The 2018 World Cup draw has been made, and it appears that the new draw format has paid dividends. Teams were seeded according to FIFA rankings instead of arranged geographically, and the result is that there’s no terrible group and no obvious group of death.
But that doesn’t mean that some teams didn’t get better draws than others. The FIFA rankings are based on a deeply flawed system, after all. Plus, Russia is a Pot 3-quality team that got an automatic top seed.
There were some very clear winners and losers from the draw: Teams, players, fans, and draw presenters.
Winner: Fans who want Messi vs. Ronaldo
Lionel Messi’s Argentina is a clear favorite in Group D, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal is set in Group B. There’s no guarantee that either wins their group — both got a set of three formidable opponents, and Portugal will be slight underdogs against Spain — but both can definitely win their groups.
And if they do, they’ll be set up for a quarterfinal matchup. The winners of Groups B and D are likely to be big-time favorites against the runners-up from Groups A and C. This is hardly a guarantee that we’ll get a Messi vs. Ronaldo quarterfinal, but this is about as good of a chance for a matchup between the two as we could have reasonably hoped for.
If the draw shook out differently, these two teams could have been two of the biggest spoilers in the World Cup. Instead, after they got drawn together alongside Spain and Portugal in Group B, they’re expected to go out.
Morocco qualified without allowing a single goal, while Iran only conceded twice in qualifying and is undefeated in its last 10 matches. But Portugal and Spain will probably be too strong for each of them, and they’ll have to abandon their regular defensive styles to score on each other. Bad luck.
According to ELO ratings and data compiled by Ben Mayhew, no one got an easier draw than Uruguay. There was only one possible draw that could have turned out better for them. Russia is the weakest Pot 1 team, while Saudi Arabia is rated as the weakest team in the entire competition. The only way the draw could have been easier is if Tunisia landed in the group instead of Egypt.
This is also a big boost for the potential legacy of Luis Suarez as an all-time great player, and for gamblers too. Before the draw, Suarez was only 12th at the bookies for top scorer. Expect him to rack up goals and redeem himself after he was expelled from the 2014 World Cup for biting an opponent.
With the United States out of the World Cup, Mexico has no competition for most supported team in America. And they’re going to have a tough time — El Tri drew defending champions Germany, a Sweden team that’s going to get Zlatan Ibrahimovic back, and a South Korea side led by Asian player of the year Son Heung-Min. Ouch.
Mexico’s dealt with tough draws before and reached the Round of 16 in six consecutive tournaments, but they’ll go to Russia as underdogs.
Winner: Gary Lineker
First, the England legend and draw presenter got a dig in at Diego Maradona, who he lost to at the 1986 World Cup partially thanks to the Hand of God.
Lineker taking the piss out of Maradona in the driest prepared joke of all time pic.twitter.com/IIUou6OEwk— Zach (@ZCalcio) December 1, 2017
Then, a completely unnecessary, but very funny burn on Italy.
Let Gary Lineker present every draw.
Everyone’s favorite underdog at Euro 2016 will be picked by most pundits to finish last in an extremely difficult group with Argentina, Croatia, and Nigeria. But we’ll get to see at least three viking thunder claps, and probably one very emotional one at the end of group play.
Full 2018 World Cup draw results
2. Saudi Arabia
3. Costa Rica
4. South Korea