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Netherlands to face France, Spain drawn with Italy in World Cup qualifiers

Reuters , Saturday 25 Jul 2015
World Cup draw
Former German soccer player Bierhoff, FIFA Secretary General Valcke and Former Russian soccer player Kerzhakov present the overview of the European zone draw during the preliminary draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg (Photo: Reuters)
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World champions Germany avoided facing some of their strongest rivals when the draw for the European qualifying groups for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia was made on Saturday.

Germany, who won the World Cup for the fourth time in Brazil last year will face the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino in Group C.

UEFA's decision to place their six top-seeded teams -- Germany, France, England, Italy, Spain and Netherlands -- in six-team groups rather than five-team groups to maximise revenue from TV and commercial opportunities, threw up tough draws for four of those countries.

Netherlands and France were drawn in Group A, along with Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg, while Spain, world champions in 2010, and Italy, who won the last of their four titles in 2006, were also drawn together.

The Spaniards will also face Albania, Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein in Group G.

England, whose only World Cup win came in 1966, were paired with their oldest rivals Scotland in Group F, along with Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta.

The nine group winners qualify automatically for the finals while the eight best runners-up will go into a playoff round of four two-legged home-and-away ties with the four winners going through.

Hosts Russia qualify automatically meaning 14 European teams will be in the finals in three years' time.

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