DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The most controversial World Cup ever will feature in Qatar the most politically charged matchups.
Just like in 1998, the United States will play Iran with diplomatic relations yet to be restored between the nations. Throw into the mix in Group B, England, whose government has endured tense relations with Tehran.
The group could yet be completed by Ukraine, whose ability to qualify for the World Cup has been postponed by being invaded by Russia. The Ukrainians will have to overcome Scotland and then Wales in the playoffs to make the tournament in November.
What is known is that Qatar will open its first World Cup against Ecuador on Nov. 18 after qualifying for the first time as host.
The draw in Doha on Friday delivered a thrilling matchup in Group E between Spain and Germany. Group C could see a meeting of the most recent FIFA Best winners with Lionel Messi’s Argentina drawn to play Robert Lewandowski’s Poland.
The world champion will be crowned in December for the first time due to the final being moved from its usual July slot to avoid Qatar’s fierce summer heat.
Qatar has spent 12 years, since winning the World Cup bid, fighting to protect the hosting rights amid corruption investigations and regional disharmony.
The implausibility of Qatar staging such a mammoth event within the congested confines of Doha was clear in the desert imagery that flashed on the screens around the draw venue. Images of skyscrapers growing from the sand served as a reminder of the vast projects required to develop this gas-rich nation in recent decades.
“The world can see Qatar as promised,” the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, told the audience.
The suffering of low-paid migrant workers went unmentioned.
There was an oblique reference before the draw by FIFA President Gianni Infantino to the war on Ukraine launched in February by 2018 host Russia.
“Our world is divided, our world is aggressive,” Infantino said, “and we need occasions to bring people together.”
There was a plea for peace.
“To all the leaders and all the people of the world,” Infantino added. “Stop the conflicts and the wars. Please engage in dialogue. Please engage in peace. We want this to be a World Cup of unity and the World Cup of peace.”
The day began with a protest outside FIFA headquarters in Zurich. German artist Volker-Johannes Trieb used balls filled with sand to protest against the suffering of migrant workers in Qatar who have worked on the infrastructure related to the World Cup.
___ AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports