Reigning champions Spain and fellow European powerhouse France have been drawn together in qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.Following Saturday’s preliminary draw in Rio de Janeiro, the two heavyweights will be joined in UEFA Group I by Belarus, Georgia and Finland.
Fierce local rivals Croatia and Serbia were placed together in Group A, along with Belgium, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Macedonia.
The Netherlands, beaten 1-0 by Spain in the 2010 final, will be up against Turkey, Hungary, Romania, Estonia and Andorra.
Three-time winners Germany were drawn in Group C, together with Sweden, the Republic of Ireland, Austria, the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan.
Four-time champions Italy will face Denmark, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Armenia and Malta.
England’s biggest obstacle could be their Euro 2012 qualifying rivals Montenegro, as well as Ukraine and Poland, with Moldova and San Marino making up Group H.
In the third round of Asian qualifying, Australia must tackle Saudi Arabia, Oman and Thailand.
Of the confederation heavyweights, Asian Cup winners Japan have arguably the toughest assignment, drawn against Uzbekistan, Syria and North Korea.
The top two in each of the five third-round groups will progress to form two fourth-round groups.
The teams finishing first and second in the fourth round groups reach the finals automatically, while the third-placed team in each group then meet in a playoff.
The winner of the Asian playoff will contest an intercontinental playoff against the fifth-place team in South American qualifying.
There was no draw for South American qualifying, with all CONMEBOL teams to play one another, except Brazil, who qualify automatically as hosts.
In North America, Central America and Caribbean qualifying, a second round of group-stage qualifying will determine the right to face the seeded nations, including the United States and Mexico.
The top two in each of the CONCACAF third-round groups will then contest a six-team fourth round group.
The top three in the fourth round will qualify automatically, with the fourth-placed team entering an intercontinental playoff against the winner of Oceania.
That is likely to be New Zealand, who will be play Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea in Group B of Oceania’s second round.
In Group A, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Tahiti will be joined by a round-one winner.