2014 World Cup Draw: Brazil the major threat with home advantage
By Football News
Brazil will be the name every nation wants to avoid when the FIFA World Cup draw is made on Friday.
The competition's most decorated country will play host to the world's greatest football nations in 2014, with home advantage sure to boost their chances of claiming a sixth global crown and first since 2002.
Luiz Felipe Scolari's men will be one of eight seeded teams in the draw, which will be held at the Costa do Sauipe Resort in Bahia, but a number of big names could be pitched into a group-stage battle with them.
Included among the unseeded countries are the Netherlands, the 2010 runners-up, and 2006 champions Italy, who were not in the top seven of FIFA's world rankings when the seedings were determined in October.
France and Uruguay's qualification via the play-offs, meanwhile, means every previous winner of the competition will compete this time around.
The seeds - Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Colombia and Uruguay - will be kept apart in the round-robin phase, but every World Cup produces a so-called 'group of death' that can make the task of a seeded team trickier than that faced by an unseeded counterpart.
Brazil know this only too well, having been drawn alongside Portugal and Ivory Coast in South Africa 2010, with North Korea having been cast in the unenviable role of rank outsiders.
Supposed favourites should be wary of complacency even when the draw appears to have been kind to them.
Never was this more apparent than when Italy, having been crowned champions in 2006, failed miserably in defence of their title four years later.
Handed a group containing Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand - three nations ranked outside the world's top 30 at the time - Italy contrived to finish bottom, a stark warning to current champions Spain.
Despite narrowly missing out on reaching the last 16, New Zealand were the only unbeaten side at the 2010 tournament, highlighting the impact that unfancied nations can have.
Bosnia-Herzegovina are the only debutants this time around, while five of the competing nations - Honduras, Ivory Coast, Greece, Iran and Algeria - have never made it past the group stage.
Colombia, making their first appearance at the finals since 1998, can be considered among the favourites after rising to fourth in the world rankings.
Belgium, absent from the last two World Cups but recently ranked as high as fifth following an excellent qualifying campaign, also appear strong contenders.
Brazilian legend Pele once famously predicted the crowning of an African champion by the year 2000 but the continent has yet to produce even a semi-finalist, with Ivory Coast the most likely challengers in 2014.
It is Pele's compatriots who have the most compelling omen on their side, with the host nation (including co-hosts South Korea in 2002) having reached at least the third-place play-off in 12 of the previous 19 World Cups.
Whoever is left facing the daunting prospect of tackling Brazil on home soil will quickly learn the value of the old football adage that to become champions, you really must beat the best.