Another significant step towards the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ will be taken on Saturday 25 July when the Preliminary Draw is held in St Petersburg's Konstantin Palace.
The draw ceremony, which starts at 18.00 local time, will determine which teams face off in the various qualifying competitions across the globe, with the fate of 141 nations from five confederations set to be revealed. *
But while the focus will be firmly on 2018, the draw assistants will include a youngster who helped make history for his country at a more recent global showpiece. Just a few short weeks have passed since goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic captained Serbia to a momentous triumph at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, capturing the adidas Golden Glove after inspiring the outsiders' dramatic final win over Brazil.
That award reflected his status as the tournament's outstanding goalkeeper, although the Red Star Belgrade keeper was keen to ensure the triumph was recognised as a truly collective effort. "It was fabulous," he said. "But I want to stress that it was not just me who won, but the whole team. We were successful in making history for Serbia."
Transformed into a national celebrity by skippering Serbia to their first global success as an independent nation, Rajkovic is now set to find himself in the limelight again as he rubs shoulder with the game's glitterati in Russia. He will certainly be in illustrious company on stage next to a star-studded line-up that includes football icons such as Ronaldo, Fabio Cannavaro and Olivier Bierhoff. "There will be many big names from the world of football at the draw and I am looking forward to the experience," he enthused. "I am proud to be involved in it."
Like every football fan, the 19-year-old has grown up dreaming of one day playing in the FIFA World Cup. His youth, however, ensures that his standout memories are not of 1970 or other iconic editions, but of a more recent tournament.
He said: "I was 11 years old during the 2006 World Cup in Germany and closely following the Serbia-Montenegro team. Unfortunately they didn’t do so well, but I hope that in 2018 the Serbian team will perform better in Russia.
"Since I was small I have been watching the World Cup - the big players and matches - with great interest and I have always wanted to be part of it."
And with the Preliminary Draw now upon us, who does he feel will be the teams to avoid? "There are many potential favourites," he said. "Teams like Argentina, England and Spain... apart from Serbia of course!"
** AFC's member associations will not be involved in the Preliminary Draw. *