COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil (AP) — One of the worst finals in World Cup history — Spain vs. the Netherlands — will be reprised in one of the first games of the 2014 edition.
Friday's draw proved kind for host nation Brazil. It also put three former winners — Italy, Uruguay and England — together in one daunting group. The United States drew one of the shortest straws. Its game schedule will send Jurgen Klinsmann's team pinging around on a 9,000-mile trip across the world's fifth-largest country.
Having only squeezed into the tournament via a playoff, 1998 winner France could hardly believe its luck, drawing a manageable group of Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras. Two-time champ Argentina first plays Bosnia-Herzegovina, the only World Cup newcomer among the 32 teams. After that game in Rio de Janeiro, four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi and his teammates play Iran and Nigeria. In six previous World Cup encounters, Nigeria has beaten Argentina just once.
Argentina will be heavily favored to win Group F. If so, it could play Switzerland or France in its first knockout game. Defending champion Spain and the Netherlands, a three-time finalist, open against each other on June 13. Hopefully, it won't be a repeat of the horror show that was the 2010 final, when referee Howard Webb showed a record 14 yellow cards. The Netherlands was blamed for most of the dirty play.
"The history of the final is also a challenge to do it better," Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said. The second-place team in Group B, which also includes Chile and Australia, is likely to meet Brazil in the first knockout game.
Spain coach Vincent del Bosque warned against underestimating Chile: "Their style of play is very impressive, they make it very uncomfortable for opponents." England's first match will be in the heat and humidity of the Amazon basin, which coach Roy Hodgson was anxious to avoid. That night game in the Amazon city of Manaus pits the 1966 champion against Italy, a four-time winner.
Both will have to play their best to advance from Group D, which includes 2010 semifinalist and two-time champion Uruguay and Costa Rica. "In Italy and Uruguay it's almost as though we have got two number one seeds in our group," Hodgson said.
England could also face hostility from the crowd in Manaus, after Hodgson voiced concerns about the climate. The mayor took offense, saying before the draw: "We hope to get a better team and a coach who is more sensible and polite."
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.