Defending champion Spain gets repeat of 2010 final

Defending champion Spain will play its opening World Cup game

against the Netherlands, a repeat of the ill-tempered 2010 final,

while host Brazil faces a relatively easy path to the knockout

stage after Friday’s draw.

The draw was full of bad news for the United States, which has

the toughest group and the worst travel schedule. The U.S. opens

with African power Ghana on June 16 on the coast in Natal, then

plays Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Amazon rain forest city

of Manaus. The Americans then go to back to the northern coast to

play Germany, one of the favorites, in Recife.

”I kind of had in my stomach that we were going to get

Germany,” said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who played for

Germany’s 1990 World Cup championship team and coached his native

country to third place in 2006. ”Obviously it’s one of the most

difficult groups in the whole draw.”

Brazil starts its campaign for a sixth World Cup title with an

opener against Croatia. Mexico, which struggled to qualify, and

Cameroon are also in the group.

Argentina, champion in 1978 and 1986, first plays

Bosnia-Herzegovina, the only World Cup newcomer among the 32 teams.

After that game in Rio de Janeiro, the Argentine team and four-time

world player of the year Lionel Messi plays Iran and Nigeria. In

six previous World Cup encounters, Nigeria has beaten Argentina

just once.

Argentina will be heavily favored to come out on top of Group F.

If so, it could find either Switzerland or France in its first

knockout game. Those European nations will be hoping to come out on

top of their Group E that includes Ecuador and Honduras.

The Spain-Netherlands match is on June 13. When they met at the

2010 final, referee Howard Webb showed a record 14 yellow cards.

Chile and Australia are the other two teams in the Group B.

England’s first match will be against four-time champion Italy

in the heat and humidity of the Amazon basin, which coach Roy

Hodgson had said he wanted to avoid.

Italy and England will have to play their best to advance from

Group D, since it also includes 2010 semifinalist Uruguay and Costa

Rica.

”It’s a tough group, there’s no doubt about that. In Italy and

Uruguay it’s almost as though we have got two number one seeds in

our group,” Hodgson said.

England could also face hostility from the home crowd after the

city’s mayor said he did not want the English in Manaus because

they complained about the climate.

Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan are in Group C.

One of the easiest groups on paper looked to be E, with

Switzerland, Ecuador, France and Honduras.

Russia, host of the next World Cup, is in Group H with Belgium,

Algeria and Korea.