World Cup Soccer
 
               === Stoppage Time: Instant World Cup analysis ===
 
 By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The 32 nations that qualified for the 2014 World Cup
 learned their fate on Friday. And as is the case with every draw, some teams
 will be greatly buoyed by their place in the tournament, while others must
 collect themselves and prepare for a difficult road ahead.
 
 The following is a list of the draw's biggest winners and losers, as well as a
 quick glance at how each group will play out.
 
 
 WINNERS:
 
 ARGENTINA: Manager Alejandro Sabella could not have asked for a better draw as
 his side was placed into Group F along with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and
 Nigeria. None of the other three sides in Argentina's group is ranked in the
 top 20 by FIFA, which should spell a clear path to the knockout round. After
 topping its group in qualifying and possessing a potent offensive punch with
 players like Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, Argentina can certainly be
 considered among the favorites to reach the final. Even beyond the group
 stage, Argentina's first game in the knockout round will likely come against
 the second-place team from Group E, which is arguably the weakest group in the
 entire tournament.
 
 FRANCE: After narrowly missing out on a spot in pot 1 as a seeded team, the
 draw could have gotten downright ugly for Les Bleus. But Didier Deschamps and
 his team have to be absolutely thrilled to find themselves in Group E
 alongside Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland, which is the most vulnerable of
 the seeded teams. After losing 2-0 to Ukraine in the first leg of its two-
 legged playoff, France needed a 3-0 second-leg victory just to reach Brazil.
 But now that the draw has done France a big favor, the team will have the
 opportunity to put a nervy qualifying campaign behind them and focus on
 reaching the knockout round.
 
 BELGIUM: One of the dark-horse picks at next summer's tournament, Belgium is
 a side to watch in Brazil with an exciting young squad of talented attack
 players. The team coasted to the top of its qualifying group en route to
 landing a spot as a seeded team. And everything bounced the right way on
 Friday as Belgium will face Algeria, Russia and South Korea in Group H.
 Manager Marc Wilmots will like his team's chances of winning the group, which
 contains three sides ranked outside of the top 20, while a potential matchup
 against Portugal, Ghana or the United States in the knockout round provides an
 opportunity for Belgium to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since
 1986.
 
 
 LOSERS:
 
 UNITED STATES: Despite being ranked 14th in the world, the Americans find
 themselves in a brutally tough group with a pair of top-five sides in Germany
 and Portugal as well as Ghana, the team which has eliminated the U.S. from
 each of the past two World Cups. After topping the CONCACAF qualifying group
 manager Jurgen Klinsmann would surely have hoped for a better result. Instead,
 he will face his former team, Germany, one of the world's best players,
 Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and a Ghana side which appears to have his team's
 number. Making matters worse, the U.S. will have to travel more than any other
 team in the group stage. Just to illustrate how unfortunate the Yanks were,
 Mexico finished fourth in CONCACAF and needed to beat New Zealand in a
 playoff. But El Tri has a much more manageable task in Group A with Brazil,
 Croatia and Cameroon.
 
 NETHERLANDS: After reaching the final of the 2010 World Cup, the Dutch
 underachieved at Euro 2012 and the team finds itself in one of the worst
 possible positions in Group B along with Spain, Chile and Australia. The
 Netherlands could certainly have made a case for being seeded instead of
 Switzerland, but the Dutch will now open its tournament in a rematch of the
 2010 final against Spain, while also facing a tough Chile side on its home
 continent.
 
 ENGLAND: The Three Lions had to figure a tough draw was possible after missing
 out on a seeded spot, which they had in 2010. England didn't secure the top
 place in its qualifying group until the final day, and now manager Roy Hodgson
 and his team face a tough task in advancing from Group D, which includes
 Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica. The opening match against the Italians will be
 key before a difficult assignment against Uruguay. Costa Rica is a team
 England should beat, but whether or not Hodgson's men have enough points to
 make it matter at that stage is the question. England has reached the knockout
 round in each of the past four World Cups, but it will take a big effort for
 the team to extend that streak to five.
 
 
 GROUP A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
 
 The hosts will be heavy favorites to top this group after a dominating run to
 the Confederations Cup title this past summer. Neymar leads the way for an
 exciting Brazil team that will undoubtedly relish playing in front of a
 passionate fanbase. Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari helped lead Brazil to the 2002
 World Cup title, and he will be expected to lead Brazil on another deep run.
 Anything less than an appearance in the final at the historic Maracana in Rio
 de Janeiro on July 13 will be a disappointment. The other three sides will
 each feel that they have a decent shot at finishing second. Mexico overcame a
 difficult spell in qualifying to reach the tournament and seems to be rounding
 into form a bit under manager Miguel Herrera, while Croatia defeated Iceland
 in a playoff to return to the World Cup after failing to qualify in 2010.
 Cameroon is a hard-working side that won't make life easy, but it's fair
 question whether there is enough overall quality in the team.
 
 Group Winner: Brazil
 Second Place: Mexico
 
 
 Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
 
 After winning the last two European championships as well as the 2010 World
 Cup, Spain has to be considered among the favorites once again. But the
 Spanish got one of the toughest draws in the entire tournament with the
 Netherlands, Chile and Australia. If you look hard enough, there are signs
 that Spain is slipping just a bit, but this is still the best side in the
 group and a team that figures to make another deep run. The Netherlands and
 Chile should battle it out for second place and the fact that they square off
 on the final day of the group stage only adds to the intrigue. The Dutch took
 a big step back at Euro 2012 after reaching the final of the World Cup in
 2010, and key players like Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben are not exactly
 known for their durability. The Netherlands still has enough talent to be a
 threat, but Chile is playing in South America and the duo of Alexis Sanchez
 and Arturo Vidal will be a handful for any team. Australia is the unlucky side
 that rounds out this group, and it will be a surprise if the Socceroos leave
 with even a point.
 
