World Cup 2018 Draw LIVE: Updates and analysis from Russia

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Anticipation for the World Cup is beginning to hot up with 2018 just around the corner.

That will only intensify as the football world descends on Moscow for the official group stage draw later today.

Who will feature in the dreaded ‘group of death’?

Which sides are likely to be given a favourable passage to the knockouts?

We’ll have all the action as it happens live right here.

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Barcelona will offer Liverpool and Philippe Coutinho mega money to finally seal deal

Alex Rea 1/12/2017
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December is here which can only mean one thing – the transfer window will be soon be open.

The rumour mill will hit a top gear this month as clubs look to get deals set-up ahead of January 1.

Here, we examine the three big transfer stories dominating headlines around Europe today.

Will any of the following deals happen?

Let us know your thoughts via Twitter and Facebook.

PHILIPPE COUTINHO

Barcelona will offer Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho a mega deal worth €14million a year should they persuade the Anfield outfit to sell in January.

According to Sport, the Catalan giants are prepared to offer €130million but understand they may have to increase that to €150million in order to get their man.

RATING: 7/10

VERDICT

What Liverpool have shown so far this season is that the dependency on Coutinho is fading. He was unquestionable their star man last term but Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are two assets arguably more vital to Jurgen Klopp than the Brazilian.

That could mean Liverpool can be persuaded to sell in January having rejected three bids in the summer but regardless they are in a strong bargaining position with Coutinho signed until 2022.

LUKE SHAW

Manchester United value full-back Luke Shaw at £20million, according to the Mirror.

The 22-year-old has barely played for United this season and a whole host of Premier League clubs are interested in ending his Old Trafford nightmare.

RATING: 7/10

VERDICT

Newcastle and Tottenham are two clubs who have been registered with an interest but according to the report, the former has been put off by the price tag.

They are now pursuing a loan deal and having played just 33 minutes of football all season, the attraction of more first-team football will surely see Shaw seek a move next month.

Man United defender Luke Shaw

Man United defender Luke Shaw

JONNY EVANS

Arsenal and Manchester City want to sign West Brom centre-back Jonny Evans in January, reports The Telegraph.

The Gunners tried to sign the Northern Ireland international in the summer but saw a £25million bid turned down on deadline day and reports suggest it will take an offer of £30million to convince West Brom to sell.

RATING: 8/10

VERDICT

John Stones’s hamstring injury has meant Pep Guardiola will be in the market for a defender in January and Evans was said to be a target last summer.

For Arsenal, Per Mertesacker is retiring at the end of the season and they will hope the 29-year-old West Brom man can be his long-term replacement.

West Brom's Jonny Evans

West Brom’s Jonny Evans

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Ranking every World Cup team heading into the group stage draw as Brazil land at No1

Alex Rea 1/12/2017
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The World Cup draw takes place in Moscow on Friday with each of the 32 teams set to find out their group stage fate.

From the four pots eight groups will be drawn from A-H with the opening clash featuring hosts Russia to be played on June 14.

The allocation of the pots is done by using the FIFA rankings system and of course, have been dissected and debated.

But the rankings don’t necessarily reflect the true position of the 32 sides so we’ve gone ahead and analysed is 1-32 with their actual ranking in brackets.

Here is the final in our four-part series with rankings 1-8.

1. Brazil (2)

Brazil have reinvented themselves under Tite, rising from the depths of insignificance to become one of the most vibrant teams in international football.

And ‘team’ is the crucial word there because the dependency on Neymar has been dialled down. A front three contrained Neymar, Philippe Coutniho and Gabriel Jesus has revived this fallen giant.

In Jesus, they have an injection of youth and pace at centre-forward and in Coutinho and Neymar flair and vibrancy.

Behind that trio is balance. Casemiro is a shield in the front of a backline marshalled by Joao Miranda who is enjoying the form of his career at Inter Milan.

They were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and their 3-0 triumph over Argentina showed the 2014 World Cup semi-final humiliation is a thing of the past.

Obviously Brazil are still carved in the image of Neymar but in comparison to say Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he doesn’t carry the hope of his nation alone.

He’ll be 26 when the tournament kicks off, at the peak of his powers and he’ll be thirsty to overthrow the aforementioned pair by proving he is the best player in the best international team.

