The draw for next year’s FIFA World Cup was made on Friday, as the 32 qualified nations learned their opponents for the group stage, which gets underway in Sao Paulo on June 12th. The tournament has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons of late, with numerous delays in completing the building of stadia. Many Brazilians also took to the streets earlier this year to protest over a number of issues, including the spiralling costs of hosting the tournament. However, on Friday the focus was back on Brazil for footballing reasons, and the draw threw up several intriguing and exciting match-ups.
In Group A, hosts Brazil were drawn with Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico; a group they will be expected to progress from. Their triumph in the Confederations Cup this year has served only to intensify the expectations on the hosts, and anything less than winning the tournament will be considered a failure. The hopes of a nation will lie with the Brazilian team – and in particular with Neymar who, despite being only 21, is set to be the player that they will look to for inspiration.
Reigning champions Spain headline Group B, and will face Netherlands in a repeat of their tense final in South Africa three years ago. Australia and attack-minded Chile will join them in a tricky group. Spain were beaten by Brazil in the final of the Confederations Cup this year, and some have suggested that they have already hit their peak, winning the European Championships in 2008 and 2012, as well as triumphing in South Africa three years ago. Yet, if they were to retain the World Cup then it would surely cement their place among the greatest national teams ever.
Columbia will fancy their chances in Group C against Ivory Coast, Greece and Japan. Out of the four, only Japan and Columbia have ever reached the knockout stages but both have failed to get past the Last 16 stage. The heat and humidity may well play a part in the outcome of the tournament, and is likely to favour South American teams such as Columbia who are accustomed to the conditions. In Radamel Falcao they have a world class striker, and they may well be dark horses after underlining their credentials in a successful qualifying campaign.
England will have to battle through a tough Group D if they wish to progress; they will face four-time champions Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. They have never beaten Uruguay or Italy in tournament football and it looks set to be a very tight group. Perhaps Italy’s experience of playing in Brazil this summer in the Confederations Cup can stand them in good stead, giving them an invaluable insight into the conditions.
Group E looks extremely favourable for 1998 winners France, who were forced to come through the play-offs to make the tournament. They will be up against Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland – who were among the top seeds in the draw.
Argentina’s bid to win their first World Cup since 1986 was given a boost as they were grouped with Iran, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Nigeria in Group F. They won the last World Cup that was staged in South America, and Brazil 2014 is seen as a great opportunity for them to win a third World Cup, and for Lionel Messi to add to his already extraordinary career achievements.
The much fancied Germany have been pitted against Portugal, USA and Ghana in a tough Group G. The three-time champions have reached at least the semi-finals in each of the last three World Cups. They will face USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who was part of the Germans’ 1990 World Cup winning side. After carrying his team through qualifying, Cristiano Ronaldo’s scintillating form can also make Portugal a threat.
Group H is made up of the vastly improved Belgium, Fabio Capello’s Russia, South Korea and Algeria. Belgium and Russia will be expected to progress but all four teams will be happy with the draw, avoiding the main favourites for the tournament.
The South American teams will be the most content with the outcome of the draw. Both Brazil and Argentina look to have avoided the other favourites and, if they both go through, will be on opposite sides of the tournament tree from one another. Regardless of how difficult some of the groups are for some of the European nations such as Germany and Italy, if they are good enough to win the tournament then they will be able to progress from their group. The excitement and anticipation for the tournament has been building ever since Brazil was awarded the hosting of the World Cup, and continued throughout the two year qualifying campaign. The draw has truly kick-started the countdown, as fans, players and managers alike look forward to what promises to be an incredible festival of football, culminating in the final in Rio de Janiero on the 13th July.