World Cup 2014 qualifying draw

Reigning champions Spain are drawn with France as the 2014 World Cup qualifying groups are announced in Brazil.

    Brazil's newly appointed World Cup ambassador Pele was in the crowd to watch the draw [GALLO/GETTY] 

    World champions Spain were drawn with France, Georgia, Belarus and Finland in qualifying for the 2014 tournament on Saturday.

    Officially kicking off proceedings for what will be the first World Cup in Brazil in 64 years, the draw pitted England with 2012 European Championship co-hosts Ukraine and Poland in Group H.

    Italy shall meet Denmark and the Czech Republic in Group B, while Germany faces Sweden, Austria and Ireland in Group C.

    The draw in Rio de Janeiro determined the path of 166 teams in their bid to qualify for the tournament in three years' time. It was the first major World Cup event in Brazil since the South American nation was awarded the competition in 2007. As hosts, Brazil are the only nation that do not have to qualify.

    "We are happy to be back in Brazil," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said.

    Fifty-three European nations were divided into nine groups, with the winners automatically qualifying and the eight best group runners-up advancing to a playoff. The European qualifying matches will begin September 7 and end October 15, 2013.

    Tricky Group I  

    Spain is in difficult Group I, the only one with five teams instead of six.

    The Netherlands, runners-up in South Africa, were drawn in Group D with Turkey, Hungary and Romania, while Portugal will have to face Russia and Israel in Group F.

    Group A has Croatia, Serbia, Belgium and Scotland. Greece will play Slovakia in Group G, while Norway were drawn in Group E with Slovenia and Switzerland.

    The United States were drawn with Jamaica in qualifying for the North, Central America and Caribbean region. The other two teams in Group A will come from preliminary qualifying matches that include Haiti, Guatemala, the U.S. Virgin Islands and five other nations.

    Mexico are in Group B with Costa Rica, while Cuba and Honduras are in Group C. All three group winners and runners-up will advance to a final qualifying round, beginning February 2013.

    In Asia, Japan will face Uzbekistan, Syria and North Korea in Group C, while Australia play Saudi Arabia, Oman and Thailand in Group D.

             FIFA President Sepp Blatter was happy to see the World Cup back in football-loving Brazil  [GETTY] 

    Iran, Bahrain and Qatar were drawn in the same Group E, along with Indonesia, while China is in Group A with Iraq, Jordan and Singapore.

    The African teams were divided into 10 groups for qualifiers beginning in November. South Africa, last year's World Cup hosts, were drawn in Group A along with Botswana. Ghana, the best African team last year, are in Group D with Zambia and Sudan.

    South America was not included in the draw because the continent's nine teams will be placed in a single group. They will play each other twice, home and away, with the top four finishers securing a World Cup spot.

    The fifth-placed team will advance to an intercontinental playoff against a team from Asia. The other playoff will pit teams from CONCACAF and Oceania.

    The qualifiers began June 15 and will end November 19, 2013, after 824 matches. Twenty-eight teams were eliminated in preliminary rounds before Saturday's draw.

    The World Cup will be played from June 12 to July 13, and the complete match schedule will be announced in October.

    "We love football," Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said at the draw.

    "Today, Brazil is admired for more than just football, music and its popular festivities. I invite you to come visit us. You will find a country very well prepared for the World Cup."

    Brazilian media reported that about 1,000 protesters were protesting near the site of the draw against the removal of families from areas where the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics will be held. Some were also protesting against the nearly $20 million of public funds said to have been spent for Saturday's event.

    More than 35 coaches and representatives from 104 national teams were in attendance. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Pele, Ronaldo and Michel Platini were also at Marina da Gloria harbor in Rio.

    Strong wind damaged part of the auditorium holding the draw just before it was to start, but workers fixed the problem in time and the event was not disrupted.



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