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Brazil's World Cup steps up a gear with draw of 32 teams

FIFA World Cup Ambassador Mario Zagallo, right, listens to a question, as Ronaldo, center, and Bebeto look on during a press conference in Costa do Sauipe, near Salvador, Brazil, Thursday, Dec.5, 2013. The draw for the 2014 World Cup finals takes place Friday, Dec. 6. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil - The eyes of football focused nervously Friday on the draw to determine where, when and, most importantly, who the 32 teams will play at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The draw ceremony, being televised live to more than 190 countries, starts at 1 p.m. (1600 GMT) in the Atlantic beach resort of Costa do Sauipe, in a security lock-down for the 1,300 guests and 2,000 reporters.

The draw will divide the 32 teams into eight groups — labelled A to H — of four teams each. The basic principle of pulling names from hats has been used by governing body FIFA for decades and was first televised in 1966.

The 90-minute show will be part-showbiz, with musical performances, and part-World Cup practicality. The draw itself will take about 35 minutes.

The buzz of anticipation touched even Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff. She sent tweets to Neymar, asking the star of Brazil's national team if he wanted weak or strong opponents from the outset of the month-long tournament next June. He replied that there are no weak teams at football's showcase competition.

The field is tougher than at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Of the top 25 teams in FIFA's rankings, all but two (Ukraine and Denmark) qualified for Brazil. All eight previous world champions will take part, with five-time winner Brazil desperate to lift the trophy at home for the first time.

With the world title at stake and because of football's rich and deep sporting, historical and political rivalries, the transparent bowls holding the teams' names were bound to produce alluring match-ups.

Will Brazil be paired in a tough opening group that could sink its campaign for a sixth World Cup victory, souring the tournament costing the nation nearly $11 billion?

Could defending champion Spain be drawn to play its opening game against the Netherlands? That repeat of the ill-tempered 2010 final would cause sharp intakes of breath.

Because of their intense individual duel to be considered the world's best footballer, there also will be frissons of excitement if the Argentina team of four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi is drawn against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.

Not only were teams anxious to find out who they will play but also where. Depending on how they are drawn, some teams will travel considerably further than others in the world's fifth largest country, which is more than 4,000 kilometres from tip to toe and across. Some will have to play in the heat and humidity of the Amazon basin, with Manaus in the heart of the jungle considered among the most physically taxing venues for players, especially those from more moderate climes. None of the previous seven World Cups held in the Americas, starting with the first edition in Uruguay in 1930, were won by a European team.

Bosnia-Herzegovina will get its first taste of the nervous excitement of a World Cup draw, having qualified as an independent nation two decades after its war that killed more than 100,000 people. Other nations are old hands: Seven have qualified for each of the last seven World Cups — Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Spain and the United States.

The draw ceremony will also showcase the host nation. To demonstrate that it has more to offer than sandy beaches, samba and soccer, Brazil has built and renovated 12 stadiums and poured billions more into other public works.

Such expenditure in a country with millions living in third-world poverty has sparked vigorous debate, especially with Olympic host Rio de Janeiro also spending heavily to prepare for the summer games of 2016. Protesters who poured into Brazil's streets during the Confederations Cup warm-up tournament in June listed World Cup spending among their grievances.

News from © The Associated Press, 2013
The Associated Press

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