Wednesday 13 December 2017

Plum draw for England on road to Rio

Martyn Ziegler

England avoided Europe's big-hitters in the qualifying draw for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The draw in Rio de Janeiro saw England in Group H against Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland, Moldova and San Marino.

Northern Ireland have some long-distance trips in Group F with Portugal, Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.

Scotland and Wales will have to play each other in Group A with some strong-looking opponents -- three from the Balkans -- in Croatia, Serbia, Belgium and Macedonia.

The Republic of Ireland are in Group C with Germany, Sweden, Austria, the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan.

The winners of the nine groups qualify automatically and the eight best runners-up play off for the four places remaining.

It is 45 years and a day since England won their one and only World Cup and although it will be a straightforward task for Fabio Capello's successor it will not be a walkover.

Capello, who is moving on next summer after the conclusion of the Euro 2012 campaign, knows from experience that Montenegro are resilient -- they drew 0-0 at Wembley in October in the Euro 2012 qualifier.

All the home nations did avoid the toughest draw, Group I where Spain, France, Belarus, Georgia and Finland will battle it out. FIFA president Sepp Blatter had launched the draw insisting the world governing body had confidence that Brazil would overcome delays in preparations.

"We need the support of the government of Brazil, the state governments, the organising committee and the 190 million fans of football that is the population of Brazil," said Blatter.

"It is a matter of trust and confidence and FIFA have trust in Brazil and are confident of its abilities.

"Football is the beating heart of Brazil. It is a multi-cultural country of joy and celebration blessed with natural beauty and a booming economy ranking number seven in the world."

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