Moscow: The 2010 World Cup winners Spain were placed in the same group as Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, while England will face a talented Belgium side.
Spain’s clash with reigning European champions Portugal in Sochi on June 15 was an early highlight thrown up by the glitzy draw in the Kremlin.
Neymar’s Brazil must negotiate a group including Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia as the South Americans seek a sixth title.
Holders Germany meanwhile were paired with Mexico, Sweden and South Korea as Joachim Loew’s men try to become the first nation to retain the title since Brazil in 1962.
“I am certainly not scared,” Loew told ZDF television.
“Other countries have been watching us over the last few years and they have progressed and they have great players. This will be an exciting World Cup.”
In a draw overseen by their former striker Gary Lineker, England were placed with Kevin de Bruyne’s Belgium, surprise packages Panama and, in their opening game in Volgograd on June 18, Tunisia.
England manager Gareth Southgate said his mind went back to playing in the 2-0 group-stage win over Tunisia at the 1998 World Cup.
“Remembering the Tunisia game in 1998, it was the first thing that went through my mind,” he said. “It was a fantastic day and it’s nice to be able to relive that.
“We haven’t done as much preparing on the African teams yet so now that’s what we can focus on.”
Lionel Messi and his Argentina team which struggled to qualify will play World Cup debutants Iceland as well as a dangerous Croatia outfit and Nigeria.
“You know football, you always have a chance,” said Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson.
“We have shown through the years that if we play well, we can at least give them a good game.”
The tournament that spans 11 cities and 12 stadiums kicks off when host nation Russia take on Saudi Arabia on June 14 in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
“We just didn’t want to get Spain,” said Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
Russia face a host of dangers in Group A in the shape of Uruguay, led by Barcelona’s Luis Suarez and Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani, and Egypt, spearheaded by Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah.
France and their potent strikeforce of Antoine Griezmann and teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe will play Australia, Peru and Denmark in Group C.
Spain and Portugal’s other opponents in a tough-looking Group B are Morocco and Iran.
Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said the pairing with Portugal leaves little room for error.
“Portugal have won an important title and, moreover, very recently. They are the champions of Europe and they have fantastic players,” Lopetegui told Spanish TV station Cuatro.
Japan will face a tough task to finish in the top two of Group H that features Robert Lewandowski’s Poland, Sadio Mane’s Senegal and Colombia.
The group line-ups for the 2018 World Cup:
Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
The complete fixture list for the 2018 World Cup (all times GMT):
Thursday, June 14
(1500) Russia v Saudi Arabia, Moscow (Luzhniki)
Friday, June 15
(1200) Egypt v Uruguay, Yekaterinburg
(1500) Morocco v Iran, Saint Petersburg
(1800) Portugal v Spain, Sochi
Saturday, June 16
(1000) France v Australia, Kazan
(1300) Argentina v Iceland, Moscow (Spartak)
(1600) Peru v Denmark, Saransk
(1900) Croatia v Nigeria, Kaliningrad
Sunday, June 17
(1200) Costa Rica v Serbia, Samara
(1500) Germany v Mexico, Moscow (Luzhniki)
(1800) Brazil v Switzerland, Rostov-on-Don
Monday, June 18
(1200) Sweden v South Korea, Nizhni Novgorod
(1500) Belgium v Panama, Sochi
(1800) Tunisia v England, Volgograd
Tuesday, June 19
(1200) Poland v Senegal, Moscow (Spartak)
(1500) Colombia v Japan, Saransk
(1800) Russia v Egypt, Saint Petersburg
Wednesday, June 20
(1200) Portugal v Morocco, Moscow (Luzhniki)
(1500) Uruguay v Saudi Arabia, Rostov-on-Don
(1800) Iran v Spain, Kazan
Thursday, June 21
(1200) France v Peru, Yekaterinburg
(1500) Denmark v Australia, Samara
(1800) Argentina v Croatia, Nizhni Novgorod
Friday, June 22
(1200) Brazil v Costa Rica, Saint Petersburg
(1500) Nigeria v Iceland, Volgograd
(1800) Serbia v Switzerland, Kaliningrad
Saturday, June 23
(1200) Belgium v Tunisia, Moscow (Spartak)
(1500) Germany v Sweden, Sochi
(1800) South Korea v Mexico, Rostov-on-Don
Sunday, June 24
(1200) England v Panama, Nizhni Novgorod
(1500) Japan v Senegal, Yekaterinburg
(1800) Poland v Colombia, Kazan
Monday, June 25
(1400) Saudi Arabia v Egypt, Volgograd
(1400) Uruguay v Russia, Samara
(1800) Spain v Morocco, Kaliningrad
(1800) Iran v Portugal, Saransk
Tuesday, June 26
(1400) Denmark v France, Moscow (Luzhniki)
(1400) Australia v Peru, Sochi
(1800) Nigeria v Argentina, Saint Petersburg
(1800) Iceland v Croatia, Rostov-on-Don
Wednesday, June 27
(1400) South Korea v Germany, Kazan
(1400) Mexico v Sweden, Yekaterinburg
(1800) Serbia v Brazil, Moscow (Spartak)
(1800) Switzerland v Costa Rica, Nizhni Novgorod
Thursday, June 28
(1400) Japan v Poland, Volgograd
(1400) Senegal v Colombia, Samara
(1800) England v Belgium, Kaliningrad
(1800) Panama v Tunisia, Saransk
Saturday, June 30
Round of 16
(1400) Group C winners v Group D runners-up, Kazan (R1)
(1800) Group A winners v Group B runners-up, Sochi (R2)
Sunday, July 1
Round of 16
(1400) Group B winners v Group A runners-up, Moscow (Luzhniki) (R5)
(1800) Group D winners v Group C runners-up, Nizhni Novgorod (R6)
Monday, July 2
Round of 16
(1400) Group E winners v Group F runners-up, Samara (R3)
(1800) Group G winners v Group H runners-up, Rostov-on-Don (R4)
Tuesday, July 3
Round of 16
(1400) Group F winners v Group E runners-up, Saint Petersburg (R7)
(1800) Group H winners v Group G runners-up, Moscow (Spartak) (R8)
Friday, July 6
(1400) Winner of R1 v Winner of R2, Nizhni Novgorod (Q1)
(1800) Winner of R3 v Winner of R4, Kazan (Q2)
Saturday, July 7
(1400) Winner of R7 v Winner of R8, Samara (Q3)
(1800) Winner of R5 v Winner of R6, Sochi (Q4)
Tuesday, July 10
(1800) Winners of Q1 v Winners of Q2, Saint Petersburg
Wednesday, July 11
(1800) Winners of Q3 v Winners of Q4, Moscow (Luzhniki)
Saturday, July 14
(1400) Third-place play-off, Saint Petersburg
Sunday, July 15
(1500) Final, Moscow (Luzhniki)