England will renew one of the oldest rivalries in football against Scotland in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia after they were paired together at a lavish ceremony on Saturday.
But both will be glad to have avoided groups that threw together 1998 champions France with the Netherlands and a Sweden side captained by Paris Saint-Germain star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Former winners Spain and Italy were also paired.
World champions Germany were put against the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino in the draw made in Saint Petersburg’s Konstantin palace.
England last faced Scotland competitively in Euro 2000 qualifying.
England and Scotland have not met competitively since England won a playoff 2-1 on aggregate to qualify for the 2000 European Championships. They will also face Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta in Group F.
“I think it is a good draw. We’ve got countries we know and we respect,” said England manager Roy Hodgson.
“Scotland is the standout fixture for everybody because of the fierce rivalry between the two, but when I look at some of the other groups I think the fixtures on paper look harder than our fixtures on paper.”
A Wayne Rooney double inspired England to a 3-1 victory when the two sides met in a friendly in November and Scotland boss Gordon Strachan believes that match can serve as a motivation for his side.
“I can see why the fans are celebrating, it’s a fantastic fixture I think the whole of Scotland and England can look forward to,” he told Sky Sports.
“In saying that, as coaches, we are looking forward to pitting our wits against teams we have not played against for a long time.
“The last time the two sides met England stepped it up a gear and it was a fantastic lesson – they pressurise you and you make mistakes and that’s something that sticks with us – and I hope will stick with us to fire us on.”