RIO DE JANEIRO - World champions Spain
will face former world champions France in their campaign to
qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014 following
Saturday's gala preliminary round draw.
Spain, who are also the European champions, were the last
name drawn in the European qualifying zone and the last of the
166 countries to be allocated a place in the 107-minute globally
televised event in a windswept auditorium at Rio's glamouros
Marina da Gloria.
High winds buffeted the temporary building before the draw
started, causing slight damage to the roof, but inside stars of
showbiz and football were unaffected with Pele given a huge
welcome when he was introduced to the audience.
Pele, who won three World Cups with Brazil, took no formal
part in the proceedings but another former Brazil striker
Ronaldo, the World Cup's record scorer with 15 goals, drew
Spain's name out to place them alongside Belarus, Georgia and
Finland in the five-team Group I.
The other eight European groups consist of six teams.
French coach Laurent Blanc, in Rio unlike Spain boss Vicente
del Bosque, said afterwards: "We had to face one of the top
seeds, and we got the biggest because we are somehow in the
second group of seeds. We should have been in the first group -
and now we have drawn the best team of the last World Cup, but
then, you have no choice."
With only the group winner assured of an automatic place in
the finals, one of Spain or France will most likely have to
qualify through the play-offs to reach Brazil.
The European draw, was, as always, the highlight of the
proceedings and produced some tantalising battles when the
qualifiers start in the autumn of 2012 after the European
championship in Poland and Ukraine.
Coinicidentally those two co-hosts were drawn in the same
group along with top seeded England, who have faced Poland in
seven previous World Cups.
Montenegro, who are also in England's group for the Euro
2012 qualifiers, were placed in the same group as tiny San
There will be plenty at stake too when seeded Croatia and
Serbia, once part of the old Yugoslavia, meet each other in
Group A which includes British rivals Scotland and Wales as well
as Belgium and Macedonia.
The Netherlands, runners-up to Spain in a bad-tempered World
Cup final last year and on course for the Euros next year having
won all six of their qualifiers so far, face Hungary, who they
beat 5-3 at home and 4-0 away in their Euro qualifiers in March.
Turkey, Romania, Estonia and Andorra complete the group.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk told reporters: "Our group has
three really big football nations, Romania, Hungary and Turkey.
I think Turkey are the highest ranked at the moment, they will
be the most difficult opponents. We played a friendly against
them recently and won 1-0 but it was a very hard game."
Four times world champions Italy seem to have a fairly
comfortable draw with Denmark and the Czech Republic their main
Triple World champions Germany should have little trouble
qualifying from Group C that includes Sweden and Ireland,
Austria and the Faroe Islands.
Draws for five of FIFA's six confederations took place with
no draw for the South American zone as their nine teams play in
one league. Hosts Brazil have qualified automatically for the
first finals they will stage since 1950 and either four or five
South American neighbours will be hoping to join them.
Four will qualify automatically and an extra one will take
their place if they beat an Asian qualifier in a play-off.
Asian champions Japan face Uzbekistan, Syria and North Korea
in their section.
African champions Egypt should coast through to the next
round of their competition after being paired with Guinea,
Zimbabwe and either Comoros or Mozambique who play in a
South Africa, who hosted the last World Cup, face neighbours
Botswana as they attempt to reach the finals for the fourth
The draw was held on the 81st anniversary of the first World
Cup final which Uruguay won in 1930 and the 45th anniversary of
the day in 1966 when England triumphed.
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