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

2014 edition.

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

tournament.

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

country.

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

Cup encounters.

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

important.”

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

Manaus mayor.

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

teams.”

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

hottest venues.

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

Deschamps.

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

shine.

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

tournaments.

”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.