RIO DE JANEIRO -- World champion Spain was drawn on Saturday with 1998 winner France, Georgia, Belarus and Finland in a qualifying group for the 2014 tournament -- the first World Cup in Brazil in 64 years.
Officially kicking off proceedings for the event, the draw placed England with 2012 European Championship co-hosts Ukraine and Poland in Group H. Italy will meet Denmark and the Czech Republic in Group B, while Germany faces Sweden, Austria and Ireland in Group C.
Spain and England were the final two teams to find out their qualifying opponents in the draw, and either one had a chance to end up in France's group.
"Either one would be difficult, but getting Spain was worse," France coach Laurent Blanc said of the European champions. "Spain still will be one of the best teams in the world by 2014."
Fifty-three European nations were divided into nine groups, with the winners automatically qualifying and the eight best group runners-up advancing to a playoff.
The European qualifying matches will begin Sept. 7 and end Oct. 15, 2013.
Group I is the only one with five teams instead of six.
"Apparently, France is the toughest rival in the group, but it would be dangerous and a grave mistake to underestimate the other teams," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque told news agency Efe. "We have to respect all our rivals ... today, you can't take anyone for granted."
The draw in Rio de Janeiro determined the path of 166 teams in their bid to qualify for the tournament in three years' time. It was the first major World Cup event in Brazil since the South American nation was awarded the competition in 2007. As host, Brazil is the only nation that doesn't have to qualify.
"We are happy to be back in Brazil," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said.
Montenegro, Moldova and San Marino also are in England's group.
"It will be interesting, there won't be easy matches," England coach Fabio Capello said. "England will have to be very careful, especially against Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine."
Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff was expecting a difficult time in Group C, which also has the Faeroe Island and Kazakhstan.
"Sweden and Ireland are very strong teams and that makes the group interesting," Bierhoff said.
Italy also was likely to have a tough time in its group, which includes Bulgaria, Armenia and Malta.
The Netherlands, last year's runner-up in South Africa, was drawn in Group D with Turkey, Hungary and Romania, while Portugal will have to face Russia and Israel in Group F.
Group A has Croatia, Serbia, Belgium and Scotland. Greece will play Slovakia in Group G, while Norway was drawn in Group E with Slovenia and Switzerland.
The United States was drawn with Jamaica in qualifying for the North, Central America and Caribbean region.
The other two teams in Group A will come from preliminary qualifying matches that include Haiti, Guatemala, the U.S. Virgin Islands and five other nations.
Mexico is in Group B with Costa Rica, while Cuba and Honduras are in Group C. All three group winners and runners-up will advance to a final qualifying round, beginning February 2013.