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World Cup circus starts with barely a ripple

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (Reuters) - Less than one year after Spain beat Netherlands to win the World Cup, the circus starts again Wednesday although the opening match of the 2014 qualifying tournament will cause barely a ripple.

Tiny Montserrat, who have won only two international matches, are scheduled to face Belize on neutral territory in a match which will be a far cry from last year's game at Soccer City, watched by an estimated 700 million television viewers.

The preliminary round first leg tie is the first of an expected 832 qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in which all but five of FIFA's member association's are set to take part.

Running Montserrat's national team has become a complicated exercise since the 1995 volcanic eruption which forced more than half the island's people to move abroad, burying the capital Plymouth and reducing the population from 12,000 to 4,700.

They are joint 202nd and last in the FIFA rankings alongside Anguilla, who are also in action, Andorra, Papua-New Guinea, American Samoa and San Marino.

Montserrat's last games were last year when they played three times, conceded 16 goals and failed to score in heavy defeats to St Vincent & Grenadines, Barbados and St Kitts & Nevis.

But national team coach Kenny Dyer, who played for a number of non-league clubs in England, is still optimistic his team can pull off an upset in the opening match of the two-leg tie.

"Our chances are very good," Dyer, whose squad includes midfielder Anthony Griffith from English fourth division Port Vale, told FIFA.com.

"They have more experience than us, but we are a quality side especially with the inclusion of some players who play abroad, in the UK and the Australian league."

Belize are 172nd in the FIFA rankings and coach Jose de la Paz Herrera has World Cup experience as the 70-year-old led his native Honduras to the finals in Spain in 1982, the first of their only two appearances at the tournament.

Although the main draw for the 2014 qualifiers will take place in Rio de Janeiro on July 30, a number of preliminary matches will be played in CONCACAF and Asia before then.

Eight other teams are involved in the CONCACAF preliminaries with Anguilla facing Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands taking on the British Virgin Islands, Aruba meeting St Lucia and Bahamas facing the Turks and Caicos Islands.

These matches are due to be played in the next few weeks but the dates have not been announced. Belize are due to host Montserrat in the return Sunday.

Europe will have 13 places at the 2014 finals, with five for Africa, 4.5 for South America and Asia, 3.5 for CONCACAF and 0.5 for Oceania. Brazil qualify automatically as hosts.

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne)