By Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will host the 2018 World Cup draw on Friday, the glittering ceremony providing a welcome distraction to the unrelenting diet of doping and corruption news that has sullied the nation's sporting reputation in recent years.
The draw ceremony gives Russia the chance to showcase the cities and stadiums that will host the 32 teams next June and July. Former England striker Gary Lineker, the 1986 World Cup's Golden Boot winner as leading goalscorer, and Russian sports journalist Maria Komandnaya are the main presenters.
In a new simplified format, the teams will be placed in pots one to four from highest to lowest FIFA ranking with the exception of Russia, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, who are automatically in pot one alongside the top seeds.
Each pot will be emptied one by one into eight groups which will contain four teams each. Two non-European teams from the same confederation cannot be in the same group to avoid geographic clashes.
With 14 qualified European teams there cannot be more than two European teams in the same group.
"Really to be honest, if you are going to win the World Cup, it doesn't matter who comes out of that draw," draw assistant Gordon Banks, who won the 1966 World Cup with England, told reporters on Thursday at the Kremlin.
"Because you've got to get out there and you've got to play the best you can. Play as a team and keep going, and that's what we did when we won it."
While the draw ceremony, which the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin could attend, will focus on the positive aspects of the tournament, it will also serve as a reminder of the potential problems, notably concerns over racist and discriminatory behaviour and hooliganism.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino warned this week that referees will have the power to stop or even abandon World Cup matches if such incidents take place.
The authorities have said that World Cup preparations are generally on track but there have been construction delays, including on the new stadium in Samara.
Work on the 45,000-seat venue, which will host four group matches, a game in the round-of-16 and a quarter-final, has been plagued by delays over recent months.
Authorities have promised that the venue will be completed on time.
FIFA said around 750,000 tickets have been allocated in the first phase of sales, with the second phase beginning next week.
Russian fans have acquired the most tickets followed by American supporters even though their team did not qualify for the tournament. Brazil, Germany, China and Mexico are also among the leading nations for purchases, FIFA said.
"We're happy with the number of tickets we've allocated," Falk Eller, the head of FIFA ticketing, told Reuters.
"Of course, we are also glad that the operation went quite well, no technical glitches, no problems."
All World Cup ticket holders are required to obtain a personalised fan-ID, allowing authorities to screen them and keep hooligans away from matches.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)