 Group Winner: Spain
 Second Place: Chile
 
 
 Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
 
 This is one of the more even groups in the tournament with Colombia wearing
 the label of favorite. Radamel Falcao leads the way for Colombia, which put
 together an impressive qualifying campaign by finishing only two points back
 of Argentina. But Jose Pekerman's group lacks experience on a big stage at the
 international level and must prove it can handle the pressure of lofty
 expectations. There isn't a lot to choose between the other three teams with
 each possessing a different strength. Greece is a stubborn team that always
 manages to find its way into major competitions and generally isn't an easy
 out, while the Ivory Coast is taking part in its third straight World Cup and
 has Yaya Toure as the engine that makes the team run in midfield. Japan is
 taking part in its fifth straight World Cup and will be attempting to reach
 the knockout round for the second successive time.
 
 Group Winner: Colombia
 Second Place: Ivory Coast
 
 
 Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
 
 After reaching the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup, Uruguay will be eager to
 build on that finish with another strong performance on its home continent.
 Possessing forwards Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan, scoring
 shouldn't be an issue for Uruguay, which struggled a bit in qualifying but
 still managed to reach the World Cup with a comfortable playoff win over
 Jordan. The opening match between England and Italy will go a long way toward
 determining which team joins Uruguay in the knockout round. The two sides are
 certainly familiar with one another, and Italy will be hoping to erase a
 dismal performance at the 2010 competition that saw the Italians finish on the
 bottom of its group. A case can be made that England has underachieved at
 recent tournaments as well, and much of the team's success will hinge on which
 team shows up. Costa Rica figures to be outsiders in this group and points
 will be tough to come by for the Central American side.
 
 Group Winner: Uruguay
 Second Place: Italy
 
 
 Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
 
 France will be thrilled with this draw after barely surviving a two-legged
 playoff against Ukraine just to reach the tournament. But a 3-0 second-leg win
 over the Ukrainians gives Les Bleus a bit of momentum. Switzerland is easily
 the weakest of the seeded teams and won't have an easy time reaching the
 knockout round. A strong defense is the backbone of the Swiss side, which must
 hope for enough scoring to reach the last 16. Ecuador is the wild card in this
 group after finishing fourth in South American qualifying. At times Ecuador
 looked like a team capable of reaching the knockout round with wins over
 Uruguay, Chile and Colombia as well as a draw with Argentina. But the team
 also lost 4-0 to Argentina, while defeats to Peru and Paraguay don't look
 good. Honduras isn't likely to finish in the top two, but expect the team to
 spoil someone's chances with a surprising result.
 
 Group Winner: France
 Second Place: Ecuador
 
 
 Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
 
 Argentina couldn't have asked for a better draw and should have little trouble
 topping this group. Lionel Messi and co. should use these three games as a
 nice warm-up before getting down to the serious business of the knockout
 round. Argentina won the World Cup in 1978 as the host nation, while also
 lifting the trophy in 1986 in Mexico, which could bode well next summer with
 the tournament returning to South America. The other three teams will battle
 it out for second place with Bosnia-Herzegovina likely to emerge. Manchester
 City striker Eden Dzeko leads the way for Bosnia, while Nigeria should be the
 biggest threat after a fairly comfortable qualifying campaign. Iran is
 appearing at the World Cup for the fourth time but will have a tough time
 advancing to the next round.
 
 Group Winner: Argentina
 Second Place: Bosnia-Herzegovina
 
 
 Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States
 
 Germany is one of the favorites to win the tournament, and despite a tough
 draw in Group G, the Germans will be expected to top the group. Joachim Low's
 team is loaded all over the field and has plenty of depth as well. The Germans
 are a side with few weaknesses, and after reaching the final of Euro 2008 as
 well as the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, this team is
 hungry for a breakthrough. A case can be made for any of the other three sides
 in this group, but Cristiano's Ronaldo's presence in the Portugal team gives
 them a slight edge. Portugal can become a little too reliant on its star
 winger at times, but he should get just enough support to see the side into
 the next round. Ghana and the United States have tangled in each of the last
 two World Cups, with the Black Stars coming out on top in both games. But
 Jurgen Klinsmann's team will be eager to reverse that trend in the opening
 game, and with a good result, could threaten to finish second. Ghana has
 advanced to the knockout round in each of the past two World Cups, but this
 represents their biggest test yet.
 
 Group Winner: Germany
 Second Place: Portugal
 
 
 Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
 
 After missing out on the past two World Cups, Belgium returns to the big stage
 with big expectations. A host of talented young attackers including Romelu
 Lukaku, Christian Benteke and Eden Hazard makes Belgium dangerous, while
 captain Vincent Kompany brings experience to the back line. Former player Marc
 Wilmots will attempt to guide Belgium into the knockout round for the first
 time in 2002, and based on the draw, he should do so with ease. Russia figures
 to be the biggest threat to Belgium, while South Korea could also make things
 interesting. Algeria finished on the bottom of the group in its last World Cup
 with one point, and the team doesn't figure to improve upon that finish.
 
 Group Winner: Belgium
 Second Place: Russia
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 12/06 16:33:07 ET

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