U.S. draws Jamaica for 2014 qualifying
RIO DE JANEIRO -- The 2014 World Cup has officially begun, with the United States being drawn with Jamaica in qualifying for the North, Central America and Caribbean region for the tournament in Brazil.
The U.S. and Jamaica will be joined in Group A by the winners of a preliminary group consisting of Belize, Grenada, Guatemala, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and another consisting of Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti, Curaçao and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Draw
• United States
• Winner of Belize, Grenada, Guatemala, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
• Winner of Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti, Curaçao and the U.S. Virgin Islands
• Costa Rica
• Winner of Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Suriname
• Winner of Barbados, Bermuda, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago
• Winner of Bahamas, Dominica, Nicaragua, Panama
• Winner of Canada, Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia
Anguilla, Aruba, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands were eliminated in the first round.
The United States' matches in that round will take place from June 8 to October 16, 2012.
Mexico will play in the same group as Costa Rica, and Honduras was drawn with Cuba.
The top two teams in each of the three groups will advance to the final round, where the final three will qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil. The fourth-place team will play the top team from the Oceania Football Confederation in an interconfederation playoff for the last spot in the finals.
Saturday's draw determined the path of 166 teams in their bid to qualify for the tournament in three years. The qualifiers began June 15 and will end Nov. 19, 2013, after 824 matches. Twenty-eight teams were eliminated in preliminary rounds before Saturday's draw.
The World Cup will be played from June 12 to July 13, and the complete schedule will be announced in October.
"We love football," Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said at the draw. "Today, Brazil is admired for more than just football, music and its popular festivities. I invite you to come visit us. You will find a country very well prepared for the World Cup."
Brazilian media reported that about 1,000 protesters demonstrated near the draw, opposing the removal of families from areas where the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics will be held, Brazilian media reported. Some were also protesting the nearly $20 million of public funds said to have been spent for Saturday's event.
Riot troopers and mounted police were negotiating to end the demonstration, which remained peaceful by the time the draw began. Some protesters held banners criticizing Brazilian soccer federation president Ricardo Teixeira and FIFA.
The total of 203 teams vying for a World Cup spot surpasses by three the number that participated four years ago. The only associations not to have signed up to compete this time are Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Guam and Mauritania.
Seven nations have qualified for each of the last six World Cups -- Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Spain and the U.S. Germany has been the most successful team in World Cup qualifiers so far, with only two losses in 74 matches.
Ronaldo, Neymar, Zico and Zagallo were among the current and past Brazilian players participating in the draw. More than 35 coaches and representatives from 104 national teams were in attendance. Rousseff, Pele and Michel Platini were also at Marina da Gloria harbor in Rio.
Strong wind damaged part of the auditorium holding the draw just before the start, but workers fixed the problem in time and the event was not disrupted.
World champion Spain was drawn on Saturday with 1998 winner France, Georgia, Belarus and Finland in a qualifying group for the 2014 tournament.
England was placed with 2012 European Championship co-hosts Ukraine and Poland in Group H.
UEFA World Cup Qualifying Draw
Group A Belgium, Croatia, Macedonia, Scotland, Serbia, Wales Group B Armenia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Malta, Italy Group C Austria, Faroe Islands, Germany, Kazakhstan, Ireland, Sweden Group D Andorra, Estonia, Hungary, Netherlands, Romania, Turkey Group E Albania, Cyprus, Iceland, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland Group F Azerbaijan, Israel, Luxembourg, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Russia Group G Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Slovakia Group H England, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, San Marino, Ukraine Group I Belarus, Finland, France, Georgia, Spain
"It will be interesting, there won't be easy matches," England coach Fabio Capello said. "England will have to be very careful, especially against Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine."
Italy will meet Denmark and the Czech Republic in Group B, while Germany faces Sweden, Austria and Ireland in Group C.
"Sweden and Ireland are very strong teams and that makes the group interesting," Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff said.
Fifty-three European nations were divided into nine groups, with the winners automatically qualifying and the eight best group runners-up advancing to a playoff. European qualifying matches begin Sept. 7 and end Oct. 15, 2013.
Spain is in a difficult Group I, the only one with five teams instead of six.
The Netherlands, last year's runner-up in South Africa, was drawn in Group D with Turkey, Hungary and Romania, while Portugal will have to face Russia and Israel in Group F.
Group A has Croatia, Serbia, Belgium and Scotland. Greece will play Slovakia in Group G, while Norway was drawn in Group E with Slovenia and Switzerland.
Japan will face Uzbekistan, Syria and North Korea in Group C, while Australia will play Saudi Arabia, Oman and Thailand in Group D.
Iran, Bahrain and Qatar were drawn in the same Group E, along with Indonesia, while China is in Group A with Iraq, Jordan and Singapore.
The African teams were divided into 10 groups for qualifiers beginning in November. South Africa, last year's World Cup host, was drawn in Group A along with Botswana. Ghana, the best African team last year, is in Group D with Zambia and Sudan.
South America was not included in the draw because the continent's nine teams will be placed in a single group. They will play each other twice, home and away, with the top four finishers securing a World Cup spot. The fifth-place team will advance to an intercontinental playoff against a team from Asia.
As host, Brazil is the only nation that doesn't have to qualify.
"We are happy to be back in Brazil," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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