Former champions Spain, Italy meet in World Cup qualifying

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia will be no easy task for some of Europe's traditional powers.

Italy, the 2006 world champion, paid the price for recent poor results by being drawn with 2010 winner Spain in the ceremony on Saturday at Konstantin Palace. Group G also features Bulgaria, Belarus, and Luxembourg.

The heavyweight group is undoubtedly A. Netherlands, France, and Sweden will compete for the one automatic place at the finals alongside Bulgaria, Belarus, and Luxembourg.

Eight of the best second-place teams from the continent's nine groups will get a second shot at reaching Russia through the playoffs.

Many teams would relish the start Germany has to its title defense from September 2016. The champion has a seemingly relatively straightforward Group C where the Czech Republic is the strongest rival, and other games with Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan, and San Marino.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal shouldn't be too concerned about Group B, which also features Switzerland, Hungary, the Faeroe Islands, Latvia, and Andorra.

Football's oldest international rivalry will play out for the first time in a World Cup qualifying group, with England and Scotland together in Group F.

Adding to the intrigue for the neighbors could be the lingering effects of Scotland's 2014 independence referendum, when the majority voted to stay part of Britain. They will also play Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, and Malta.

The other groups are:

E: Romania, Denmark, Poland, Montenegro, Armenia, Kazakhstan.

H: Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Estonia, Cyprus.

I: Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland.


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