Neymar

Brazil star Neymar

2. Germany (1)

Dominant and devastating in qualifying, the German machine just continues to motor along.

Undoubtedly the best side Europe has to offer, Jogi Low has overseen a successful squad overhaul following the international retirements of vital veterans Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Per Mertesacker.

Emre Can, Leroy Sane and Leon Goretzka are now establishing themselves in a well-oiled unit and the experience of Toni Kroos, Matts Hummels and Thomas Muller has ensured a smooth transition.

Crucially, Germany now have a strength they’ve seldom had – pace. Timo Werner has added an edge to their steel scoring seven in 10 appearances and the Leipzig man is a genuine centre-forward who likes to run in behind.

They ended the qualification campaign perfect but no team has defended the World Cup since Pele’s Brazil in 1958 and 1962.

Timo Werner

Germany striker Timo Werner

3. Spain (6)

Having reversed the rotting decline which set in under Vicente del Bosque, Julen Lopetegui has now built a team ready to mount a stronger challenge than the teams which failed to defend their world title in 2014 and its European crown in 2016.

An interchangeable midfield is their biggest quality as Lopetegui has been gifted the luxury of four world-class creative midfielders in Isco, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Andres Iniesta.

Ahead of them, Alvaro Morata gives them a genuine option at No9 and seems a far better fit in this side than Diego Costa ever did.

At the back, David De Geas is arguably the world’s best goalkeeper while Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchor a sturdy defence.

La Roja navigated calmly through a qualifying group which contained four-time champions Italy with nine wins from 10 and it’s safe to say the Spaniards have their mojo back.

Spain midfielder Isco

Spain midfielder Isco

4. France (9)

The depth of French talent is simply ludicrous. It’s not gross hyperbole to say they could field three separate XIs worthy of challenging the world’s best and with a healthy stock of talent comes every element which marks a successful side.

From youth to experience, to skill and organisation, Les Bleus are a force to be reckoned with.

But there have been issues in qualifying with lapses in concentration and a lethargic approach casting doubt over their credibility as a genuine football superpower.

However, it hasn’t negated the growing hype and naturally, led with quality like Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, the expectations are high.

If Didier Deschamps can iron out the vulnerabilities, come next summer they’ll be warranting a place in the top-three.

France duo Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante

France duo Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante

5. Belgium (5)

The Red Devils are effectively the younger brother of France in that Roberto Martinez has so many options in an attacking sense with Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku.

They breezed through qualifying and the country’s exceptional generation of talent stand a good chance of competing for their first ever piece of major silverware.

The consensus is they have produced a team which is among the best in the world but that same narrative creatives pressure and they crumbled at Euro 2016.

Two years older and wiser, they will be better prepared for Russia.

Belgium playmaker Kevin De Bruyne

Belgium playmaker Kevin De Bruyne

6. Portugal (3)

Switzerland won their first nine qualifiers but lost in Libson to hand top spot to Portugal after a thrilling two-horse race.

As European champions, they command respect and with Cristiano Ronaldo heading up a side which is blessed by a veteran core (Joao Moutinho and Pepe) and youthful exuberance (Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva), Fernando Santos has a promising group of players to take to Russia.

Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo

7. Argentina (4)

Disaster was averted in qualifying as Jorge Sampaoli eventually guided his side safely to next year’s tournament.

They should in theory be a contender next year with Sampoli introducing a high-pressing, possession-heavy, direct-attacking style of football in place of the more conservative approach of old.

But it is yet to truly click and the likes of Paulo Dybala and  Mauro Icardi are still in the fledgling stage of their international careers.

Of course, they still have Lionel Messi and as Barcelona have shown so far this season, sometimes that’s all you need.

Argentina skipper Lionel Messi

Argentina skipper Lionel Messi

8. Poland (7)

Robert Lewandowski scored 16 goals in qualifying – no one scored more from Europe – and as Poland’s record goalscorer he is the man to be feared.

His stunning form for Bayern Munich hasn’t necessarily translated into a major international tournament, though, with Euro 2016 a disaster after he scored just once.

Still, he has talent behind him with Napoli’s attacking midfielder Piotr Zielinski and goalscoring-centre-back Kamil Glik the other big names as the Poles embark on their first World Cup since 2006.

Poland's record scorer Robert Lewandowski

Poland’s record scorer Robert Lewandowski

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