sport news MARTIN SAMUEL: England's World Cup draw lifts pessimism

Looking like he’d recently been laid out by the Co-op, the mighty Diego Maradona plucked the sealed ball from Pot Two. 

It seemed hot on that stage and the great man, by all accounts, hadn’t been well. Done up in black formal wear, set off with a bright yellow bow tie, he had the appearance of a wise guy recently whacked by Tony Soprano.

To make matters worse, some clown in his side view was cracking wise at his expense. ‘He’s always been good with his hands,’ said draw host Gary Lineker, whose cheeky chappy patter no longer seems quite as appealing, now he’s doing it for FIFA’s coin.

In his questionable attire Diego Maradona pulled out in England into a favourable group

In his questionable attire Diego Maradona pulled out in England into a favourable group

Maradona held the ball’s contents out for the camera, as instructed. ENGLAND. 

By then, Gareth Southgate and a Football Association team of apparatchiks will already have known they had done well. Their group seed options were Belgium and Poland. 

Maradona had delivered the tougher of the two but, hell, it could have been worse. Have a look at Argentina’s lot and ponder England’s chances had they come out in that. 

“I have the best player in history, that is always a plus,” said coach Jorge Samapoli, no doubt adding to Maradona’s joy on the night. Peaky, a punchline, and now Argentina’s second best player, tops. Well, thanks for that.

The last time a World Cup draw was made, former FA chairman Greg Dyke as good as conceded defeat in the auditorium, making a cut throat gesture as England were placed with and Uruguay in Brazil. 

Not his smartest move but he wasn’t the worst judge. And while it would be counter-productive and arrogant to appear too happy – Belgium, after all, have some of the finest talents in Europe, and we know that because the Premier League is home to most of them – undoubtedly, by the end, the general air of pessimism around England at this tournament had begun to lift.

Gareth Southgate watched on as England were drawn alongside Belgium, Panama and Tunisia

Gareth Southgate watched on as England were drawn alongside Belgium, Panama and Tunisia

The challenge of containing Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard notwithstanding, they had avoided the biggest tournament hitters until the quarter-finals at least, given that one of Group H – Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan – await in the second round. 

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