The Latest: Lack of blockbuster opener won't harm World Cup

The Latest: Lack of blockbuster opener won't harm World Cup

(AP Photo/Denis Tyrin). A girl poses for a photo in front of a clock counting down to the first match of the 2018 World Cup, which is installed on Manezh Square, outside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. The Final Draw for the 201... (AP Photo/Denis Tyrin). A girl poses for a photo in front of a clock counting down to the first match of the 2018 World Cup, which is installed on Manezh Square, outside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. The Final Draw for the 201...
(AP Photo/Denis Tyrin). Russian police officers patrol the Manezh Square at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. The Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will take place on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, at the State Kremlin Palac... (AP Photo/Denis Tyrin). Russian police officers patrol the Manezh Square at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. The Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will take place on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, at the State Kremlin Palac...
(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin). The mascot of the 2018 World Cup, the wolf named Zabivaka, is placed at the entrance of Kutafya Tower in Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. The Final Draw for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia will take place o... (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin). The mascot of the 2018 World Cup, the wolf named Zabivaka, is placed at the entrance of Kutafya Tower in Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. The Final Draw for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia will take place o...
(AP Photo/Denis Tyrin). Children pass signs with the logo of the 2018 FIFA World Cup near the Kremlin where the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup will take place on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Denis Tyrin). Children pass signs with the logo of the 2018 FIFA World Cup near the Kremlin where the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup will take place on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017.

MOSCOW (AP) - The Latest on the World Cup draw (all times local):

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9:25 p.m.

Russia against Saudi Arabia is no one's idea of an opening-day blockbuster.

Still, Russia's top government official organizing the World Cup says it won't hurt the buzz around the tournament.

Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko says "it means nothing, all the marketing for the World Cup has been done, the advertising, the TV rights are almost finished," adding "always some games can mean more or less interest."

For fans, Mutko adds, "it's about the entirety of the tournament, the 64 games to be played, the World Cup, so the who and the where, it's meaningless."

Russia and Saudi Arabia meet June 14 in Moscow's Luzhniki stadium, which will also host the final.

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9:05 p.m.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has some emotional ties to World Cup group opponents Portugal and Spain.

Queiroz is from Portugal and he lived in Spain while coaching Real Madrid in the 2003-04 season.

Quieroz says it's a "tough group for us, but for me being with Portugal and Spain is very special and very emotional because Portugal is my place and Spain is a very special place for me also as a coach in my career, so I could not choose better."

Iran has never gotten past the group stage in four World Cup appearances, and Queiroz isn't predicting any miracles this time.

He says "when the game finishes I want my players to leave with their heads up."

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9 p.m.

Gareth Southgate's first World Cup game as a coach will be a repeat of his first as a player.

In 1998, Southgate made his World Cup debut in England's 2-0 win over Tunisia. Twenty years and three days later on June 18, his England team will take on Tunisia again.

Southgate says he remembers that 1998 match as "one of the best days of my life," adding there was an "incredible atmosphere down there. I just remember the color of it, the Beatles music playing before the game ... It was a brilliant occasion."

England was also drawn to face Belgium and Panama in Group G, and Southgate isn't looking past any of those teams.

In 2014, it was Costa Rica that ended England's World Cup run in the group stage, and last year Iceland defeated the English team at the European Championship.

Southgate says "coming from two tournaments where Costa Rica knocked us out and then Iceland, it would be funny for us not to be serious about our preparation."

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8:50 p.m.

Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson wants a divorce from Croatia.

Drawn to play the Croats yet again, Hallgrimsson says "we seem to be a married couple."

Iceland won its qualifying group ahead of runner-up Croatia, and the Croats then won a playoff to qualify for the 2014 tournament.

Hallgrimsson hopes 15,000 of Iceland's population of about 330,000 will travel to Russia for their games. Iceland opens against Argentina and then plays Nigeria before facing Croatia.

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8:15 p.m.

Germany coach Joachim Loew says it will be tougher for his team to win the title in Russia than it was in Brazil.

The last team to win back-to-back World Cup titles was Brazil in 1962, and Loew says "a second time is very difficult."

Loew says "of course we are one of the favorites. Brazil, Argentina, France - all of them want to have the title."

Looking back at the 7-1 semifinal rout of host Brazil in 2014, Loew says "next year it will be more difficult."

Germany will open against Mexico, and also play South Korea and Sweden, who could have Zlatan Ibrahimovic return from international retirement.

Loew says he likes Ibrahimovic "because he is one of the best strikers ever, he scores goals that are unbelievable."

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7:45 p.m.

Russia will have some homework to do before facing Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay at the World Cup.

Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov says "we've never played any of these teams and I've never seen them."

Cherchesov says "the only thing we know is that (Liverpool forward Mohamed) Salah plays for Egypt ... and that (Edinson) Cavani and Luis (Suarez) play for Uruguay."

Russia will face Saudi Arabia on June 14 in the opening game of the World Cup in Moscow. The host team will then play Egypt on June 19 in St. Petersburg and Uruguay six days later in Samara.

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7:05 p.m.

Here are the groups for the World Cup:

Group A - Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

Group B - Portugal, Spain, Iran, Morocco

Group C - France, Peru, Denmark, Australia

Group D - Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria

Group E - Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

Group F - Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

Group G - Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama

Group H - Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan

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7 p.m.

Panama will make its World Cup debut against Belgium in Sochi on June 18.

The Central American team advanced ahead of the United States in its qualifying group.

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6:55 p.m.

Russia will play Saudi Arabia in the opening game of next year's World Cup, a match between the lowest ranked teams in the FIFA rankings.

