Toronto, Canada – By Paul Radford
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa celebrated a spectacular prelude to Africa's first World Cup finals on Friday with jubilation tempered by a tough draw for the hosts which could see them fall at the first hurdle.
South Africa play the opening match of next year's finals against Mexico and then go on to face two former World Cup winners, Uruguay and France, in Group A.
Should the South Africans not finish in the top two in their section they would be the first host nation to fail to get beyond the group stage.
South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira put on a brave face saying: "It is the only group in the whole competition to have two former world champions. It doesn't scare us. It is a challenge for us."
Five times winners Brazil were also handed a tough draw and must play their European cousins Portugal, Africa's strongest team Ivory Coast and North Korea in the tournament's trickiest group.
Brazil v Portugal brings together two of the world's best players and team mates, Brazil's Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, who both play their club football for Real Madrid.
The draw for the 32-nation tournament was made at the end of a 90-minute global television spectacular, featuring African music and dancing, broadcast to more than 250 million people around the world.
The opening match will be staged on June 11 at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium with the final, the tournament's 64th match, in the same stadium on July 11.
European champions Spain, who top the FIFA world rankings, were immediately installed as 4-1 tournament favorites by British bookmakers after being drawn in favorable Group H with Switzerland, Honduras and Chile.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said: "We can't complain. We can't hide the fact we are one of the favorites to win (the World Cup)."
But Spain look set to face a tough time in the last 16 where they would probably meet Brazil or their immediate neighbors Portugal from Group G.
Holders Italy, who beat France in the final four years ago in Germany, have a more comfortable looking ride in Group F with Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.
Italy's coach Marcello Lippi said: "We will prepare without thinking whether our opponents are either easy or difficult. We will just think that these are matches to win.
Germany have it somewhat tougher with Australia, Serbia and Ghana standing in their way in Group D.
Germany coach Joachim Loew said: "I've got a lot of respect for Serbia. They beat France and easily won their group.
"They've got a lot of good players and they're a very strong team. I wouldn't call Ghana an outsider. They're one of the stronger teams."
England meet the United States, who beat them 1-0 in a humiliating result at the 1950 finals, Algeria and Slovenia in Group C.
"I think it is one of the most balanced groups," said England manager Fabio Capello. "Algeria have beaten Egypt so they are a dangerous side. I remember there have been groups that looked easy but then became really complicated."
The draw was conducted by FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke with South African actress Charlize Theron and the ceremony included a televised address to the world from former South African president Nelson Mandela.
The country's current president Jacob Zuma appeared on stage to make the bold prediction that the trophy would stay in Africa after the continent staged the tournament for the first time.
No African team has reached the semi-finals before though Africa's first World Cup features six African countries for the first time and there are more Africans than ever playing with the world's best club sides.
(Additional reporting by Mike Collett, Mark Gleeson, Barry Moody, Gordon Bell, Agnieszka Flak and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Editing by Ken Ferris)