Lineker: The World Cup is very special

  • Gary Lineker celebrates his 57th birthday today

  • Former England striker will host tomorrow’s Final Draw

  • Lineker discusses his World Cup memories and England’s Russia 2018 chances

Gary Lineker will not forget his 57th birthday in a hurry. The Mexico 1986 adidas Golden Boot winner will be celebrating it miles from home, in Moscow, where he will take on one of the biggest challenges of his career as a presenter by hosting the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

With just hours to go before the ceremony, Lineker found time to chat with about his role at the event, the favourites to win the title and England’s chances next year. What are your expectations ahead of the Final Draw in Moscow? Gary Lineker: On a personal level I hope that everything goes off as it should, we don’t have any problems, and I don’t make any big mistakes! (laughs) Seriously, though, it’s a great occasion and a moment to savour. I might be a bit nervous. I’ve presented a lot of events on TV but this is different. It’s tricky, but we hope everything works out alright.

Having some former colleagues around you will help, no doubt. We’ve practically got a whole football team together! There’ll be eight assistants helping out with the draw – genuine legends of the game who have virtually all won the World Cup before. And we’ll have our representative from Russia too: Nikita Simonyan. He’s 91 and he’s in really good shape. It’s amazing. Let’s hope that everything goes well and that he can guide us in the right direction.

Does taking part in a big event like this arouse memories of the World Cup for you? The World Cup has been really good to me. I played in two: I won the Golden Boot in the first and scored a few more goals in the second and reached the semi-finals. I’ve also worked on the last six for the BBC, something I hope to do again next year. I think every player loves taking part in it. It’s a unique opportunity to show what you can do on the biggest stage of all and against the very best. The World Cup is very special; there’s no doubt about that.

Can you describe the tournament in three words? What? In two or three words? (laughs) “The best sporting event on the planet”. That’s a couple of words more, but I think I’ve done pretty well!

What would you give to play in it again? I think that when it comes to playing in the World Cup I achieved what I set out to do. Things wouldn’t go as well for me if I wanted to play in it again. There’s a reason why we retire, isn’t there? My legs wouldn’t react the way they ought to and I’m not in shape. I think I did my bit.

Who do you see as favourites for the title? It’s probably going to be the usual suspects: Brazil and Germany. You can’t rule them out, as history shows that they’ve always been successful. Spain will be competitive again, but if I had to pick a team right now, for the squad they have, then I’d go for France. Look at the players they’ve got: a good goalkeeper, a very strong defence and a very talented midfield. (N’Golo) Kante is amazing! Up front they’ve got (Kylian) Mbappe, who’s a potential superstar. They’re in great shape and they’ll be right in the mix for sure.

And what about England? I don’t think they’re among the favourites this time. We haven’t been for a while in fact. We’ve got some talented players coming through, some very good young players, though next year is maybe going to come a bit too soon for them. They’ve had a lot of success at the U-17 and U-20 World Cups, but I don’t think it’s their time yet, though you never know. We’ll be competitive at this World Cup, which hasn’t been the case with us in recent times.

Finally, let’s take you forward to Friday 1 December. The lights come up and Gary Lineker is alone, about to walk on to the stage. What’s the last thought that will be going through your head? ‘Don’t mess it up!’ That’s what I’ll be thinking before I walk out on to the stage.