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Echos of ‘66

By SKIP BANDELE [email protected]

The 2010 World Cup draw in South Africa evoked a strong sense of nostalgia among Portuguese players and fans alike.

Come June of next year, the national team will find itself facing Brazil and North Korea during the initial phase of the tournament, as it did in England 44 years ago.

Then Eusébio and company recorded stunning 3-1 and 5-3 victories respectively over those two rivals on their way to a best-ever third place finish.

Back to the present, all eyes will be on Ronaldo as further spice is added to the Group G mix by the Didier Drogba-inspired Ivory Coast – that opening 3pm June 15 match could prove decisive for Carlos Queiroz’s men in terms of reaching the last 16 where Spain should be lying in wait.

The current European Champions have Switzerland, Honduras and Chile to beat in order to make that scenario a strong possibility.

Happier with the draw will undoubtedly be Fabio Capello. Group C rivals Algeria, Slovenia and the United States should hold few terrors for the England manager, who will already be planning ahead towards a potential quarter-final clash with France.

Elsewhere, Germany will regard Ghana as more of a stumbling block than either Australia or Serbia in Group D while France found out that cheats do prosper by being drawn into perhaps the weakest group featuring hosts South Africa, Mexico and Uruguay.

Argentina and Nigeria are favourites to emerge from Group B as are Holland and Italy from E and F respectively.

The greatest football spectacle in the world will kick off at 3pm on June 11 when South Africa take on Mexico at Soccer City in Johannesburg.

Looking further ahead, Luis Figo has been appointed to spearhead the Iberian bid to stage the 2018 tournament in Portugal and Spain as the English candidature appears to be faltering.