The start of 2018 World Cup qualifying is still over a year away, but Israel’s hopes of reaching the tournament for the first time in 48 years were already all but dashed on Saturday after the blue-and-white was paired with former champions Spain and Italy.
The 52 European teams were divided into nine groups (seven groups of six teams and two groups of five teams) at Konstantin Palace outside of St. Petersburg, with only the winners of each group to qualify automatically. The eight best runners-up will advance to home-and-away playoffs, with the four winners to progress to Russia.
Israel will be optimistic of finishing ahead of Albania, Macedonia and Liechtenstein, who were also placed in Group G, but has no real chance of ending the group in front of global powerhouses Spain and Italy.
Spain was crowned world champion in 2010, while Italy won the last of its four titles in 2006.
The qualifiers will begin in September 2016 and run until November 2017.