England will discover their group stage opponents for the World Cup in Qatar this evening, with Germany or Croatia potentially standing in the Three Lions’ way early on.
Gareth Southgate’s men are in the top pot of seeds for the draw in Doha on Friday, and a rematch against the Germans – who England beat in the last 16 en route to the Euro 2020 final – or World Cup semi-final conquerors Croatia are two possibilities which lie in wait.
Both those sides are in a strong-looking pot two which also includes Mexico, Denmark and Holland.
Scotland, Wales and Ukraine are treated as a single placeholder in the bottom pot of seeds, with the outcome of their play-off path not set to be decided until June following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The pots will be emptied from one to four, with each team assigned to a group and given a number between one and four within that group. Hosts Qatar have already been assigned Group A and position one, and will play in the tournament’s opening game on November 21.
Except for Europe, whenever possible FIFA will avoid drawing two sides from the same confederation together.
The allocation of venues and kick-off times will take place after the draw, with the final schedule not expected to be known until Saturday.
That is so that matches can be allocated to the best kick-off times for the television audiences in the countries involved, or the times that work best for the live crowds in Qatar.
“I think there are a few that could win this tournament,” Southgate said ahead of the draw.
“You only have to look through pot A and think there are a number of teams that have won in the last few years – Portugal would be in that, France would be in that, so they’ve both won major tournaments and they’ve both won the Nations League.
“And then there are going to be a couple of teams in pot two as well that are going to be a real threat. That’s putting aside the fact any number of teams can beat an opponent on a given day. That’s the jeopardy of a World Cup.
“We are pleased with the way we are progressing. We are really pleased with the group of players we have to work with and we’ve just got to keep working with them and pushing them.”
England head into Qatar as semi-finalists in the last World Cup and runners-up in the last Euros.
Asked about the expectation levels, Southgate said: “You’ve got to live with it.
“I think we’ve got to rationalize it, in that we know there are some other very good players. But equally we have to accept there’s a belief, and part of winning is being able to handle that.
“When you’ve got evidence you can get results, then the gap between expectation and what is possible is smaller and that makes the team less anxious.
“We know that the team are further on their journey of learning from those big-match experiences than we were before, so I think that helps you handle it in an even better way.”