Draw fa­vors Cup heavy­weights

Big guns breathe a sigh of relief at gala cer­e­mony

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By REUTERS in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil

The con­vo­luted draw for next year’s World Cup fi­nals in Brazil on Fri­day pro­duced a set of groups in which most of soc­cer’s big guns will fancy their chances of reach­ing the knock­out stages. Group D, fea­tur­ing for­mer win­ners Eng­land, Italy and Uruguay, along with Costa Rica, is prob­a­bly the ex­cep­tion, while Spain and the Nether­lands, who met in the 2010 fi­nal, will have to be well pre­pared to see off Chile and Aus­tralia in Group B.

Host na­tion Brazil will kick off the tour­na­ment against Croa­tia in Sao Paulo on June 12 and the fa­vorite should be rel­a­tively happy with a Group A also con­tain­ing Mex­ico and Cameroon as it seeks its sixth ti­tle.

“We ended up in a strong group, one that gives you goose bumps,” said Brazil cap­tain Thi­ago Silva.

“A strong African side, per­haps one of the best, Mex­ico, who have been a tough ad­ver­sary for us, and Croa­tia, who are a strong team phys­i­cally. It is very dif­fi­cult but we are ready.”

One for­mer cham­pion is sure to go out from Group D, with Eng­land against Italy in the jun­gle city of Manaus a mouth­wa­ter­ing opener for the two Euro­pean sides.

“We know how good Italy are be­cause we lost to them in the quar­ter­fi­nals at the (2012) Eu­ros,” said Eng­land boss Roy Hodg­son.

“The game is go­ing to be tough from a cli­mate point of view for both teams. We are both in the same boat.”

For­ward Diego For­lan, who helped Uruguay to the semi­fi­nals in 2010, said: “In com­par­i­son with what other teams got, it is the hard­est group of this World Cup.

“But you have to play the matches and at the last World Cup we were in a very com­pli­cated group but came through well.”

World and Euro­pean cham­pion Spain be­gins its de­fense with a re­peat of the phys­i­cal 2010 fi­nal against the Nether­lands in Rio’s Mara­cana.

“We will have to be pre­pared right from the first day, fo­cus our­selves,” said coach Vi­cente del Bosque, know­ing the group run­ner-up is likely to face Brazil in the first knock­out round.

“I ex­pect that Brazil will be first in their group so we will have to take great pains to do the same,” he said.

Ger­many will come face-to­face with its for­mer striker and coach Juer­gen Klins­mann, now in charge of the United States, with Por­tu­gal and Ghana com­plet­ing the Group G lineup.

“Of course, a spe­cial mo­ment for me to play against Ger­many but we beat them in a friendly this year and once you get on the pitch they are the just the op­po­nent,” said Klins­mann, who won the World Cup as a player in 1990.

France, which qual­i­fied via the play­offs, will be pleased with a Group E plac­ing along­side Ecuador, Switzer­land and Hon­duras.

“It could have been more com­pli­cated,” said coach Di­dier Deschamps.

“We know Switzer­land well. They were seeded so ob­vi­ously the tough­est op­po­nent. We don’t know Ecuador and Hon­duras that well and it will have an in­flu­ence on our prepa­ra­tion.”

Bos­nia, the only one of the 32 teams tak­ing part in its first World Cup fi­nals, will have a dream start to its ad­ven­ture as it kicks off against Ar­gentina in the Mara­cana be­fore fac­ing Iran and Nige­ria.

“Ar­gentina are the group fa­vorite and it will be a very spe­cial oc­ca­sion for us to play our open­ing match against them at the Mara­cana Sta­dium,” said coach Safet Su­sic.

“We should have an even chance along­side Nige­ria to clinch the run­ners- up spot, al­though no one should un­der­es­ti­mate Iran ei­ther.”

Fan­cied Bel­gium heads Group H along­side Al­ge­ria, Rus­sia and South Korea while Group C, con­tain­ing Colombia, Greece, Cote d’Ivoire and Ja­pan, looks the tough­est to pre­dict.

SER­GIO MO­RAES/REUTERS

FIFA pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter (bot­tom row, right) smiles along­side Italy’s coach, Ce­sare Pran­delli (bot­tom row, sec­ond right), and France’s coach, Di­dier Deschamps, (bot­tom row, sec­ond left) dur­ing their group photo af­ter the draw for the 2014 World Cup fi­nals was made in Sao Joao da Mata, Brazil, on Fri­day. The 2014 World Cup fi­nals will be held in Brazil from June 12 through to July 13.

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