Group stages set for a memorable World Cup

HOLDERS Brazil are ready for a physical battle after being drawn against Australia, Japan and Croatia in their World Cup group, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said.

"In technical terms, it's not so strong but it's a group in which there's going to be a lot of physical strength," he said.

"They're all teams who run a lot and are tactically disciplined," Parreira said.

"Australia caused a lot of problems in Germany (at the Confederations Cup), they're not afraid of their opponents and their players all play in Europe."

France coach Raymond Domenech said he was reserving judgement after his team were drawn to play Switzerland, South Korea and Togo.

"It's always the same thing after the draws. But until you play against the teams, you don't really know who you play," Domenech said.

"We know the Swiss and we did not beat them during the qualifying campaign. South Korea is a bad memory and we don't know Togo. We remember what happened with Senegal (at the 2002 World Cup)."

France beat Switzerland 3-1 in the first round at Euro 2004 but drew twice with them during the World Cup qualifying campaign for the 2006 finals.

France struggled to beat South Korea 3-2 in a World Cup warm-up, before the 2002 finals, but play maker Zinedine Zidane picked up a thigh injury and missed their first two games in the finals which included a 1-0 defeat by Senegal.

German coach Juergen Klinsmann said the draw could have been worse after the hosts were drawn with Costa Rica, Poland and Ecuador.

"It could have been worse. We're happy. We think this group is absolutely do-able," said Klinsmann.

"Every opponent will be difficult. We know that. There are none that one can underestimate.

"Ecuador will be tough. They beat Brazil in qualification. Costa Rica was third behind the USA and Mexico...and naturally Poland will also be hard they played very well to qualify in England's group.

"It will be hard, but now we have something tangible to aim at and work for. We want to get the public on our side...We have a young team. They need the support and I think the draw has been helpful."

Klinsmann said Germany may now review plans to play only European teams in friendlies before the World Cup and may look also at South or Central American teams.

He said Group C, which includes Argentina, Ivory Coast, the Netherlands and Serbia & Montenegro, looked like the toughest group.

Italy have a tricky World Cup group that includes two teams above them in the FIFA rankings, coach Marcello Lippi noted.

The Italians were drawn in Group E with the Czech Republic, the US and World Cup newcomers Ghana.

"I'm not disappointed. I'm satisfied. It's a tricky group, but they are all strong teams at this level," Lippi said.

"We knew we'd be facing some tough matches even before the draw.

"We can say that we have two teams (the Czech Republic and the US) that are ahead of us in the FIFA rankings. That's not a big problem.

"We're improving all the time and we'll been even better by the time the tournament starts next year.

"Italy is certainly not inferior to any of these teams. I'm not saying we're better just not inferior, that's all."

Striker Fernando Torres hopes Spain have learned from past experiences as they were drawn with Ukraine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

"On paper it looks easy enough but from past experience we know that there are always surprises, so we can't take it for granted that we'll progress," he said.

"I hope we have learnt from our past experiences."

Spain winger Vicente added: "We have been quite lucky. I am happy with the group. We have had to be patient to qualify for this tournament (through the playoffs) but it does not appear to be too difficult.

Another Spain winger, Joaquin, said: "It is a group we can qualify from, and we shouldn't really fear any of the sides. We should be able to beat all of the sides in the group."

Australia defender Tony Popovic said: "It's very exciting, first of all just amazing to see Australia in a group at the World Cup."

Popovic, who plays in England with second division Crystal Palace, said: "I've got a lot of friends and family that were going to go to the World Cup regardless of whether Australia made it or not once they knew Croatia were in.

"It's something to really look forward to. We've got the world's best to play against, Croatia obviously with the background I have, and Japan where I played before I came to England."

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