Defending champion Spain gets repeat of 2010 final
One of the worst finals in World Cup history – Spain vs. the
Netherlands – will be reprised in one of the first games at the
But Friday’s draw proved kind, of sorts, for Brazil. The host
nation should make short work of its Group A.
Brazil, however, could then bang up against the Spanish or the
Dutch in the very first knockout game. Should it lose, not
unimaginable against such pedigree teams, the host nation’s sorrow
would surely suck some of the samba-loving sense of fun out of the
Three former winners – Italy, Uruguay and England – were tossed
together in one daunting group, meaning at least one of them is
bound to go home early.
The United States drew one of the shortest straws. Its game
schedule will send Jurgen Klinsmann’s team pinging around on a
9,000-mile (14,000-kilometer) trip around the world’s fifth-largest
Having only squeezed into the tournament via the play-offs, 1998
winner France could hardly believe its luck, drawing a manageable
group of Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras.
Argentina, champion in 1978 and 1986, first plays
Bosnia-Herzegovina, the only World Cup newcomer among the 32 teams.
That will be the first of seven games at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana
stadium, which also hosts the July 13 final. Argentina, a favorite
to win with four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi, then
plays Iran and Nigeria, which it beat in all three previous World
Argentina will be heavily favored to come out top of its Group
F. If so, it could find either Switzerland or France in its way in
its first knockout game. Those European nations will be hoping to
avoid Argentina by topping their Group E.
Defending champion Spain and the Netherlands, a three-time
finalist, first play each other. Hopefully, it won’t be a repeat of
the horror show that was the 2010 final, when referee Howard Webb
showed a record 14 yellow cards and could have sent off several
players, instead of just the one.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said that history should
challenge the teams to do better on June 13. He and Spain coach
Vincent del Bosque both warned against underestimating Chile, even
though it lost 6 of its 16 qualifying games, shipping 25 goals.
Del Bosque said the South Americans’ ”style of play is very
impressive, they make it very uncomfortable for opponents. They are
very hard-working, a very difficult team.”
Spain and the Netherlands will both want to top their Group B,
which also includes a very unimpressive Australia, because the
second-placed team faces the prospect of then meeting Brazil.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari didn’t want to think that far
ahead, saying: ”If you start thinking about the second round you
forget about the teams in the first round, which are
Brazil kicks off its campaign for a sixth World Cup title with
the opening match on June 12 against Croatia. That could be a
daunting experience for the Croats, playing their fourth World Cup.
Full-throated support from home fans helped lift Brazil at the
Confederations Cup warm-up tournament in June, where it beat world
champion Spain in the final.
In Group A, the home team also plays Mexico, which is competing
in its sixth successive World Cup but which had to beat New Zealand
in a playoff to qualify for the 2014 tournament.
Brazil’s last match is against Cameroon, which has only advanced
once from the group stage in six appearances.
Cameroon coach Volker Finke was concerned about the heat and
humidity his players will face in their second match, in the Amazon
basin city of Manaus.
Finke wasn’t alone. England coach Roy Hodgson had also voiced
misgivings before Friday’s draw, drawing a swift rebuke from the
Almost inevitably, the luck of the draw then threw them
together. England’s first game will be at Manaus’ Arena Amazonia,
against four-time champion Italy. Their Group D is among the
toughest, including Uruguay, a 2010 semifinalist and two-time
champion, and Costa Rica.
”In Italy and Uruguay it’s almost as though we have got two
number one seeds,” said Hodgson. ”We know how good Italy are
because we lost to them in the quarterfinals at the Euros. The game
is going to be tough from a climate point of view for both
With a field tougher than at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa,
the draw was never likely to produce an easy group. But some were
easier than others, not only because of the quality of opponents
but also because lucky teams will travel less and avoid some of the
France coach Didier Deschamps was thrilled that his team plays
its games in Rio and Porto Alegre in the south and Salvador on the
Atlantic coast. That good fortune favors France’s chances of
reaching the knockout stage, perhaps with Switzerland, the seeded
team in their Group E.
”We won’t play in the northern regions, where the temperatures
and the level of humidity are very high and the distances are very
long. We stay more or less in the same area, which is not too far
from our training camp. It’s rather good news,” said
Colombia, which will have one of the potential stars next June
in striker Radamel Falcao, got one of the weakest groups of Greece,
the Ivory Coast and Japan.
Topping that Group C would then see Colombia play the
second-best team in Group D, where Uruguay striker Luis Suarez, who
cannot stop scoring for his club Liverpool, will be expected to
Belgium, one of seven seeded teams in the draw, will fancy its
chances of advancing from Group H. Playing its first World Cup
since 2002, containing some of Europe’s most exciting young
players, Belgium first takes on Algeria, which has never moved
beyond the group stage in three previous appearances.
Coach Marc Wilmots’ team will also play 2018 World Cup host
Russia and South Korea, a semifinalist in 2002. If Belgium tops
that group it would then play the second-placed team from Group G.
That is likely to be whichever team from Portugal, Ghana or the
United States finishes behind Germany, one of the favorites to win
the monthlong tournament.
Germany, champion in 1954, 1974 and 1990, first plays Portugal,
with 2008 world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo. Germany’s
last group game is against the United States, which will be
particularly memorable for its coach, Klinsmann. He won the 1990
World Cup as a forward for Germany and coached his country to the
semifinal in 2006.
”I kind of had in my stomach that we were going to get
Germany,” said Klinsmann. ”Obviously it’s one of the most
difficult groups in the whole draw, having Portugal with Cristiano
Ronaldo and then Ghana, who has a history with the United States.
It couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger.”
Ghana eliminated the Americans at the 2006 and 2010
”But that’s what a World Cup is about,” said Klinsmann. ”It’s
a real challenge. And we’ll take it. We’ll take it on, and
hopefully we’re going to surprise some people there.”
AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Tales Azzoni contributed
from Costa do Sauipe.