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Rediff.com  » Sports » Draw heralds World Cup kick-off in South Africa; England draw Croatia again

Draw heralds World Cup kick-off in South Africa; England draw Croatia again

Last updated on: November 25, 2007 22:50 IST

World champions Italy were drawn against Bulgaria and England were up against Croatia, who knocked them out of the Euro 2008 tournament, following the draw for 2010 World Cup qualifying made in Durban on Sunday.

England have a chance to regain revenge on 1998 World Cup semi-finalists Croatia, whose 3-2 win at Wembley on Wednesday meant England failed to qualify for a major finals for the first time since the 1994 World Cup. England were also drawn against Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Andorra in Group 6 while Italy also come up against Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Georgia and Montenegro in Group 8.

The 1998 world champions and 2006 finalists France meet Romania and Serbia in Group 7 and 2006 hosts and semi-finalists Germany come up against Russia, Finland and Wales in Group 4. The winners of the nine European groups qualify automatically with the eight best runners up entering two-leg play-offs to decide the remaining four spots for the region. 

Meanwhile, China were drawn against Australia, Iraq and Qatar in Group 1 of the Asia zone while Japan must come up against Bahrain, Oman and Thailand in Group 2. In an intriguing match-up in Group 3, North and South Korea were drawn together. 

The only team guaranteed to appear at the finals, which begin on June 11, 2010, are the hosts South Africa while the remaining 31 nations will have to qualify from one of the six football confederations across the world.

Concerns about stop-start stadium construction, security in one of most crime-ridden societies on the planet and all the other logistical issues associated with hosting the finals in Africa for the first time will be put aside once the qualifying tournament gets into full swing.

South America's qualifying campaign, which got underway last month, is organised on the usual lines with the 10 countries in the region playing in one round-robin group with the top four qualifying automatically and the fifth-placed side playing off against a team from the North/Central America and the Caribbean.

At a glittering ceremony in Durban, FIFA President Sepp Blatter and South African President Thabo Mbeki both pledged that preparations were well on track for the first ever World Cup to be played in Africa as footballing matters took precedence over lingering doubts about organisational problems.

"It's the kick-off, it's the window to South Africa," said Blatter at the start of the draw which was attended by some 3,000 delegates as well as being watched by a worldwide television audience of tens of millions. "Now there's no doubt that the 2010 World Cup will be here, will be a big success."

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