England, Roy Hodgson and Manaus get the draw none of them wanted
Spain open their defence with a difficult game against the Netherlands
England manager Roy Hodgson reacts to yesterday’s World Cup draw. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images
They’ve made a habit of making history these last few years but Spain’s prospects of winning a fourth consecutive major title looked just a little more remote after last night’s World Cup draw. The defending champions were handed one of the tougher initial assignments and the prospect of playing the hosts in their first knockout game if they do not top their group.
Their chances of coming through it all are not, of course, nearly so remote as the venue for England’s opening game which will be staged in Manaus, the very city – far from Rio de Janeiro and deep in the Amazon rainforest – that Roy Hodgson had said prior to the draw he was hoping to avoid.
The city’s mayor had replied that the locals were hoping for other teams too, but both men’s luck ran out and Hodgson was obliged to look on the bright side after receiving the news that his side must face Italy there in their opening game.
“The good thing,” he said, “is that we know each other and the other thing in our favour is that the game we have got in the north, where the conditions are going to be tough climatically, is against another European team so we are both going to be in the same boat.
“It’ll be a chance to see the north of Brazil,” he added implausibly. “I’ve never been to the Amazon and it will be an interesting experience.”
It will be a deeply unpleasant one should England lose to the Italians, as they have, if you count the penalty shoot-out defeat in Kiev last summer, on the last three occasions the two sides have met at a major championship.
Defeat would leave Hodgson and his players under immense pressure as they head into their second game against Uruguay – the Copa America champions and World Cup semi-finalists in South Africa four years ago.
At least the getting to and from that game and the one that follows, against Costa Rica, will be straightforward as both are close to the team’s Rio base, but Hodgson would probably have preferred to avoid Belo Horizonte, the city where England lost to the United States in 1950, given the coverage the return visit will surely generate.
Tough draw for Spain
The Spanish may have good reason to avoid any reminiscing about that World Cup too. Brazil beat them 6-1 at the Maracana and after June’s 3-0 Confederations Cup defeat, Vicente Del Bosque, whose side face tough opening games against the Netherlands and Chile, made no secret last night of his desire to avoid an early rematch next summer.
“I imagine that Brazil will finish first [in group A where Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon will provide the opposition] and so we have to give everything to make sure we win our group too,” said the Spaniard.