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Korea hoping to avoid football powerhouses in 2018 World Cup draw

As one of the lowest seeded teams at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, South Korea will be hoping to avoid the big guns when the draw for football's showpiece event takes place later this week in Russia.

South Korea will find out their group stage opponents Friday when the draw ceremony opens at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow. Even though their fate will be in hands of those who pick the draw balls, South Korea will be looking for the best pairings in their 10th World Cup appearance.

FIFA previously announced that the October edition of its world rankings will be used to allocate 32 World Cup qualifying teams to the four pots according to their ranking in descending order. Hosts Russia have automatically been placed in pot 1 and they're joined by the top-seven ranked teams -- Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland and France.

South Korea were No. 62 in the October FIFA rankings, the third lowest among World Cup participants. Only Russia, who were 65th, and Saudi Arabia, 63rd, had lower rankings last month. 

In this photo taken Nov. 28, 2017, South Korea national football team players train at Ulsan Stadium in Ulsan. (Yonhap)
In this photo taken Nov. 28, 2017, South Korea national football team players train at Ulsan Stadium in Ulsan. (Yonhap)

That resulted in South Korea entering pot 4, along with Serbia, Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama and Saudi Arabia.

There will be eight groups at the World Cup, lettered A to H. No team can be drawn alongside another team from the same pot, which means South Korea will not meet those in pot 4 in the group stage.

FIFA also states that no teams from the same confederation will be drawn into the same group, with the exception of Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which could have up to two of its members in the same group. This rules out South Korea facing Iran, the top-ranked Asian Football Confederation (AFC) member in pot 3, in the group stage.

With these principles in mind, South Korea will want to be in the same group as the lowest ranked team in each pot or at least paired with the teams with whom they hold better head-to-head record.

In pot 1, hosts Russia had the lowest ranking at No. 65 in October, though they have beaten South Korea twice and drawn once in previous encounters. The two sides recently faced each other in a friendly match when South Korea suffered a 4-2 loss.

Croatia had the lowest ranking in pot 2 at No. 18. They were behind Spain, Peru, Switzerland, England, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay last month.

Excluding AFC member Iran, Senegal had the lowest October ranking among pot 3 teams, at No. 32, though the November rankings showed that they've improved to No. 23. Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia and Egypt are also in pot 3.

The worst-case scenario for South Korea will probably be meeting reigning World Cup champions and top-seeded Germany from pot 1, along with the 2010 World Cup title holders Spain from pot 2. Spain were No. 8 in the October rankings, but they moved up two spots to No. 6 in the November standings.

If the two European nations are in the same group, South Korea can't meet a UEFA member in pot 3, which leaves Costa Rica, Tunisia, Egypt and Senegal as possible opponents.

By head-to-head records, South Korea will first want to avoid Argentina from pot 1, as the two-time World Cup champions have beaten them in all three previous meetings. Belgium and France have also never lost to South Korea, while five-time World Cup winners Brazil have collected four wins and one loss against the Taeguk Warriors.

Portugal and Poland only have one loss against South Korea, both of which came in the 2002 World Cup, where South Korea served as co-hosts and reached the semifinals.

From pot 2, Uruguay possess the dominant head-to-head record against South Korea, with six wins and one draw. Spain also hold a superior record with four wins and two draws.

Colombia might be the ideal opponents for South Korea in terms of head-to-head record. South Korea boast three wins, two draws and one loss against Colombia, and they also beat the South Americans 2-1 earlier this month in a friendly match.

From pot 3, South Korea will be afraid of meeting Sweden, who have two wins and two draws against the men's national team. South Korea have met Egypt 16 times to date, the most among any other 2018 World Cup participants, and share a record of five wins, six draws and five losses.

South Korea have never played against World Cup debutants Iceland or Panama.

Meanwhile, South Korean head coach Shin Tae-yong departed for Russia on Wednesday to attend the draw. He will return home Sunday and give briefings about the draw result. (Yonhap)