Teams across the globe—203 countries to be exact—attempted to qualify for 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, and the 32 still standing now know where they will play when the tournament begins next summer, just 187 days away.
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
The draw took place in resplendent resort in Costa do Sauipe on the coast of Bahia, and didn’t give any favors to the USA or Mexico—they were matched against a tremendous trio befitting the “Group of Death” moniker and the event’s hosts, respectively. It did do wonders for neutral supporters as we’ll see a reprise of the 2010 final between Spain and Holland in the group stage on the second day of the tournament.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke conducted the draw with the help of legendary players such as Cafu, Zinedine Zidane, Fabio Cannavaro and Mario Kempes, alongside 1,300 guests and 2,000 credentials journalists on hand.
When the world gathers for the 20th signature soccer tournament, the games will begin as such:
Brazil, Mexico, Croatia, Cameroon
The favorites to advance: Brazil and Croatia
If the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil was any guide, the Selecao not only boast a collection of some of the games greatest players—Neymar, Oscar, Hulk and Thiago Silva to name a few—but will receive a considerable boost playing in front of their countrymen. Luis Filipe Scolari’s men enter the tournament as one of the favorites, and passage through Group A seems a near certainty.
Mexico, which had to beat New Zealand in an Intercontinental Playoff to book a place here, will need a massive ramp up in performance to advance. They had to play hosts South Africa in 2010, as well, and can count on that experience to attempt to foil Brazil’s side.
The tournament will begin with Brazil and Croatia, the 16th best team according to FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking will rely on Real Madrid man Luka Modric and captain Darijo Srna to pave a path to the Round of 16. They seem most likely to advance based on consistency and their history playing together.
Spain, Holland, Chile, Australia
The favorites to advance: Spain and Holland
Tim Cahill’s 34th birthday didn’t bring the best of gifts for the Socceroos star. Australia is a long shot to advance after being placed against FIFA World Cup™ holders and and runner-ups Spain and Holland, not to mention Chile. The South American side dismantled England in a recent friendly at Wembley Stadium behind Barcelona and Juventus stars Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. Chile and Spain were also in the same group in 2010 with La Furia Roja winning the contest 2-1 but both teams advancing with six points.
A rematch of the contemptuous final in South Africa will open Group B, and assuming each team comes out of the match in tact—there were 14 yellow cards in the 2010 final—both will be favored to move on to the knockout round.
You already know the story with Spain, one of the greatest national sides ever assembled. For Holland, always a threat to advance deep into the World Cup having reached the final on three occasions, though never lifting the cup, hopes hinge on Robin Van Persie. The Manchester United striker netted the most goals in Europe in qualifying with 11 in nine appearances.
Whoever finishes second in this group faces the precarious prospect of meeting the host country Brazil in the first knockout round.
Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
The favorites to advance: Colombia and Ivory Coast
At 17th in the world rankings, Ivory Coast looks poised to finally cash in on their Golden Generation of Didier Drogba, the Toure brothers (Yaya and Kolo), Gervinho and Emmanuel Eboue, among others, after finally getting a decent draw in this event.
Colombia, in their first FIFA World Cup™ since 1998, will feel confident of advancing, but will have to deal with, in addition to Ivory Coast, the stingy Greek defense and an inventive Japanese team that got experience playing in Brazil at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup™.
Shinji Okazaki is Japan’s talisman and led the way in Asian qualifying. He receives timely, intelligent service from creative brains Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa. Greece’s danger man is Kostas Mitroglou, who is scoring goals for fun for club and country.
Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
The favorites to advance: Uruguay and Italy
There are three former FIFA World Cup™ champions in Group D, a difficult ask for Los Ticos.
Italy was the mystery team drawn from the over-sized Pot 4 into Pot 2, and as such was placed into Group D against Uruguay. The two soccer giants will rekindle the rivalry from the Confederations Cup.
Italy and England will face each other in Manaus, a daunting game to be played in a rain forest.
