Scotland were yesterday handed the World Cup's poisoned chalice - the honour of opening the tournament against Brazil. As for England, the smile on Glenn Hoddle's face as he sat in the Jean Bouin Tribune said it all: Tunisia, Romania and Colombia make up a reasonable draw. One team largely unheralded, the others talented but ageing.
"It is a tough group but we're capable of qualifying," said the England coach. "I'm not disappointed." His Scotland counterpart, Craig Brown, was less happy. "I wanted to avoid Brazil," he said. "They are world champions and an outstanding side. But there are sometimes upsets in the opening game and we will be trying to cause one." The Scots will also play Norway and Morocco.
The draw, in Marseilles in front of 38,000 spectators, also threw up a fascinating fixture: The United States v Iran. Hank Steinbrecker, of the US Soccer Federation, possibly getting his Middle Eastern enemies mixed up, said: "It will be the mother of all football matches."
Theirs would also have been a good group for Europeans to be in; Germany and Yugoslavia got that benefit. "There are easier draws, far easier," noted Hoddle, "but it could have been worse. Spain's group is a hard one."
That is this tournament's group of death: Spain, Bulgaria, Nigeria and Paraguay. Italy, with Cameroon, Austria and Chile, are in the weakest group.
Scotland's opening tie, at the new 80,000-seat Stade de France in St Denis in the northern suburbs of Paris on Wednesday, 10 June, promises to be a massive party for the Tartan Army but no picnic for the players. It is a chance to surprise the world, as Cameroon did when defeating Argentina in 1990, or be humiliated in front of it.
England's opening game will be equally dramatic. The Stade Velodrome, where they will play Tunisia on the afternoon of Monday, 15 June, is the second largest arena at 60,000. With Marseilles having a high North African immigrant population and being just across the Mediterranean from Tunisia both sides will be well-supported. England's biggest concern here could be the heat; it is a 2pm kick-off local time.
The following day Scotland play Norway in Bordeaux at the 35,000-capacity Stade Lescure. England, meanwhile, wait until the evening of Monday, 22 June, to play Romania, in Toulouse, in a 37,000-seat stadium more noted for rugby.
Scotland complete their group programme a day later, against Morocco at St Etienne, where they recently lost to France and where fences remain. England's final group match is the last of that stage, on the evening of Friday, 26 June, in a 41,000-seat venue at Lens.
Should England go out here at least it is not far for them, or their fans, to travel home. If they do not they are likely to face Croatia or Argentina in Bordeaux or St Etienne. Should they win the group Germany would be their probable quarter-final opponents and Brazil could be avoided until the final. Second place would lead - if they are winning - to a likely semi-final meeting with Brazil.
Scotland, should they finally progress past a first round, are set to meet Italy in Marseilles, then France in Paris. However, these matters rarely follow form.
England have not beaten Romania since Geoff Hurst scored the only goal of the game in Guadalajara during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. England have, however, twice knocked Romania out of the World Cup in the qualifiers, in 1982 and 1990 and drew with them in a Wembley friendly in 1994.
They also drew with Colombia at Wembley under Terry Venables but have only met Tunisia once, drawing 1-1 in a warm-up before the 1990 World Cup, during which Terry Butcher narrowly escaped dismissal for butting an opponent.
The Scots have played Brazil three times in the World Cup, drawing in 1974 and losing in 1982 and 1990. They have not lost to Norway since 1963 but that is largely irrelevant; most of the current Norwegian national side play in the Premiership. The Scots have never played Morocco and Craig Brown said he would be attending their May tournament against Paraguay, Belgium and France.
England were happy to retain their planned fixture with Colombia in February but the Colombians are less keen. Glenn Hoddle's side are now likely to play Argentina, with a March trip to Washington a possibility, as is a match against Morocco.
"We need to do our homework," said Hoddle. "We have to make sure we get off to a good start against Tunisia to get the momentum going. I'm glad we play them first, and Romania second. Romania have a lot more World Cup experience than us while Colombia are very unpredictable. On any given day they can produce a marvellous performance but they can also be poor and go out."
The Romanian coach, Anghel Iordanescu, said he was disappointed to be drawn with England. Tunisia's Henryk Kasperczak, who played in the Polish side that knocked England out of the 1974 World Cup at Wembley, said: "It is 90 minutes and anything can happen."
Brown said: "It is a contrasting group. I have seen Morocco and they are a good side. We will respect them but we are hard to beat." He will spend the next few days looking for a suitable base for Scotland in France.
England already have their competition base on the west coast near Nantes, but Hoddle will today look for a temporary retreat near Marseilles where the team can prepare for the opening game.
Two more "English" players will be offered the chance to take an interest in the World Cup. Rene Simoes, the Jamaican coach, said he would be contacting Frank Sinclair of Chelsea and Wimbledon's Marcus Gayle to see if they wished to join the Reggae Boyz campaign against Argentina, Croatia and Japan.
The draw had been preceded by an exhibition match, lit up by Brazil's Internazionale striker, Ronaldo, and featuring a decent performance from Tunisia's Adel Sellimi, in which the Rest of the World beat Europe 5-2.
There followed lengthy preliminaries during which the crowd grew bored and cold, amusing themselves by jeering the French Federation president and any mention of Paris. Eventually the draw began and next summer took shape.
In the rehearsal Scotland had been paired with Romania, a team Brown did not want. England had drawn Brazil, who Glenn Hoddle did want. In the real thing the roles were reversed.
And so to Paris in June and, for England, a return to the Stade Velodrome. It will be much hotter, both on and off the pitch.
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