Brazil kicks off its campaign for a sixth World Cup title with the opening match on June 12 against Croatia. That could be a daunting experience for the Croats. Full-throated support from home fans helped lift Brazil at the Confederations Cup warm-up tournament in June, where it beat world champion Spain in the final.
In Group A, the home team also plays Mexico, which had to beat New Zealand in a playoff to qualify. Brazil’s last match is against Cameroon, which has only advanced once from the group stage in six appearances.
Some teams were lucky, not only to miss the toughest opponents, but also to avoid long trips and the hottest venues.
France coach Didier Deschamps was thrilled that his team plays its games in Rio and Porto Alegre in the south and Salvador on the Atlantic coast. That good fortune favors France’s chances of reaching the knockout stage, perhaps with Switzerland, the seeded team in their Group E.
“We won’t play in the northern regions, where the temperatures and the level of humidity are very high and the distances are very long. We stay more or less in the same area, which is not too far from our training camp. It’s rather good news,” said Deschamps.
Colombia, which will have one of the tournament’s potential stars in striker Radamel Falcao, got one of the weakest groups with Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan.
Topping that Group C would then see Colombia play the second-best team in Group D, where Uruguay striker Luis Suarez, who cannot stop scoring for his club Liverpool, will be expected to shine.
Belgium, one of seven seeded teams in the draw, has a great chance to advance from Group H. With some of Europe’s most exciting young players, Belgium first takes on Algeria, which has never moved beyond the group stage in three previous appearances.
Coach Marc Wilmots’ team will also play 2018 World Cup host Russia and South Korea, a semifinalist in 2002. If Belgium tops that group it would then play the second-placed team from Group G. That is likely to be Portugal, Ghana or the United States, whichever team finishes behind Germany, a favorite in the monthlong tournament
Germany first plays Portugal, with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Germany’s last group game is against the United States, which will be particularly memorable for its coach, Klinsmann. He won the 1990 World Cup as a forward for Germany and coached his country to the semifinal in 2006.
“I kind of had in my stomach that we were going to get Germany,” said Klinsmann. “Obviously it’s one of the most difficult groups in the whole draw, having Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo and then Ghana, who has a history with the United States. It couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger.”
“But that’s what a World Cup is about. It’s a real challenge. And we’ll take it. We’ll take it on, and hopefully we’re going to surprise some people there.”
AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Tales Azzoni contributed from Costa do Sauipe.