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... 2018 qualifier between Vietnam and Thailand. 4. Vietnam finished as Asia's best movers in December; They leapfrogged Philippines to top spot in South-east Asia; Ascendance came on the back of AFC Asian Cup qualification. As usual, the end of the past year was relatively quiet on planet football, with ...
UPDATE: Saudi Arabia have beaten Japan 1-0 in Jeddah, and Australia's road to the 2018 World Cup just became savage. The Socceroos defeated Thailand 2-1 in Melbourne, but it wasn't a big enough win to make up the goal difference with Saudi Arabia. This sentences the Socceroos to compete in the ...

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The host nation will automatically qualify for the final tournament, while the remaining 23 places will be determined among the other 45 national teams through a qualifying competition, running from March 2015 to March 2018, in which the first two rounds also served as part of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification process ...
The 2018 AFC Champions League is the 37th edition of Asia's premier club football tournament organized by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and the 16th under the current AFC Champions League title. The winners of the 2018 AFC Champions League will qualify as the AFC representative at the 2018 FIFA Club ...
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Russia will play the first match of the World Cup on June 14, 2018, against Saudi Arabia Credit: getty images with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia.
Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A RUSSIA When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship.
Russia go into the draw as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008.
Ambitious talk of reaching the quarter-finals or even semi-finals has faded.
There are off-field problems too, with reports of disputes between players and the coach.
Hooligan rampages at Euro 2016 tarnished Russia's image, with the country threatened with expulsion from the tournament in France.
SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired.
Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge.
The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month.
Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006.
Juan Antonio Pizzi, who was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever asia cup football 2018 winner at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States.
EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup.
The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990.
The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15.
They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return.
His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can.
There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though.
URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay.
Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup.
Defender Diego Godin 31 and strikers Edinson Cavani 30 and Luis Suarez 30 still trouble opponents.
But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde 19 and Nahitan Nandez 21 have become frequent starters.
Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022.
The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016.
Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out.
Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo.
Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia.
Pepe is a physical enforcer in defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack.
Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games.
SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016.
With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack.
Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea.
His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January.
MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup.
The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda.
Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard.
Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo.
IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June.
The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds.
In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria.
Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time.
They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists.
Group C FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching.
Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks.
But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time.
Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the asia cup football 2018 winner of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal.
It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype.
Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia.
The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras.
That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition.
The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way.
Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia, and is yet to be replaced.
PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup.
In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017.
Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo.
Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982.
DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out asia cup football 2018 winner the third-seeded pot.
Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016.
Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg.
In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals.
His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia.
Group D ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup.
But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina.
That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front.
Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership.
Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career.
His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches.
His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup.
The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers.
Last year's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team.
Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn't a one-off.
Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing asia cup football 2018 winner be ruled out.
Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year.
CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference.
Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat.
They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament.
Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs.
NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly.
They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria.
A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side.
Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia.
Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups.
Group E BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted.
Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation.
It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil.
Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina.
Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair.
SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts.
The quarter-finals are a realistic goal.
Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world asia cup football 2018 winner team and a depth of tournament experience.
However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16.
Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation.
Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call.
A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer.
In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender.
His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal.
COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout.
This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million.
Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin.
Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary.
SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006.
The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria.
Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command.
Group F GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017.
They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl.
World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals.
MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short.
They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16.
Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success.
The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts.
Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama.
Arch rivals United States missed out this time.
Few tears were shed in Mexico over this.
SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden.
The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup?
And will the Swedes accept him back?
Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can.
SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea.
This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals.
Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran.
Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - who bring valuable experience of top-level football.
Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia.
Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent.
But this is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament.
It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management.
Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars.
If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there.
There are issues in defence.
Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management.
PANAMA A first-ever qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday.
The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier.
Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million.
He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002.
Now it is Panama's turn.
TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years.
The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead asia cup football 2018 winner Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup.
They have never got beyond the group stage.
With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia.
ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016.
Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from.
A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for.
Has 12 goals in 23 games for England.
Group H POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers.
It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals.
Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal.
One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence.
SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight.
This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee.
Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group.
Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country.
COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again.
This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years.
Qualifying was a struggle this time.
Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia.
After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup.
Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience.
Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles.
Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia.
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