FIFA have announced the full line-up of assistants for the 2018 World Cup Russia Final Draw ceremony, which sees some of world football’s most adored icons take the stage at the State Kremlin Palace, Moscow, on December 1.
Laurent Blanc, Gordon Banks, Cafu, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan, Diego Maradona and Carles Puyol comprise the star-studded helpers at the event, representing World Cup winning nations. They will join Nikita Simonyan, the Soviet footballing legend who was earlier announced as the representative of host nation Russia.
The eight will decide the fate of the 32 participating teams in next year’s football showpiece, which is the first to be held in Russia, and will share the stage with presenters Gary Lineker, the former England international, and Russian TV journalist Maria Komandnaya.
Just seven months remain until the tournament, which will be held from June 14 to July 15 at 12 host venues across 11 host cities. The draw is the final major FIFA event before the tournament kicks off.
Argentine great Maradona will be reunited with a familiar foe in Lineker. The two former Barcelona stars played against each other in a quarter-final match between their respective nations at the Mexico ‘86 tournament, now most famous for the ‘Hand of God,’ which saw Maradona brazenly punch the ball over ‘keeper Peter Shilton to open the scoring.
That match ended 2-1 to Argentina, courtesy of a further Maradona goal, this time a wondrous solo effort beginning inside his own half. Lineker netted a late consolation for the ‘Three Lions.’ Maradona went on to lead ‘La Albiceleste’ to World Cup glory in Mexico, beating West Germany 3-2 in the final, and Lineker claimed the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer.
Only Simonyan and Uruguay’s Diego Forlan are the only draw assistants not to have won the tournament. Forlan was instrumental in Uruguay’s run to the 2010 semi-finals, which earned him the Golden Ball trophy as the best player in Brazil. Spartak Moscow great Simonyan, 91, had his finest hour with the national side at the 1958 Olympic Games, where the Soviet team won gold.
Brazil legend Cafu, who captained his side to World Cup 2002 success in Japan and South Korea, will reprise his assistant role of four years ago before the World Cup in his home country.
“The Final Draw is a moment when the whole planet joins in enthusiasm and expectation, so it makes me happy to be a part of that once again,” said the former full-back, who appeared in three finals – a joint record he shares with compatriot Pele.
“I was fortunate enough to come to Russia several times over the course of this World Cup cycle and I am quite certain that the country will deliver yet another fantastic event in Moscow.”
Carles Puyol, Spain’s victorious captain in 2010, wrote on social media: “I’ve been part of many great teams throughout my career, but this one is simply from another world. It’s an honour to share the stage with these FIFA Legends and be there to help decide the groups for the Russia 2018.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “It is a great line-up and I am delighted to have FIFA legends from all of the former World Cup winning countries represented in the Final Draw show.”
Infantino was one to heap praise on Russia for their hosting of the 2017 Confederations Cup last summer, which is a dress rehearsal tournament for the World Cup.
“[Before the tournament], we heard about a lot of problems: that no one would care, that the teams don’t want to come, they don’t want to play. We heard about violence, hooligans, incidents, racism – we had nothing, we had no incidents, everything ran smoothly,” he said at a press conference after the Confed Cup final.
“If this is what a problematic tournament looks like, then I hope there are many problematic tournaments, because it went very well. We can expect same warm welcome next year. This is what it is about – enjoying football,” he added.