World Cup groups drawn |

World Cup groups drawn

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – World champion Spain was drawn on Saturday with 1998 winner France, Georgia, Belarus and Finland in a qualifying group for the 2014 tournament – the first World Cup in Brazil in 64 years.

The United States, featuring new coach Juergen Klinsmann, was drawn with Jamaica in a qualifying group from North and Central America and the Caribbean.

England was placed with 2012 European Championship co-hosts Ukraine and Poland in Group H. Montenegro, Moldova and San Marino also are in the group.

“It will be interesting, there won’t be easy matches,” England coach Fabio Capello said. “England will have to be very careful, especially against Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine.”

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

The draw will determine the path of 166 teams in their bid to qualify for the tournament in three years. It was the first major World Cup event in Brazil since the South American nation was awarded the competition in 2007. As host, Brazil is the only nation that doesn’t 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. European qualifying matches begin Sept. 7 and end Oct. 15, 2013.

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

The Netherlands, last year’s runner-up in South Africa, was 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 was drawn in Group E with Slovenia and Switzerland.

The U.S. and Jamaica will be joined by two teams in Group A. Those teams will come from preliminary qualifying matches featuring Haiti, Guatemala, the U.S. Virgin Islands and five other nations.

Mexico is 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 will play Saudi Arabia, Oman and Thailand in Group D.

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 host, was drawn in Group A along with Botswana. Ghana, the best African team last year, is 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-place 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 Nov. 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 schedule will be announced in October.

“Today, Brazil is admired for more than just football, music and its popular festivities,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said at the draw. “I invite you to come visit us. You will find a country very well prepared for the World Cup.”

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

Riot troopers and mounted police were negotiating to end the demonstration, which remained peaceful by the time the draw began. Some protesters held banners criticizing Brazilian soccer federation president Ricardo Teixeira and FIFA.

The total of 203 teams vying for a World Cup spot surpasses by three the number that participated four years ago. The only associations not to have signed up to compete this time are Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Guam and Mauritania.

Seven nations have qualified for each of the last six World Cups – Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Spain and the U.S. Germany has been the most successful team in World Cup qualifiers so far, with only two losses in 74 matches.

Ronaldo, Neymar, Zico and Zagallo were among the current and past Brazilian players participating in the draw. More than 35 coaches and representatives from 104 national teams were in attendance. Rousseff, Pele and Michel Platini were also at Marina da Gloria harbor in Rio.

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

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