England come out of the pot...is it into the fire? [GALLO/GETTY]

England were drawn to face their latest European tormentors Croatia once again when the preliminary draw for the 2010 World Cup.

Croatia beat England 3-2 at Wembley on Wednesday to knock the game's founders out of Euro 2008 and also beat them 2-0 in an earlier group qualifying game.

The pairing was the highlight of the draw among four continental confederations for a qualifying competition which will produce 31 finalists to join hosts South Africa.

There were gasps in the audience at Durban's International Convention Centre when the two were paired in European Group 6, which also includes Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Andorra.

The winners of each of nine European groups qualify while the eight best runners-up compete in playoffs for four places in the finals.

World champions Italy were drawn in Group 8 with their main rivals Bulgaria and Ireland.

France, losing finalists last year at the World Cup in Germany, face Romania and Serbia in Group 7.

Italian federation president Giancarlo Abete said he was happy with the draw.

"It's a very good draw for us. It's a group we should win as we are world champions."

the Italian said he was sitting next to the English delegation when Croatia were announced in their group.

"I looked across and they looked a little afraid to me," he said.

European qualifying groups (

Group winners qualify; top eight second-place teams advance to playoffs for four more spots:

Group One: Albania, Denmark, Hungary, Malta, Portugal, Sweden

Group Two: Greece, Israel, Latvia, Luxembourg, Moldova, Switzerland

Group Three: Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Poland, San Marino,
Slovakia, Slovenia

Group Four: Azerbaijan, Finland, Germany, Liechtenstein, Russia, Wales

Group Five: Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Spain, Turkey

Group Six: Andorra, Belarus, Croatia, England, Kazakhstan, Ukraine

Group Seven: Austria, Faeroe Islands, France, Lithuania, Romania, Serbia

Group Eight: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro

Group Nine: Iceland, Macedonia, Netherlands, Norway, Scotland

Source: Agencies