World Cup draw will signal new era for England

Capello to attend Saturday's World Cup preliminary draw in Rio de Janeiro

 

England coach Fabio Capello is due to attend Saturday's World Cup preliminary draw in Rio de Janeiro, but given that the Italian will have taken his leave by 2014, the 1966 champions stand on the cusp of a new era.

Capello will stand down after next year's European Championships and it will be left to a new man, as yet unidentified, to pick up the thread when the World Cup returns to Brazil for the first time since 1950 - when England famously lost to the United States.

A new Three Lions regime will at least have the advantage of being seeded as England are currently rated the fourth-best side in Europe and sixth in the world.

That advantage will not be enjoyed by 1998 champions France, whose recent slide down the Fifa rankings below the likes of Norway and Greece means Les Bleus will not be seeded.

The European arrangements will comprise nine groups with all group winners advancing to the finals automatically with the eight best runners-up going into two-legged playoffs. The four winners of those contests will also advance.

With the demotion of Laurent Blanc's French into pot two they could actually end up in the same group as Capello's men, as could the likes of Russia and Sweden.

Even pot three sides such as the Czech Republic or even 1974 nemesis Poland, now a pot four also-ran, could trip England up.

Recent campaigns have seen a levelling off of quality between the top sides and relative newcomers to the international stage, such as Montenegro, who are pushing England hard in their Euro 2012 qualifiers and who are now only two places below France in the rankings after vaulting into Fifa's top twenty.

On the bright side for England, they cannot meet reigning champions Spain or the other seeds Holland, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Norway and Greece.

Even if they do not manage to win their group, the French will take comfort from the fact that last time out they managed to squeak into the 2010 finals in South Africa via the playoffs, thanks to Thierry Henry's handball which helped them to eliminate Republic of Ireland.

Yet France are still paying the price for last year's disastrous World Cup showing, having crashed out in the group phase amid a player revolt sparked by the sending home of striker Nicolas Anelka for launching a foul-mouthed tirade at then coach Raymond Domenech.

The European qualifiers will start on September 7 and end in October 2013, ahead of the playoffs, which will take place on November 15 and 19.

Fifa will ensure that politics does not intrude onto the qualifying scene by keeping apart squabbling neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as Russia and Georgia. UEFA policy is to ensure that those teams are not placed in the same group.

Capello aside, a total of 38 coaches are expected to attend Saturday's draw, including Brazil's Luiz Menezes and Vicente del Bosque, who led Spain to glory last year.

Organisers on Wednesday officially confirmed the dates for the event which will start on June 12 with the final on July 13.

The trophy match is due to be held at Rio's Maracana stadium - although Fifa insisted Thursday that the choice is subject to pending formal ratification at the world body's executive committee meeting in October.

The giant arena previously hosted the deciding match of the World Cup in 1950, when hosts Brazil were stunned 2-1 by Uruguay.

 

 

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