Those first few glances at the 2014 World Cup draw would seem to suggest that Brazil, Argentina, France and Germany have drawn fairly winnable groups while Italy and England face much greater challenges in their opening matches. A more analytical study indicates that for some teams, all may not be as straightforward as first appears, while for others the draw is more benign than initially realised.
For example, Brazil may appear favourites to win Group A but Cameroon cannot be underestimated and should the host country progress, they face the alarming prospect of a last 16 tie against either Spain or Netherlands. That is assuming that those two nations can overcome under-rated Chile.
England and Italy have been drawn in Group D alongside Uruguay and Costa Rica. Uruguay may seem to be a formidable force with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in attack but they only qualified for the World Cup by virtue of a play-off win against Jordan and their recent tournament form is nothing special. They tend to be poor travellers with five defeats in eight away games in the South American qualification league.
Should Italy and England qualify, a match against one of the teams in Group C will follow and Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) may be the best of one of the least strongest group.
Perhaps the most favoured team in the draw is France who scraped into the competition by overturning a 2-0 deficit in their UEFA play-off match. They face seeded Switzerland plus Ecuador and rank outsiders Honduras. Winning that group will probably lead to a match against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran or Nigeria, which could be much worse for a last 16 tie. Argentina would face the runner-up of the French group.
Groups G and H are much more open than form would suggest. Germany and Belgium are the expected winners but a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal and the dangerous Ghana team will not be easy opponents for the Germans while USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann faces the national team for which he played with much distinction.
Belgium are reckoned to be one of the more powerful European teams but South Korea and Russia can be very good on their day but can also flatter to deceive. The Belgians will face an awkward clash in the next round should they progress as group winners.
Yet, as England manager Roy Hodgson inferred, matches may appear predictable on paper but are never decided on paper. The form book is often upset in a 90 minute football match and we should expect a few strange results once the World Cup tournament begins in June.