Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will come up against Spain in the standout fixture of the 2018 World Cup group stage, while England were handed an encounter with a dangerous Belgium side in Friday’s draw.
Spain, the 2010 World Cup winners, have been revitalised under Julen Lopetegui after underperforming in recent years and were seen as the team to avoid after missing out on a place among the top seeds.
It was Portugal, the reigning European champions, who were handed an Iberian derby in a glitzy ceremony held at the Moscow Kremlin and featuring an appearance from Russian President Vladimir Putin alongside FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
The draw also laid out all sides’ potential routes to the final, and revealed such tantalising prospects as a quarter-final between Spain and Argentina, and possible semi-finals of Spain against Germany or France versus Brazil.
Spain’s match against Portugal is a mouthwatering early clash, though, with the fixture set for the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, June 15.
“They are the champions of Europe, they have fantastic players and we are talking about the highest level,” coach Lopetegui told Spanish TV station Cuatro.
Real Madrid star Ronaldo will be 33 come next year’s finals, meaning this will probably be his last shot at World Cup glory.