Spain to Open World Cup Defense Against Dutch in Repeat of Final

Spain will begin defense of its World Cup title against the Netherlands in a repeat of the 2010 final, a day after host and tournament favorite Brazil opens soccer’s monthlong showpiece against Croatia.

Record five-time winner Brazil, which automatically qualified after being awarded hosting rights in 2007, also takes on Mexico and Cameroon in the opening round. Spain, which won its first title in South Africa in 2010, also faces Chile and Australia in the group stage.

The U.S., which is playing in its seventh successive World Cup, was drawn yesterday with three-time winner Germany, Portugal and Ghana, the team that defeated it in the past two tournaments. England, the 1966 winner, will play Uruguay, Costa Rica and Italy, a four-time champion, in the opening round.

“It’s good,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led his nation to the title in 2002, was cited as saying by world governing body FIFA’s website. “England, Italy, Uruguay -- that is the toughest group and we are not in this one. We open against a European team, which was my preference.”

Remaining Groups

Argentina, whose lineup includes Lionel Messi, the Barcelona striker who’s been voted the world’s best player for the past four years, will face Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the only tournament newcomer. Argentina was the last South American nation to host the tournament when it won the first of its two titles in 1978.

France, the 1998 champion, is in a group with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras, while Colombia will play Greece, Japan and the Ivory Coast. The remaining group will be contested by Belgium, Algeria, Russia and South Korea, which came in fourth in 2002.

Brazil is the favorite to win the tournament with U.K. bookmaker William Hill, with odds of 11-4. That means a successful wager of $4 returns $11 plus the original stake. Argentina and Germany are second favorites, both with odds of 11-2. Spain is 6-1, while Belgium is 14-1. England is 40-1 and the U.S. is 200-1.

England’s opening game, against Italy on June 15, will be held in Manaus in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. It’s a city that coach Roy Hodgson had expressed concern about playing in.

‘Tough Climatically’

“The game we have in the north, which is going to be tough climatically, is going to be against another European team, so we’ll be facing the same issues,” Hodgson said to the British Broadcasting Corp. “The good news is we do know each other with Italy.”

Italy knocked England out of last year’s European Championship after a penalty shootout.

England’s match against Uruguay, the winner of two World Cups and a semifinalist in 2010, will be played in Sao Paulo, while its game against Costa Rica is in Belo Horizonte.

“It’s a tough group, no doubt about it,” Hodgson said. “With Uruguay and Italy we almost have two No. 1 seeds in the group.”

U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann also spoke of his concerns about playing in Manaus. After facing Ghana in Natal, his side will fly to the Amazon capital for its second group match against Portugal, a team that includes Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world’s best players. Then it travels to Recife for its last round-robin match against Germany, a team Klinsmann managed to the 2006 semifinals and with whom he won a World Cup as a player in 1990.

Gut Feeling

“I had a feeling in my stomach we’d get Germany,” Klinsmann said. “It’s one of the most difficult groups in the whole draw. Including having Portugal and Ronaldo, Ghana’s history with USA and, of course, Germany, it couldn’t get more difficult or any bigger.”

Russia coach Fabio Capello was happier with his team’s draw and the location of its matches.

“It’s a good group,” Capello told the BBC. “The draw is not that bad. The important thing is the location. We play in the center of Brazil, not in the north where it’s really warm and humid.”

The most-watched single-sport event gets under way at Sao Paulo’s Itaquera stadium on June 12. Two teams qualify from each of the eight groups before the remaining 16 contest a straight knockout. The final takes place in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium on July 13.

France Benefits

Brazil and France were among the beneficiaries in the draw, according to Bloomberg Sports calculations. The hosts saw their chances of winning the title increase slightly to 22 percent after the draw. The probability of France progressing from the group stage rose to 76 percent from 53 percent, Bloomberg Sports said.

Organizers spent $11 million on the draw in the resort of Costa do Sauipe in Bahia, a fraction of the $11.1 billion the world’s seventh-largest economy is spending to host soccer’s top event.

The tournament will be played in 12 arenas that cost $3.4 billion to build or renovate. Construction is incomplete at half of those, and last week two workers died when a crane collapsed onto the facade of the stadium in Sao Paulo. FIFA wanted the arenas to be ready by Dec. 31, although it said this week that four, including Sao Paulo, would miss that deadline. Facilities in Manaus, Cuiaba and Curitiba also are delayed.

Since June, protests have marred the World Cup buildup as demonstrators argued that sums lavished on the tournament would be better spent on improving public education and health services. Public money is also being spent on sporting facilities for the 2016 Summer Olympics, which Brazil is hosting.

Prize Money

Yesterday’s ceremony, attended by Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, was televised live in more than 180 countries, according to FIFA.

Two days ago, FIFA announced the prize pool for the tournament. The 32 teams will share $358 million, including $35 million for the winner, $5 million more than Spain received in South Africa.

None of the previous seven World Cups held in the Americas, including four in South America, has been won by a European nation. Held every four years, the event was first staged in 1930 by Uruguay, the inaugural winner.

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