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Draw is not so lucky for some

Perhaps one day we'll have some kind of higher mind - whether a form of artificial intelligence or maybe the collective nous of, say, the world's 10 cleverest people - that will be capable of conjuring up the "perfect" World Cup draw, "perfect" in this case meaning one where all the groups are more or less equally balanced.

England will be in the firing line against Uruguay's Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez Photograph: Getty
England will be in the firing line against Uruguay's Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez Photograph: Getty

Until then, we'll just have to accept the draws have winners, losers and nations who have no particular reason to grumble or rejoice. We dwell on this because kick-off isn't for another 186 days and there's time to fill.

The most obvious winners from last Friday's draw are France, as evidenced by the fact that one newspaper across the Channel used the headline "And now, let's unwrap the gift." Because that's just what it was.

France were the lowest-ranked of the nine unseeded European teams at the time the seedings were announced. Keeping with the precedent set in 2006 would have meant sending them into the pot with the African teams and the unseeded South Americans; a not-so- pleasant proposition. Instead, Fifa opted to hold another draw to determine which of the unseeded Europeans would effectively get bumped down a notch. And lo and behold, it wasn't Les Bleus.

Didier Deschamps' crew ended end up in a group with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras. The Swiss are a top seed because of the mathematical vagaries of the Fifa rankings. October was used to determine the seeds, and they happened to be in the top seven at the time. They aren't now, and they weren't in September or at any other point in recent years, but, hey, those are the rules.

Argentina can also thank their lucky stars. Maybe the standard of their group opponents means Lionel Messi will finally provide that strong World Cup showing needed to convince the last remaining sceptics that he belongs in the same conversation as Pele and Diego Armando Maradona.

They face Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria and indeed, if you look ahead, it looks like plain sailing right through to the semi-finals. Belgium, the hipster favourites, can also breathe a sigh of relief after being lumped in with Fabio Capello's Russia plus South Korea and Algeria. The same goes for Colombia, who will be up against Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece.

Brazil can probably conclude that they broke even. Cameroon have been on the slide for several years, while Mexico and Croatia endured horrendous qualifying campaigns and only just sneaked into the competition, changing managers along the way.

That's the good news. The not-so-good news is they'll face the runner-up in Group B if (OK, when) they advance. Group B features two legitimate title contenders - Holland and champions Spain - along with Chile, dark horses in the eyes of many South American journalists, and Australia, who are at a serious low. The dynamic will be interesting here. One false step - and that can include a draw - can put you on an early collision course with Luiz Felipe Scolari's team and a plane home after the last 16.

Over in Group G, Germany - the world's second-ranked nation lest we forget - had possibly the toughest draw of all. They begin with Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, and before you say "one-man team" just consider what they could be like if the rest of the squad decide to show up for work.

Then it's Ghana, arguably Africa's toughest nut to crack. That's followed by the United States, a clash that will be rife with sub-plots given they are managed by Jurgen Klinsmann, Joachim Low's old boss and the man who pretty much assembled Germany's backroom staff.

That leaves England's group, and the fact Football Association chairman Greg Dyke made a throat-slitting gesture when they were drawn in Group D tells you all you need to know about how much faith he has in the Three Lions.

Roy Hodgson diplomatically said he didn't notice at the time - which is curious given that he was sitting next to Dyke and looking straight at him when he did it - but it's safe to say he wasn't best pleased. You also have to wonder about Dyke and his awareness of cameras around him and the tabloids' penchant for incendiary photos and headlines; it's not as if he used to run Britain's biggest media organisation or anything...

England will face Uruguay and Italy, which means we'll get our fill of "dark arts" cliches though, in fact, both nations have moved on somewhat. Cesare Prandelli's Azzurri side aren't the defend-and-counter force they once were, opting instead for possession and creativity in midfield; a junior Spain if you will, albeit without the top-to-bottom quality. And Uruguay have that devastating one-two punch of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, which will possibly be the best striker combination in Brazil.

As for Costa Rica, they advanced to the World Cup with watertight defending - by Concacaf standards - and will probably be least affected by the climate. Anyone who takes three points for granted against them is making a big mistake.

Draws are fun because they give us something to talk about and we can start making early predictions. But it's worth remembering that this is just a snapshot and so much can change in the next seven months. Capello, speaking after the draw, said: "We can assess the teams now, but everything can change come June. It's 50% quality and 50% condition when the World Cup actually begins.

"If you're unfit, tired, carrying injuries or just aren't right, then it gets very difficult. How often do you see a team in the bottom half of a league table pull off three or four good results in a row simply because they're in good condition? It's the same at the World Cup. Predictions now aren't worth much, let's reassess in June."

He's right of course. And he speaks from first-hand experience.

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