Spain and Italy were placed in the same qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, as were the Netherlands and France, but holders Germany were handed a kinder campaign with the Czech Republic their chief rivals.

FIFA backs Russia 2018

FIFA has passed a resolution offering full support for holding the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said at a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

"I would like to inform you that the executive committee has recently adopted a new resolution in which FIFA assures the Russian Federation of its full support in carrying out the World Cup in Russia in 2018," Blatter said.

In May, when the FIFA scandal broke, Putin harshly criticised the US investigation into FIFA as meddling in matters that were outside its jurisdiction.

On Saturday Putin also pledged to host a World Cup where both domestic and foreign players and fans would feel at home, promising "a grandiose international sporting festival".

Spain, world champions in 2010, and Italy, who won the last of their four titles in 2006, are favourites to fill the top two slots in Group G after being paired with Albania, Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.

Only the group winners will automatically advance to the tournament. The eight best runners-up from nine groups will fight it out in playoffs for four other berths.

Things do not look so straightforward in Group A where the Netherlands and France face tricky opponents in Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg,

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

Meanwhile, the winners of the Oceania World Cup qualifying group will have to play the fifth-placed South American side to reach the world cup following the draw for the intercontinental playoffs.

In the other tie, the team which finishes fourth in the CONCACAF competition will face the fifth-placed team from Asia. Both ties will be played over two legs.

Uruguay have finished fifth in the last four South American World Cup qualifying competitions and taken part in an intercontinental playoff each time. The beat Australia in 2001, lost to them four years later, beat Costa Rica in 2009 and Jordan in 2013.

The United States, who have qualified for the last seven World Cups, will begin their quest for an eighth straight appearance with Trinidad & Tobago likely to provide the toughest opposition in their first qualifying group.

The US, who reached the last-16 in Brazil last year, will also meet the winners of two earlier qualifying round games - St Vincent and the Grenadines v Aruba, and Antigua and Barbuda v Guatemala.

Mexico, who meet Jamaica in the Gold Cup final on Monday, will play Honduras in their opening qualifying group as well as the winners of the earlier round ties - Curacao v El Salvador and Canada v Belize.

The CONCACAF qualifying competition is the most complicated out of all of FIFA's six confederations, with 35 countries reduced to three or four for the finals.

Source: Agencies