The Group A match will take place on June 14 at the 81,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Also in the group are Uruguay and Egypt.

Russia goes into its home World Cup ranked 65th in the world, the lowest-ranked of any of the 32 teams in the tournament. Saudi Arabia is 63rd.

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6:50 p.m.

Iceland's debut at the World Cup will be against Lionel Messi and Argentina.

The smallest nation ever play at the World Cup will play the two-time champions on June 16 at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.

Iceland, with a population of 330,000 people, won its qualifying group after reaching the quarterfinals at the 2016 European Championship.

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6:40 p.m.

Portugal and Spain will meet in the group stage at next year's World Cup.

The rivals will play in Sochi on June 15, the second day of the tournament.

The two countries haven't played since meeting in the semifinals of the 2012 European Championship, when eventual champion Spain won on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

Spain also played on the second day of competition at the 2014 World Cup, losing 5-1 to the Netherlands before being eliminated in the group stage.

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6:10 p.m.

Vladimir Putin has formally opened the World Cup draw ceremony at the State Kremlin Palace.

The Russian president made a five-minute speech after arriving on stage with FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

Putin urged people to visit and enjoy a country "so big and multi-faceted."

"We will do everything to make it a major sporting festival," he said, looking forward to a World Cup of "friendship and fair play, values that do not change with time."

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6 p.m.

Diego Maradona has arrived at the World Cup draw wearing a black tuxedo and a gold bow tie.

The 1986 World Cup-winning captain for Argentina will take part in the draw ceremony at the State Kremlin Palace.

Guests on the red carpet arrival at the venue have been sprinkled with wet snow on a chilly evening in Moscow.

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4:50 p.m.

Germany coach Joachim Loew has arrived for the World Cup draw.

Loew was among the first to get to the Kremlin for the draw, where defending champion Germany will learn who it plays in the group stage.

Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic and Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic have also arrived at the venue.

Playing greats including Pele and Diego Maradona are expected to assist with the draw, which will be presented by former England forward Gary Lineker - a frequent critic of FIFA - and Russian sports journalist Maria Komandnaya.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is also expected to attend.

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3:40 p.m.

The five World Cup teams from Africa will get $500,000 each from the continental governing body to help prepare for the tournament.

The Confederation of African Football says the money is "mainly to strengthen and improve the technical supervision of each team."

The soccer federations of Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia will also get $1.5 million from FIFA toward their preparations.

At previous FIFA tournaments, some African teams have been affected by disputes over unpaid bonuses promised to players.

In 2014, Ghana's government sent $3 million on a chartered plane to Brazil during the tournament to pay players ahead of their final group game. The money was to be deducted from FIFA prize money earned by Ghana.

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2:05 p.m.

At a media event that overran its one-hour slot, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko defended Russia against allegations of doping and wrongdoing.

Mutko says "we are a good partner of the world sports movement. I don't understand why you have to trample Russia under foot."

The 1-hour, 17-minute media event with FIFA President Gianni Infantino barely touched on the World Cup draw ceremony.

Mutko, who is also the head of the World Cup organizing committee, pointed to doping problems in other countries such as Britain and Norway.

Speaking through a translator, Mutko says "if you don't fight back you will just be smashed."

Mutko was asked if he was embarrassed that a media event to showcase Russia hosting the soccer World Cup kept returning to an Olympic doping scandal.

He says he "shouldn't be ashamed about anything."

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1:30 p.m.

FIFA President Giannni Infantino says he will not speculate on allegations in an American federal court linking 2022 World Cup host Qatar to payments received by South American soccer officials.

Infantino says he will not comment on "things that are not proven."

Witnesses in the trial of a former FIFA vice president and two other former soccer federation presidents from South America have provided details of irregular payments and offers of payment from Qatari officials. The three defendants deny wrongdoing.

Infantino also cautioned against western nations who try to "paint with a dark paint, everything that comes from the east - Russia or the Arab world."

The Swiss official says there is a tendency for the west to think "we are the best ones ... we know how democracy works."

Infantino says he hopes the World Cup "will change the way the world looks at Russia."

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1:05 p.m.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko says "there is no proof" of a state-backed doping system in the country, despite an Olympic judging panel this week detailing why it believed there was an organized conspiracy at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Mutko gave a defiant answer of about 12 minutes when asked if the soccer World Cup could be affected by an International Olympic Committee decision on Tuesday which could ban Russia from the Pyeongchang Games in February.

Mutko, who is the head of the World Cup organizing committee, says "we hope common sense will prevail."

He also insisted the IOC "cannot dictate" what positions individual people hold in member countries.

In July 2016, the IOC banned Mutko, then Russia's sports minister, from attending the Rio de Janeiro Olympics when a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation detailed orchestrated cheating at the Sochi Games.

Mutko was further implicated this week when extracts were published from the diaries of the former director of Russia's anti-doping laboratories. The IOC judging panel said it believed the diaries were "significant" evidence.

Joining Mutko at a news conference on Friday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he is "very relaxed" about next week's IOC executive board meeting.

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12:10 p.m.

Officials from the 32 World Cup teams have gathered in Moscow to find out who will play who at next year's tournament in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to appear at the draw ceremony, which will take place Friday at the State Kremlin Palace.

The draw will be presided over by former England striker Gary Lineker, who has previously called for FIFA to be disbanded over bribery scandals and questioned Russia's legitimacy to host the World Cup.

The 32 finalists will be split into eight groups of four teams. Only Europe can have two teams in the same group.

Russia will play the opening game on June 14. The final will be held on July 15.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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