WORLD CUP 2018
Starting from 4pm Nigerian time this evening, three-time African champions, the Super Eagles and Nigerians, will begin to have a whiff of the fortune that awaits their darling team at the FIFA World Cup 2018 Draw in Russia. The State Kremlin Palace is the venue where the race to the ultimate trophy will begin in earnest.
Eagles who qualified first as one of Africaâ€™s five representatives at Russia 2018 will watch with anxiety, just like all the other 31 countries, which group they are going to be paired in.
Will mother luck smile on Nigeria to get a soft group? Will they be unfortunate to get tough pairing like it happened in the African qualifiers when they drew reigning champions Cameroon, past AFCON winner Zambia and Algeria that stretched eventual winner of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Germany, to the limit before being subdued? Nigeria survived and even finished the series unbeaten and first to pick a ticket in the continent.
But the World Cup is a different ball game. It is the summit of the global football. Any country that made it to this stage cannot be called a minnow. Algeria proved it against the German Machines. Way back, Nigeria even as debutants in 1994, almost upset the apple chart, stretching Italy into the dying minutes of regulation time. Four years later, Spain with legendary Zubizaretta in goal fell to Nigeria in France. There are countless upsets in the history of the Mundial way back to the early days in the 1930s.
It is against this backdrop that Gernot Rohrâ€™s tough talk of not scared of any of the teams may not be empty sound.
Speaking from the Crowne Plaza World Trade Centre, Moscow yesterday morning after he landed in the Russian capital for the showpiece event, Rohr insisted that there is no weak squad in the 32-team field, and anyone hoping to play so-called â€˜average teamsâ€™ in the group phase is only guilty of wishful thinking.
â€œAll the teams that are in the Final Draw, except the host nation Russia, played qualifying matches. They all emerged from tough encounters and therefore, none can be tagged â€˜weak.â€™
Friday evening, we will enter the State Kremlin Palace for the Final Draw and a couple of hours later, everyone will know their opponents. There is no apprehension. If you have to be listed among the best, you have to conquer the better teams and even beat some of the best,â€ observed the Franco-German gaffer who was recently rewarded with a fresh two-year deal in-charge of the emerging powerhouse in global football.
The Russians who battled image problems due to dope infractions involving their top stars in other sports, have promised to make tonightâ€™s show a memorable one. Russia is determined to topple whatever has been done previously in the final draws in the past 20 editions.
To start with, the Draw Ceremony is being held inside the State Kremlin Palace â€“ the Parliament of the Russian Federation, which served the same purpose when the country was a much bigger, more intimidating Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
It is a long way from 1934, when the Final Draw was held inside the Clock Room (Salon dâ€™Horloge) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, France and 1958, when the Final Draw took place inside a studio of the Swedish Television in Solna, and 1974, when the ceremony took place in the main hall of Radio Hessen in Frankfurt.
Today, Gary Lineker, who played in the 1986 and 1990 finals for England and scored in both competitions, will conduct the Draw alongside Russian star Maria Komandnaya, with Miroslav Klose, the World Cupâ€™s highest scorer who netted across four finals in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014, to be the trophy bearer.
Draw assistants include; Laurent Blanc (1998 World Cup winner with France); Gordon Banks (goalkeeper of Englandâ€™s 1966-winning squad); Cafu (two-time winner with Brazil, also involved in the Final Draw for 2014 competition); Fabio Cannavaro (Italyâ€™s 2006 team â€“winning captain, also involved in the Final Draw for 2014 competition), Diego Forlan (whose Uruguay won in 1930 and 1950); Diego Maradona (who led Argentina to victory in 1986, after they won at home in 1978); Carles Puyol (involved in Spainâ€™s 2010 triumph in South Africa) and Nikita Simonyan (who played for 2018 hosts Russia in the 1958 finals in Sweden).
THE 32 TEAMS
Russia (Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov)
Nigeria (Coach: Gernot Rohr)
Egypt (Coach: Hector Cuper)
Iran (Coach: Carlos Queiroz)
Japan (Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic)
Korea Republic (Coach: Shin Tae-yong)
Saudi Arabia (Coach: TBA)
Tunisia (Coach: Nabil Maaloul)
Morocco (Coach: Herve Renard)
Senegal (Aliou Cisse)
Belgium (Coach: Roberto Martinez)
Iceland (Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson)
Serbia (Coach: Slavoljub Muslin)
England (Coach: Gareth Southgate)
Poland (Coach: Adam Nawalka)
Spain (Coach: Julen Lopetegui)
France (Coach: Didier Deschamps)
Portugal (Coach: Fernando Santos)
Germany (Coach: Joachim Low)
Costa Rica (Coach: Oscar Ramirez)
Mexico (Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio)
Panama (Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez)
Argentina (Coach: Jorge Sampaoli)
Brazil (Coach: Tite)
Colombia (Coach: Jose Pekerman)
Uruguay (Coach: Oscar Tabarez)
Peru (Coach: Ricardo Gareca)
Australia (Coach: TBA)
Croatia (Coach: Zlatko Dalic)
Sweden (Coach: Janne Andersson)
Denmark (Coach: Age Hareide)
Switzerland (Coach: Vladimir Petkovic)
POT 1: Russia; Germany; Brazil; Portugal; Argentina; Belgium; Poland; France
POT 2: Spain; Peru; Switzerland; England; Colombia; Mexico; Uruguay; Croatia
POT 3: Denmark; Iceland; Costa Rica; Sweden; Tunisia; Egypt; Senegal; Iran
POT 4: Serbia; Nigeria; Australia; Japan; Morocco; Panama; Korea Republic; Saudi Arabia
Host Cities: Moscow; Ekaterinburg; Saransk; Rostov-On-Don; Kazan; Kaliningrad; Sochi; Samara; Saint Petersburg; Volgograd; Nizhny Novgorod