The Preliminary Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ is a major milestone on the road to Russia 2018 and it is only appropriate that truly global footballing stars will be taking part with important responsibilities.
The group of star-studded Draw Assistants has graced the stage of the world's game in the most important competitions in world football and has given millions of fans memories and moments which will endure forever.
Ronaldo is one of two Draw Assistants in Saint Petersburg with a FIFA World Cup winners medal to his name, but it's only appropriate to start with the former Brazil frontman as he has won the most!
A winner with Brazil at Korea/Japan 2002, Brazil's all-time leading goalscorer at the world finals participated in four World Cups from 1994 to 2006, scoring an impressive 15 goals. Ronaldo also played in 15 World Cup qualifiers, helping his country by recording ten goals in the preliminaries.
O Fenômeno, truly a phenomenon in every sense, recently told FIFA.com: “Organising the World Cup is an opportunity for Russia to showcase its culture. I’m sure it will be a wonderful tournament, just like the previous ones.”
Ronaldo spent several years in Italy, predominantly with Inter Milan, and he will be joined by one of Italy's all-time greats and fellow World Cup winner, Fabio Cannavaro.
Cannavaro's impressive career spans over two decades replete with silverware and memorable moments with the highlight undoubtedly being his inspirational performance as captain of Italy, helping his country lift the World Cup at Germany 2006. In recent years, Cannavaro has brought his expertise into the coaching realm, so it is possible that we could be seeing the Italian on the touchline at a World Cup in the near future.
Cannavaro's last appearance for his country at a World Cup came at South Africa 2010, a tournament in which a certain Uruguayan shone brightest.
Diego Forlan has certainly written his name in the list of Uruguay's all-time greats and his performances at South Africa eventually led to him being awarded the adidas Golden Ball. Forlan's World Cup qualifying record also makes for impressive reading as he scored 15 goals in 46 matches. Forlan recently announced his retirement from international football, along with another star, Samuel Eto'o.
The 34-year-old scored 56 goals in 117 appearances for Cameroon and is a veteran of four world-finals campaigns with the Indomitable Lions between 2002 and 2014. He is often regarded as one of the most decorated African footballers of all time.
From one decorated player to the next, Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff was a hugely-important forward for his country in the 1990s and early 2000s. He gave plenty of defences in the Bundesliga and Serie A a tough time during his career. Bierhoff also played in the 2002 World Cup Final against fellow Draw Assistant Ronaldo.
Closer to home
Russia striker Alexander Kerzhakov, celebrated former USSR goalkeeper Rinat Dasaev and former Russia captain Alexey Smertin are three Draw Assistants who will proudly represent the Host Country at the Konstantin Palace in Saint Petersburg on Saturday.
Kerzhakov represented Russia in Japan and Korea Republic in 2002, and again in Brazil in 2014. He has significance to the local audience as he plies his trade for Russian club champions Zenit St. Petersburg. The 32-year-old has given Zenit fans a lot to cheer about over the years with 55 goals in 115 league appearances, who is now in his second stint with the club.
Goalkeeper Rinat Dasaev represented USSR at three World Cups from 1982 to 1990. In 1980, the gifted goalkeeper picked up a bronze medal at the Olympic Football Tournament in Moscow, while in 1988, he inspired his team to the final of the European Championship, where they lost to the Netherlands.
Alexey Smertin appeared at Korea/Japan 2002 and UEFA EURO 2004, and is one of his country’s most successful players. His impressive career spanned across Russia, France and England.
There are also two players joining the Draw Assistants who will be in great spirits having both won their respective tournaments. Portugal's beach soccer legend Madjer has made the trek to Russia from Espinho with a wide smile on his face having led the host country at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2015 to lift the title.
From the beach to the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Predrag Rajkovic captained Serbia to an historic U-20 title at New Zealand 2015 in June. He was the outstanding goalkeeper at the tournament capturing the adidas Golden Glove after inspiring the outsiders' dramatic final win over Brazil.
That will conclude our trip down memory lane, so when you're watching the draw tomorrow you will be able to grasp the years of footballing history the Draw Assistants represent as the world watches the groups form in front of their eyes.