COSTA DO SAUIPE: Dealing up a World Cup draw full of intrigue, FIFA on Friday set up a tantalising group phase at next year´s World Cup where reigning champions Spain will open their defence with a rematch of the 2010 final against the Netherlands.
The draw in the northeastern beach resort of Costa do Sauipe saw a variety of other subplots with England drawn in a group containing three former champions — themselves, four-time winners Italy and twice winners Uruguay — as well as Costa Rica.
Spain, who won their first title in South Africa four years ago, start their Group B campaign against the three-time runners-up on June 13 in Salvador.
They will also meet Chile, who they beat in the group stage in 2010, in Rio and Australia in Curitiba.
“I said to people this morning we were going to get Holland and we did, in the first game no less,” said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque. “Holland will demand that we start at our highest level.”
Hosts and five-time champions Brazil were drawn to face Croatia in the opening game, scheduled for Sao Paulo on June 12 — assuming the venue is ready after a fatal accident last week delayed prospective completion until April.
The Brazilians will then take on Mexico and Cameroon in a Group A that appears on the face of it unthreatening, if not easy.
“We must pay close attention to the opening phase,” said Brazil´s 2002 title-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
“We must play every game as if it were the final right from the outset.”
England, meanwhile, will start off with a Group D meeting against four-time champions Italy in the heat of Amazonian venue Manaus on June 14 — though it is at least an evening kick-off.
That match is a repeat of the Euro 2012 quarter-final, which Italy, who knocked England out of the 1978 World Cup qualifiers, won on penalties.
“It´s a tough group, there´s no doubt about that,” said England coach Roy Hodgson, whose team also face Uruguay, a third former champion in their group, and Costa Rica.
“In Italy and Uruguay it´s almost as though we have got two number one seeds in our group.”
Italian opposite number Cesare Prandelli said the group looked a tough call.
“It is the Group of Death, a very difficult group. We are worried about the distances we shall have to cover. The game against England will be very important,” Prandelli said.
After the Italians, Hodgson´s side then take on Uruguay in Sao Paulo on June 19 and Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte on June 24.
A notable subplot will see Germany go up against the United States, now coached by former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann in Recife on June 26 in their final pool match.
“That´s one of those crazy stories that football writes,” Klinsmann told German broadcaster ARD.
Germany, whose third and last title came in 1990, also drew Ghana and Portugal in Group G.Klinsmann coached Germany to third at the 2006 World Cup with current German boss Joachim Loew his then assistant.
Argentina, champions in 1978 and 1986, meet sole newcomers Bosnia in Rio on June 15 and then will face Iran and Nigeria.
“I am pleased with the draw as we didn´t get into a Group of Death scenario and we also shan´t have to travel huge distances,” said Alex Sabella, the Argentina coach.
“It´s a good group for us,” said Nigeria assistant coach Daniel Amokachi.
Former England boss Fabio Capello was happy after he saw his Russian charges draw seeded Belgium, South Korea and Algeria in Group H.
“I´m pleased with the draw. Some of the other groups consist of much stronger teams,” said Capello, a second-round loser with England in 2010.
France, champions in 1998 but forced to come through the playoffs, will meet Group E seeds Switzerland as well as Ecuador and Honduras.
Japan, meanwhile, saw themselves lumped in with seeded Colombia, Ivory Coast and Greece in Group C.
After a poignant homage to the late Nelson Mandela — Brazil will now observe seven days of mourning for his loss — the draw began to the exhilarating sound of samba at the northeastern beach resort of Costa do Sauipe.
The draw build-up had been dominated by news of stadium delays and anti-World Cup campaigners threatening public protest.
Yet Mandela´s death changed the tone as participants remembered how he saw in sport a means of fostering social progress. (AFP)