Favourites handed tough challenge

Favourites handed tough challenge

The World Cup ’Group of Death’ reared its ugly head this afternoon – and left Brazil facing a tough task to progress to the knockout stage in South Africa next year.

As five-timers winners and current favourites, the Samba stars are not used to having their participation threatened right from that start of the biggest extravaganza in the game.

However, after being dumped into a group that also contains Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, plus North Korea, who look to have no chance of repeating their heroics of 1966, there can be no guarantees they will emerge.

Yet if Dunga’s men will be slightly apprehensive, Drogba will feel the Ivorians are cursed.

The best group of players his country has ever produced were faced with a similar situation four years ago when they were paired with Argentina and the Netherlands.

Despite giving their all, the Ivorians failed to make it out of the group and if a similar outcome awaits them next summer, it will rob South Africa of their continent’s strongest challenger for the greatest prize.

If the Ivory Coast were seen as Africa’s strongest nation, Ghana were not rated far behind.

And their task is just as hard having been paired with Germany, Australia and a highly-rated Serbian outfit.

Hosts South Africa already knew they would open the tournament. And Mexico have the honour of providing the opposition in Johannesburg on June 11 when they were first to come out of the main draw, which was made by a host of dignitaries, including David Beckham and Charlize Theron.

After a troubled build-up, the Bafana Bafana would have been hoping for a chance to at least reach the knockout phase.

That dream seemed to be intact when South American play-off winners Uruguay were also planted in their group. But the good fortune ran out in the end when France – who so controversially qualified by beating the Republic of Ireland - landed in Group A as well.

Italy, who defeated France in the final three years ago, would have been as smug as Brazil and Germany are fearful.

The Azzurri must tackle Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia in what appears to be the easiest of the eight groups.

Second-favourites Spain should not have any trouble squeezing past Switzerland, Honduras and Chile, while Argentina, who struggled so badly to qualify under the control of Diego Maradona, are likely to be too good for Nigeria, South Korea and Greece.

While the meeting between England and the United States in Rustenburg on June 12 will revive memories of the Three Lions’ shock reverse to the same opposition at the 1950 tournament in Brazil, both could qualify from a group that also includes Slovenia and Algeria.

Along with Nigeria, Samuel Eto’o’s Cameroon are the African side who look to have the best chance of progressing, although they will still have to overcome Holland, Denmark and Japan to reach round two.

WORLD CUP GROUP A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France

WORLD CUP GROUP B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece

WORLD CUP GROUP C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia

WORLD CUP GROUP D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana

WORLD CUP GROUP E: Holland, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon

WORLD CUP GROUP F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia

WORLD CUP GROUP G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal

WORLD CUP GROUP H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

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