By Mike Collett
COSTA DO SAUIPE (Reuters) - Geoff Hurst was a national hero when he scored a hat-trick in England's 1966 final victory but he did his country no favours when he drew the former champions in one of the toughest 2014 World Cup groups.
With three balls already drawn and five to go in the pot containing the remaining European teams, Hurst pulled out England for the one vacant position in Group D to set up their hardest campaign for years.
Roy Hodgson's side will face South American champions and twice World Cup winners Uruguay, four-times winners Italy and unpredictable Costa Rica at the finals in Brazil.
To add more spice to the mix England's opening game will be against Italy in Manaus in the humidity of the Amazon jungle on June 14.
Hodgson's men must also contend with Uruguay's red-hot striker Luis Suarez, top scorer in the Premier League this season with 13 goals for Liverpool.
FA chairman Greg Dyke was caught by TV cameras on Friday making a throat-slitting gesture, implying that England had been drawn in a 'group of death'.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli echoed Dyke's message with his choice of words.
"It will be very tough indeed for all of us," Prandelli told reporters. "It does not matter that we beat England in the Euros last year.
"This is different, everything will be different, the heat will be different, but that is the World Cup. It means that one former world champion will go out and my job is to make sure it is not Italy."
Hodgson explained earlier this week that the one venue he would rather avoid was Manaus, prompting an angry response from mayor Arthur Virgilio who said the England team would not be welcomed in the city.
Both backtracked after the draw was made.
Hodgson said he was happy to play anywhere and that the Amazonian venue was not a particular problem as they were facing another European team there.
Virgilio said his city would be gracious hosts.
"With Uruguay and Italy we have almost two top seeds in the group," added Hodgson.
"As the draw progressed I realised there were not too many easy groups but although this one is harder than most at least it is the only one that does not involve a lot of travelling.
"Our other two games against Uruguay and Costa Rica in Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte are not too far from our base in Rio de Janeiro."
One of England's famous defeats came in Belo Horizonte at the 1950 World Cup when they lost 1-0 to the United States who, like Costa Rica, come from the CONCACAF region.
Those who believe in omens might think that is a sign Hodgson's team will not progress.
England have never beaten Uruguay or Italy in five attempts competitively.
They last faced Uruguay in the group stages of the World Cup in 1966 when former West Ham United striker Hurst helped them win the trophy with his hat-trick in the 4-2 victory over West Germany in the final on home soil at Wembley.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)