands”, which made sense if you have England v Argentina 1986 on memory speed-dial, but might have sounded a little odd elsewhere.
But Lineker was right. The balls were Kenny Stills Youth jersey running hot for Gareth Southgate. And England will expect to beat Tunisia and Panama, their first two opponents. Not that this has been much of a comfort in the past, as Iceland, Costa Rica and the USA will testify. But Southgate could not have hoped for much more, not least as the final fixture will be the Belgium game, a moment of kindness from the hands of Carles Puyol that might leave both teams already qualified or in the position – whisper it – to seek a slight moment of 1982-style Anschluss.
First England will meet Tunisia in Volgograd, previously Stalingrad, and a place not usually associated with the tourist trail unless you happen to be a military historian. These days Volgograd is an industrial city, still shadowed in its artefacts and monuments by its bloody 20th-century history. http://www.officialsbuccaneersprostore.com/Josh_Robinson_Jersey_Cheap England will travel 900 miles to get there from their St Petersburg base. It should at the very least be pleasantly warm.
This is a match John Gibson Womens Jersey England will have good hopes of winning. Tunisia are ranked 27th in the world, 12 spots below England. They do not have any obvious star players – although Wahbi Khazri might have a point to prove – and have lost to Senegal, Burkina Faso and Cameroon this year and drawn at home to Libya. The veteran Nabil Maâloul was reappointed as manager Womens Tramaine Brock Jersey in April. It could be tight, never a good thing with England, who tend to respond to tournament pressure with all the resilience of a dying sea anemone left to bake in the summer sun.
From there England travel 560 miles to Nizhny, home city of Maxim Gorky. Here, in a moment of classic World Cup cultural weirdness, they will play Panama, a nation of 4.4 million people, with an economy built around canal tolls and international tax evasion.
These are grizzled World Cup first-timers, with five players on more than a hundred caps and two in the squad with 43 international goals. Panama will have nothing to lose and a shrewd coach in Hernán Darío “the Baton” Gómez, veteran of three World Cups. The fear is England could find themselves with another Costa Rica on their hands, a well-drilled emerging power with seven months to prepare the defensive masterplan. In reality they really should win this one. And so on to Belgium in http://www.stlouisbluesofficialonline.com/Adidas-Kyle-Brodziak-Jersey Kaliningrad, another round trip of more than 1,000 miles. This is the jewel of England’s group, a game against a team who should on paper – and were they not called Belgium – be one of the favourites to win the tournament. It is also a meeting of the most familial of footballing enemies.