This year marks the first time the tournament will be held in the Middle East and has been pushed to later in the year than is typical to avoid the region’s summer heat.

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, has vowed an
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, has vowed an "exceptional World Cup in our Arab world", in a speech at the glitzy draw. (AFP)

Former winners Germany and Spain will clash early in the World Cup finals in Qatar after being placed in the same group while the coaches of bitter geopolitical rivals the United States and Iran vowed to put animosity aside when their sides meet.

The glitzy draw in Doha on Friday also set reigning champions France on a potential collision course with England in the quarter-finals, if they win their relatively kind groups. But the world's top-ranked team Brazil face a tougher task in the first stage.

Germany and Spain were joined by Japan in Group E, which will be completed by the winner of an intercontinental play-off between Costa Rica and New Zealand.

Iran and the United States — who severed formal diplomatic relations in 1980 — last met at the 1998 World Cup when the Iranians won a politically charged game 2-1.

"Football transcends a lot of the political stuff and we are able to remain friends on the pitch," insisted USA coach Gregg Berhalter. Iran's Croatian coach Dragan Skocic took a similar view.

England are also in Group B and Gareth Southgate's side might come up against neighbours Wales or Scotland, although Ukraine could also take the last spot in the European play-offs, to be decided in June, after they were delayed by Russia's attacks.

England's chances will face the sternest possible test though if they come up against France's talented squad in the last eight.

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Stars collide

The French, seeking to become the first nation to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil in 1962, will meet familiar foes Denmark and Tunisia in a Group D completed by the winners of an intercontinental play-off — Australia, Peru or the United Arab Emirates.

In a break with recent tradition, hosts Qatar will not feature in the tournament's opening match on November 21, with that honour going to Senegal's Group A game with the Netherlands at 1:00pm (1000 GMT). 

The Qataris, making their debut at a World Cup finals, will face Ecuador in the group's other game that evening.

Brazil, the record five-time winners, will have to be on form from the go when they face Serbia and Switzerland as well as Cameroon in a tough-looking Group G.

Two-time champions Argentina drew Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Robert Lewandowski's Poland in Group C. It might be Lionel Messi's last chance to win a World Cup as he turns 35 in June.

The same goes for Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be approaching 38 when Portugal come up against Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea in Group H.

Croatia, runners-up in 2018, were drawn with Belgium and Morocco in Group F, which is completed by Canada, returning to the World Cup after 36 years.

The first World Cup in the Middle East will also be the first played in November and December because of Qatar's extreme summer heat.

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Source: AFP