Uruguay is led by the on-fire Luis Suarez, who had 11 goals in qualification, the most in South America. England, in particular, will be well aware of the threat he poses in front of goal having just witnessed his magical four-goal performance for Liverpool on Wednesday.
Italy historically is a big tournament team, save for 2010, and knows how to get results at this stage. In addition to Suarez, Uruguay counts some of the best attacking power in the world among their ranks including Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan.
England can advance, but Roy Hodgson will have to get selection and tactics just right and receive immense performances from his Three Lions.
Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
The favorites to advance: Switzerland and France
France received some good fortune. After FIFA decided not to place Les Bleus, the lowest ranked unseeded European team, into Pot 2, as was expected, they ended up with the most favorable draw imaginable.
This was the group everyone from Pots 3 and 4 wanted to be drawn into with two of the weakest teams in their respective pots, Switzerland and Ecuador, getting drawn together.
Switzerland was seeded due to their consistency and No. 8 world rank, but they hardly have a cast of characters to scare the competition. Ecuador, at 23, and Honduras, 41, won’t scare the French either. If Didier Deschamps can figure out how to make a collection of extraordinarily talented players—Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and others—play as a team, they will advance easily.
Switzerland, though lacking options going forward, is extremely difficult to break down. They were undefeated in European qualifying and only allowed six goals. They were also the only team to beat Spain in 2010, a 1-0 victory, and conceded just once before crashing out in the group.
Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
The favorites to advance: Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina
Argentinians will be smitten with the results of today’s draw. They avoid long travel and are the clear favorites to move on and will face a challenger from the weakest group, E, in the Round of 16. Their otherworldly captain Lionel Messi scored 10 goals in 14 qualifying games to top the table in CONMEBOL.
Meanwhile, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the loan debutant in next summer’s tournament, will rely on Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko to fend off the challenge from Nigeria and Iran. The Dragons showed in qualifying that, despite their relative inexperience, they have the quality going forward, averaging three goals per game, and the organization at the back, conceding only six from 10, to advance.
Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
The favorites to advance: Germany and Portugal
After the USMNT experienced the best calendar year of their history, winning the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, qualifying for this event with ease and scoring famous friendly victories, Jurgen Klinnsmann suffered a setback in Brazil today.
They face the daunting task of competing with the giants of Germany, led by Bayern Munich’s stars Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer and Philipp Lahm, along with Mesut Ozil and friends, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Ghana, the side that slayed the USMNT four years ago in the knockout round.
The USMNT had more than 700 scenarios entering the draw, and this one was among the worst.
The US will hope to relive their famous victory against Portugal from 2002 and reprise their historic friendly victory against the Germans in June, albeit against a weakened side. As if the opposition wasn’t tough enough, USMNT will have to cover more miles in travel than any other nation.
Ghana was dominant in qualifying, leading Africa with 25 goals. Asamoah Gyan, who United States supporters probably recall from 2010, netted six as the top scorer.
Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
The favorites to advance: Belgium and Russia
Algeria has never make it to the knockout round. South Korea hasn’t been the same side since their memorable run to the quarterfinals while hosting the 2002 event. Russia is led by the experienced tactician Fabio Capello and can rely on steady goalkeeper from Igor Akinfeev, one of the world’s best.
Belgium, full of English Premier League stars including Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke, Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini, but short of experience on this stage, was gifted a easy draw, taking off some of the pressure of their Golden Generation. If they can rise to the occasion, they are a near lock to cruise through Group I.
No European team has ever won a World Cup in South America. Uruguay won when hosting the inaugural tournament and again in 1950, the last time the event was played in Brazil. La Selecao claimed the cup in Chile in 1962, while Argentina played host and champion in 1978. Could this be the year? Time will tell, and, luckily for us soccer fans, time is drawing near.
Exactly 820 qualifying games, 2,350 goals and 5,715 players used later, the World Cup stage is finally set.
What do you think of the draw? Can the USMNT advance? What games are you most looking forward to watching next summer? Have your say in the comments section below.