But Friday's draw proved kind, of sorts, for Brazil. The host nation should make short work of its Group A.
Brazil, however, could then bang up against the Spanish or the Dutch in the very first knockout game. Should it lose, not unimaginable against such pedigree teams, the host nation's sorrow would surely suck some of the samba-loving sense of fun out of the tournament.
Three former winners — Italy, Uruguay and England — were tossed together in one daunting group, meaning at least one of them is bound to go home early.
The United States drew one of the shortest straws. Its game schedule will send Jurgen Klinsmann's team pinging around on a 9,000-mile (14,000-kilometre) trip around the world's fifth-largest country.
Having only squeezed into the tournament via the play-offs, 1998 winner France could hardly believe its luck, drawing a manageable group of Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras.
Argentina, champion in 1978 and 1986, first plays Bosnia-Herzegovina, the only World Cup newcomer among the 32 teams. That will be the first of seven games at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium, which also hosts the July 13 final. Argentina, a favourite to win with four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi, then plays Iran and Nigeria, which it beat in all three previous World Cup encounters.
Argentina will be heavily favoured to come out top of its Group F. If so, it could find either Switzerland or France in its way in its first knockout game. Those European nations will be hoping to avoid Argentina by topping their Group E.
Defending champion Spain and the Netherlands, a three-time finalist, first play each other. Hopefully, it won't be a repeat of the horror show that was the 2010 final, when referee Howard Webb showed a record 14 yellow cards and could have sent off several players, instead of just the one.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said that history should challenge the teams to do better on June 13. He and Spain coach Vincent del Bosque both warned against underestimating Chile, even though it lost 6 of its 16 qualifying games, shipping 25 goals.
Del Bosque said the South Americans' "style of play is very impressive, they make it very uncomfortable for opponents. They are very hard-working, a very difficult team."
Spain and the Netherlands will both want to top their Group B, which also includes a very unimpressive Australia, because the second-placed team faces the prospect of then meeting Brazil.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari didn't want to think that far ahead, saying: "If you start thinking about the second round you forget about the teams in the first round, which are important."
Brazil kicks off its campaign for a sixth World Cup title with the opening match on June 12 against Croatia. That could be a daunting experience for the Croats, playing their fourth World Cup. Full-throated support from home fans helped lift Brazil at the Confederations Cup warm-up tournament in June, where it beat world champion Spain in the final.
In Group A, the home team also plays Mexico, which is competing in its sixth successive World Cup but which had to beat New Zealand in a playoff to qualify for the 2014 tournament.
Brazil's last match is against Cameroon, which has only advanced once from the group stage in six appearances.
Cameroon coach Volker Finke was concerned about the heat and humidity his players will face in their second match, in the Amazon basin city of Manaus.
Finke wasn't alone. England coach Roy Hodgson had also voiced misgivings before Friday's draw, drawing a swift rebuke from the Manaus mayor.
Almost inevitably, the luck of the draw then threw them together. England's first game will be at Manaus' Arena Amazonia, against four-time champion Italy. Their Group D is among the toughest, including Uruguay, a 2010 semifinalist and two-time champion, and Costa Rica.
"In Italy and Uruguay it's almost as though we have got two number one seeds," said Hodgson. "We know how good Italy are because we lost to them in the quarterfinals at the Euros. The game is going to be tough from a climate point of view for both teams."
With a field tougher than at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the draw was never likely to produce an easy group. But some were easier than others, not only because of the quality of opponents but also because lucky teams will travel less and avoid some of the hottest venues.
France coach Didier Deschamps was thrilled that his team plays its games in Rio and Porto Alegre in the south and Salvador on the Atlantic coast. That good fortune favours France's chances of reaching the knockout stage, perhaps with Switzerland, the seeded team in their Group E.
"We won't play in the northern regions, where the temperatures and the level of humidity are very high and the distances are very long. We stay more or less in the same area, which is not too far from our training camp. It's rather good news," said Deschamps.
Colombia, which will have one of the potential stars next June in striker Radamel Falcao, got one of the weakest groups of Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan.
Topping that Group C would then see Colombia play the second-best team in Group D, where Uruguay striker Luis Suarez, who cannot stop scoring for his club Liverpool, will be expected to shine.
Belgium, one of seven seeded teams in the draw, will fancy its chances of advancing from Group H. Playing its first World Cup since 2002, containing some of Europe's most exciting young players, Belgium first takes on Algeria, which has never moved beyond the group stage in three previous appearances.
Coach Marc Wilmots' team will also play 2018 World Cup host Russia and South Korea, a semifinalist in 2002. If Belgium tops that group it would then play the second-placed team from Group G. That is likely to be whichever team from Portugal, Ghana or the United States finishes behind Germany, one of the favourites to win the monthlong tournament.
Germany, champion in 1954, 1974 and 1990, first plays Portugal, with 2008 world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo. Germany's last group game is against the United States, which will be particularly memorable for its coach, Klinsmann. He won the 1990 World Cup as a forward for Germany and coached his country to the semifinal in 2006.
"I kind of had in my stomach that we were going to get Germany," said Klinsmann. "Obviously it's one of the most difficult groups in the whole draw, having Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo and then Ghana, who has a history with the United States. It couldn't get any more difficult or any bigger."
Ghana eliminated the Americans at the 2006 and 2010 tournaments.
"But that's what a World Cup is about," said Klinsmann. "It's a real challenge. And we'll take it. We'll take it on, and hopefully we're going to surprise some people there."
AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Tales Azzoni contributed from Costa do Sauipe.Suggest a correction