2018 Fifa World Cup draw: when it is and how it works
The draw for the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign takes place in St Petersburg on Saturday.
The 52 European countries will be split into seven groups of six teams and two groups of five teams.
England, along with France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Holland, will be in a group of six teams at the request of UEFA in order to maximise television income.
Hosts Russia will qualify automatically.
The winners of each group will qualify for Russia 2018, while the eight best group runners-up will take part in a play-off in November 2017.
Seeding pots for the draw:
- Pot 1: Germany, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Romania, England, Wales, Spain, Croatia
- Pot 2: Slovakia, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, France, Iceland, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina
- Pot 3: Ukraine, Scotland, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Albania, Northern Ireland, Serbia, Greece
- Pot 4: Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria, Faroe Islands, Montenegro, Estonia
- Pot 5: Cyprus, Latvia, Armenia, Finland, Belarus, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldova
- Pot 6: Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Georgia, Malta, San Marino, Andorra
Q: When is the draw?
A: The event is due to start at 4pm BST - barring any intervention by protesters or BBC3 comedians - and is taking place at the Konstantin Palace in St Petersburg, with Russia the host country for the 2018 finals.
Q: Who will the home nations get?
A: England and Wales are both in the top pot of seeds due to their latest FIFA ranking, so should get fairly favourable draws. Scotland and Northern Ireland will be in the third pot and the Republic of Ireland are in the fourth pot.
All will be hoping to avoid four-time world champions Italy, who are in the second pot. Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic will be keen to avoid World Cup holders Germany from the top pot, while Belgium and European champions Spain are also among the seeded teams.
Q: How will the European groups look?
A: There will be 52 of the 53 UEFA members in the draw - all except Russia who qualify as hosts. They will be split into seven groups of six teams and two groups of five. UEFA has asked that England be placed in a group of six. The teams in each group will play each other home and away between September 4, 2016 and October 10, 2017.
The nine group winners will qualify for the finals, while the eight best group runners-up will contest four play-off ties in November 2017 with the winner of each also going to Russia.
Q: What else is happening?
A: There will also be draws taking place for various stages of qualifying in the South American, African, CONCACAF and Oceania sections. The Asian draw is well under way already.
South America will have a minimum of four teams in the 2018 finals, with the fifth-placed team from its all-in league system facing a play-off. Africa will have five finalists, CONCACAF (which features North American, Central American and Caribbean nations) will send at least three and Asia will have at least four. Oceania will have one representative at most in the finals.
Q: Anything else?
A: FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke will conduct the draw alongside 'supermodel and philanthropist' Natalia Vodianova and TV presenter Dmitry Shepelev.
Vodianova told fifa.com: "As a mother of four children, I know just what the World Cup means. I am sure that on 25 July many football fans all over the world will be inspired not only to support their teams on the road to 2018, but will also enjoy learning more about my country."
FIFA is expecting 2,000 guests representing 140 member nations, plus around 700 media representatives, to be at the draw.
Brazil striker Hulk to take part in draw
Brazil striker Hulk has been announced as one of the star names taking part in the preliminary draw for the 2018 World Cup only days after he raised fears of racism at the tournament in Russia.
Hulk, who plays for Zenit St Petersburg, said he encountered racism in "almost every game" in Russia. He will be one of the draw assistants along with others including compatriot Ronaldo, former Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro and Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o.
The draw takes place in St Petersburg, home city of Zenit, and will see countries allocated to the qualifying competitions for the tournament.
Hulk said in a statement released by FIFA: "I'm really happy. I feel flattered by the invitation to take part of this event that kicks off the way towards the next World Cup. I feel plainly adapted to Russia and my family really likes St. Petersburg.
"Because I travel quite a lot, I'm seeing the construction works throughout the host cities and the build-up of the new stadiums, especially over the last year. From the window of my flat I have a view to Zenit's new stadium, which will be used in the World Cup. It looks beautiful. I hope to be able to play the next World Cup, here, close to my home."
Hulk is the most expensive signing in Russia and has repeatedly encountered monkey chants - and also claimed a referee had racially abused him.
Earlier this week he said: "If it (racism) happens in the World Cup, it will be really gross and really ugly. Usually it happens when Russian clubs play and it doesn't come out to the world and the world doesn't know about this," he said through a translator.
"I must say that almost every game I see this happening. I used to get angry, but now I see this doesn't help, so I just send a kiss to our fans and try not to get angry.
The draw takes place at the Konstantin Palace in St Petersburg on Saturday July 25.
Belfast Telegraph Digital