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The Warm-Up: Which World Cup group will England be Putin?

The Warm-Up: Which group will England be Putin?

01/12/2017 at 07:57Updated 01/12/2017 at 09:31

Tom Adams looks ahead to the thrills, and possible spills, of the 2018 World Cup draw in Moscow, where Vladimir Putin will be very involved in proceedings...

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Which group will England be Putin?

Today the eyes of the global football community will be trained on Moscow for the World Cup draw, which starts at 3pm. Russia, the home of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, state-sponsored doping and Twitter bots who have nasty things to say about Hillary Clinton but seem quite impressed by Nigel Farage.

Okay, maybe it’s unfair to conflate politics and sport in such a way. After all, it’s not like the draw is being held in the Kremlin, with a personal address from Vladimir Putin and all being overseen by deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, the man heavily implicated in the various doping controversies which have raged across sport in recent years. Nope, nothing to see here.

Inescapably, this is one of the most politicised football events since, well, pretty much every other football event. But there is an upside. If Putin did indeed hack a US election and contrive to get the UK to commit to the grossest act of economic and social self-harm imaginable, surely he can warm up a few balls and get England a favourable draw for 2018?

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) gestures next to the FIFA World Cup Trophy flanked by FIFA President Gianni Infantino (L) during the opening of the trophy tour ceremony at Luzhniki stadium in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) gestures next to the FIFA World Cup Trophy flanked by FIFA President Gianni Infantino (L) during the opening of the trophy tour ceremony at Luzhniki stadium in MoscowGetty Images

The master of ceremonies will be liberal darling and arch FIFA critic Gary Lineker, with the test draw throwing up a group of Poland, Senegal and Australia for Gareth Southgate’s side. Basically doable, but with the potential for disaster: as most of the groups England could get would be. There is no standout group of death contender. It could be quite an even draw.

Video - England's 2018 World Cup: Best draw v worst draw

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Still, the finer details could have a big impact on England’s chances. Courtesy of the Daily Mail:

“There are 24 potential itineraries, with travelling distances from St Petersburg (the nearest airport to England's base camp in Repino) ranging from 1,820 miles to 6,024 miles across the three group games. The most gruelling would be a Group C scenario that would see England play in Ekaterinburg, Sochi and Saransk.

“Add to that the fact that there will be four different time zones and Sochi can get very warm in the summer compared to St Petersburg — up to a 20-degree swing — and the demands on England's players could be significant.”

There’s not a great deal else to say about a draw that is yet to take place, beyond Southgate’s stirring address.

“We've got to attempt to win each game, be as prepared as we can be, and see how far we can go. Of course, a lot of these players are going to peak in two to four years' time, but we can't just write off the tournament. I don't think anyone in England would accept that. We can't go to a World Cup and not try to win it."

That would be a decent start, yes.

Big Sam’s big regret

In another universe it would be Sam Allardyce strolling around the halls of the Kremlin, making nice with Vlad and enjoying the hospitality of the Russian state. A couple of Daily Telegraph journalists armed with a pint of wine (nb not really a pint of wine) got him the sack from England, just imagine the kompromat the FSB’s finest minds could unearth.

But a fortnight is a long time in football, especially when your caretaker manager is patently not up to the job and, for some reason, Diego Simeone doesn’t really fancy quitting Atletico Madrid. A couple of weeks on and Allardyce is suddenly the right man at the right moment for Everton, whose priority is simply to protect their Premier League status and start clambering up the table.

For all the recent griping about the same old faces getting all the Premier League jobs, Allardyce very rarely fails and with David Moyes and Tony Pulis’ powers apparently on the wane, he could be the last safe bet to keep a team up and thriving in the middle reaches of the league. That will do for Everton, for now at least.

Redmond clears up Pep talk

Pep Guardiola’s post-match interaction with Nathan Redmond on Wednesday was definitely a bit strange, but The Warm-Up was satisfied by Guardiola’s explanation that he simply wanted to see a talented player like Redmond play to his best level. The man just loves football. After a ludicrous story in The Sun claimed that Guardiola had called Redmond a “w****r” — how much did you pay that lip-reader? — the Southampton forward has clarified matters.

“I want to make it absolutely clear Pep Guardiola did not say what The Sun is falsely claiming in this story,” Redmond said. “Yes he was very passionate, intense and aggressive but he was only very complimentary and positive to me. Losing the game the way we did in the last kick of the game after working so hard for 90-plus minutes, I was very disappointed. But when one of the world’s best managers compliments you or gives advice in any way, you listen.”

There were a lot of dubious takes on this story, but not universally:

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