World Cup 2018 Qualifying Groups (Which May Shade Into A Rant In Parts)

After much drawing of rabbits balls out of hats, we have the European qualifying groups for the 2018 World Cup.  They are:

Group A Group B Group C Group D Group E Group F Group G Group H Group I
Netherlands Portugal Germany Wales Romania England Spain Belgium Croatia
France Switzerland Czech Republic Austria Denmark Slovakia Italy Bosnia-Herzegovina Iceland
Sweden Hungary Northern Ireland Serbia Poland Scotland Albania Greece Ukraine
Bulgaria Faroe Islands Norway Republic of Ireland Montenegro Slovenia Israel Estonia Turkey
Belarus Latvia Azerbaijan Moldova Armenia Lithuania Macedonia Cyprus Finland
Luxembourg Andorra San Marino Georgia Kazakhstan Malta Liechtenstein

Gibraltar are only a UEFA member, not a full FIFA member, which is why they’re not on here, and Russia have pre-qualified as hosts (I think).  Some of the group members are sick of each other, with several being in the same Euro 2016 qualifying groups.  I think that’s a side-effect of the potting process.

I understand why they do that, to help mix everything up a bit in these things, but there’s some thing very fishy about the most recent group drawing rule change, making the “big” teams play in the six-member groups, because the TV companies want more of the “big” teams, even though they might not be pot 1 standard.  Because that’s fair!

I don’t mind when FIFA/UEFA do things like not drawing Spain and Gibraltar together or Armenia and Azerbaijan because of political tensions, because, first do no harm makes sense on these occasions, but TV ratings are not a good reason for doing this.

If you do it straight out of the FIFA rankings, you get:

Group A Group B Group C Group D Group E Group F Group G Group H Group I
Germany Belgium Netherlands Portugal Romania England Wales Spain Croatia
Bosnia and Herzegovina Denmark Iceland France Czech Republic Switzerland Italy Austria Slovakia
Ukraine Scotland Poland Hungary Sweden Albania Northern Ireland Serbia Greece
Estonia Montenegro Faroe Islands Bulgaria Norway Republic of Ireland Israel Slovenia Turkey
Cyprus Latvia Armenia Finland Belarus Macedonia Azerbaijan Lithuania Moldova
Andorra San Marino Malta Georgia Liechtenstein Luxembourg Kazakhstan

Okay, so it means that Germany and Belgium don’t get to play as much which they’d probably complain about, and Austria’s draw sucks something awful, but the groups do seem more even.  I can also see an argument that this kind of rigidly ranking-based draw would make rank mobility less likely.  So you could do it the way the draws used to be done, where top 8 are pot 1, next 8 are pot 2 and so one, but do it clean and not let the TV companies interfere.

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