Roy Hodgson does not fear his England side being thrown into a group full of tournament favourites at this afternoon’s World Cup draw.
Fifa changed the draw format on Tuesday, potentially increasing England’s chances of being put in a nightmare group including hosts Brazil or old foes Argentina. Under the new format, one of the nine teams in Pot Four, which contains the unseeded European sides, including England, would be picked at random to move up to Pot Two.
That team would then be drawn against one of the South American seeds – such as Brazil or Argentina – and another big European nation possibly the Netherlands, Italy or France.
Hodgson has no problem with Fifa’s decision, though, and won’t be peering through his fingers in fear when the names are pulled out of the hat in Costa Do Sauipe when then the draw begins around 5pm GMT.
“We respect everybody, we don’t fear anybody,” Hodgson said. “Being here really brings it all home, all the hard work has led to this and we can’t wait now to see who we get.” The worst-case scenario for Hodgson’s side would be that they were drawn against Brazil, the United States and Italy, who knocked England out of Euro 2012.
The complexities of Fifa’s rankings mean that Switzerland have squeezed into Pot One, so a date with the nation Hodgson used to coach, along with Honduras and Algeria, would probably be a dream group for Hodgson’s men.
“You don’t know whether being in Pot Two could turn out to be an advantage or a disadvantage,” he told Sky Sports News. “People can speculate as much as they like, but, if it happens, to you, you just get on with it.”
The key to a successful World Cup campaign is to start off against tougher opponents rather than easier ones, World Cup winners Mario Kempes of Argentina and Zinedine Zidane of France both agreed on the eve of the draw.
“From the beginning of a World Cup, you have to have the right mindset and you can’t feel like it’s best to play against the small teams first,” Zidane said. “It’s best to start against the stronger teams because the challenge is so tough, you may as well start against the best.”
Kempes, still with a mass of thick hair but without the moustache he famously sported in 1978 in his homeland, agreed and said he was delighted the finals were back in South America for the first time since his side’s triumph. “We can prove that we can organise a great finals here as they do in Europe,” he said. “It is an extraordinary opportunity for us and can move South American football in the right direction.
“I agree with Zinedine. The best thing is to start against the strongest teams because that way you can’t rest on your laurels. If you start by thinking that some teams are easier, that is not the best way to prepare.”
Kempes scored twice when Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1 in the 1978 final and Zidane did the same when France beat Brazil 3-0 in 1998 to lift the trophy, again at home. They were among eight former players on a panel representing the eight World Cup-winning countries at a press event.
Meanwhile, Fifa has agreed a timetable for consultation aimed at switching the 2022 World Cup kick-off in Qatar to November. A final decision is expected when Fifa’s executive committee meets in December 2014 or March 2015.
Fifa says “the international football community and Fifa’s business partners” will have meetings between now and August with a working group led by Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.
Broadcaster Fox, which owns the United States English language rights, should be a key contributor because a November-December tournament will clash with NFL, college football, NBA and NHL.
Fifa says a panel will meet in September and November to draft major tournament and national team match dates, which will affect domestic leagues. Clubs are obliged to release their players for Fifa international calendar fixtures.