Host Brazil avoids tough group in World Cup draw

Brazil escaped tough opponents in the group stage of next year’s

World Cup but will probably face a major rival as early as the

second round.

Friday’s draw put Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon in Group A along

with Brazil, teams that really shouldn’t keep the hosts and

five-time winners from advancing.

But defending champion Spain or the Netherlands are lurking,

likely to be the next opponents for the hosts in the second round.

For that to happen, they need to finish as the top teams in Group

B, which also contains Chile and Australia. The Dutch were

runner-ups to Spain in 2010, when they eliminated Brazil in the

quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinals, Brazil has a chance to play against one of

the teams in Group D, which has world champions Uruguay, England

and Italy, in addition to Costa Rica.

“We can’t worry too far ahead past the group stage,” coach Luiz

Felipe Scolari said. “If you start thinking about the second round

you forget about the teams in the first round, which are important.

We have to worry about these teams first.”

But Brazil hasn’t had significant problems with its first-round

opponents. Brazil played Croatia in its opening match in 2006,

winning 1-0 in Berlin. It beat Cameroon 3-0 in the first round in

1994, when it eventually won its fourth World Cup title in the

United States.

Brazil defeated Mexico all three times it played in the World

Cup (1950, ’54 and ’62), and it also got past the Latin American

rival in the group stage of the Confederations Cup this year, the

warm-up tournament it won.

“Croatia has a beautiful game, Cameroon has done some great

things against top teams in the World Cup and Mexico is always a

tough opponent for us,” Scolari said. “We have to prepare to play

these matches and then we can think about the future.”

Scolari said he is happy Brazil will play a European team in the

June 12 opener in Sao Paulo.

“Europeans teams always take longer to adapt to the conditions

in Brazil,” Scolari said. “This first match is always difficult for

all teams, but we live here, we work here, it’s our country, so for

us it’s a little bit easier. In these first three matches it’s

important to get off to a good start.”

France was the last team to win the World Cup at home, when it

beat Brazil in the 1998 final.

Scolari was Brazil’s coach when it won its last World Cup title

in 2002. Since then, Brazil didn’t make it past the quarterfinals

in the last two World Cups. It lost to France in 2006 in Germany –

despite a team with Ronaldinho, Kaka, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo –

and fell to the Netherlands 2-1 in 2010 in South Africa.

Scolari had a difficult start after returning in December 2012,

but Brazil has won 11 of the last 12 matches it played. It won the

Confederations Cup this year by beating world champion Spain 3-0 in

the final at the Maracana Stadium. It got a huge boost from the

boisterous home crowd in all matches, and more of the same is

expected next year.

Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni