In the official Fifa practice for Friday's World Cup draw earlier this week, the host nation drew a sharp intake of breath when Brazil found themselves in an opening group with France, Italy and Australia.

Although only a dummy run, the simulation was a chastening reminder of the rare failures for the most successful team in the tournament's history at a time when confidence in the Seleção has just started to rise.

Brazil have won five World Cups, scored more goals than any other nation and are the only country to have appeared in every final tournament. But, ahead of the draw, it is the trauma of past defeats more than the astonishing record of victories that haunts many fans, commentators and former players.

The trial run hit several raw nerves. Italy knocked out what is widely seen as Brazil's best ever team in 1982, when Zico, Sócrates, Eder, Júnior, Falcão and co played some of the most stylish football ever seen in a final tournament but failed to make the final. France are also something of a bogeyman, having beaten Brazil in the final in 1998 and knocked them out in the quarter-finals in 2006.

A draw against these two teams is plausible, but for most fans and commentators, of course, highly undesirable.

"Brazil could be in a a group with Italy and France, and that would be hard for us," the 1970 World Cup winner Tostão told the Guardian. "Of course it's better if we get the weaker teams from Europe in the group stage, like Croatia and Greece."

Leaders of powerful fan clubs, known as torcidas organizadas, have the same natural aversion to groups of death as supporters in any other country.

"It would be better to be drawn with the weakest teams in the first phase. The likes of Honduras and Ghana would do the trick," said Luiz Gustavo, the head of a Rio-based supporters group known as Fúria Jovem do Botafogo.

Others, however, hope Brazil will dispatch their major rivals in the early stages.

"I want Brazil to eliminate Italy, Argentina and Spain as soon as possible," said Felipeh Campos, head of the country's first gay football fan club, which follows Corinthians in São Paulo.

Confidence in the Seleçao has surged since the host nation won the Confederations Cup in July amid a backdrop of mass social protest. Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, both in Bahia for the draw, have said in recent days that Brazil is now the favourite.

Juca Kfouri, one of the nation's leading commentators, told the Guardian the demonstration has energised the team.

"It was a big surprise that Brazil won the Confederations Cup. I have no doubt in saying that it was because of the protests in the streets and the fans in the stadiums. They gave the team a sense of patriotism."

Like many other pundits, he picked four possible winners – Brazil, Germany, Spain and Argentina. A victory by the latter would be the worst of all possible scenarios for most Brazilians.

Ronaldo, the top scorer in World Cup history with 15 goals, wrote on the Fifa website that a victory for Brazil's southern neighbours would be a "nasty suprise".

Fans are more candid. "(If Argentina win) it would be the end of the world for Brazilians," said Gustavo.

Almost as bad would be a repeat of 1950, when Uruguay stunned an entire nation by coming back from 1-0 down to beat Brazil in the final at the Maracanã. Despite the prolific form of the striker Luis Suárez, Uruguay are not seen as such a threat next year and many Brazilians hope the ghosts of 1950 can be exorcised by another meeting in the final between the two teams.

"It would be brilliant," said Campos. "The taste of victory over Uruguay would be very sweet, very joyful. It would wash our souls of the past."

Expectations for England are considerably lower – and in some cases, bordering on the hostile.

After the England manager Roy Hodgson said he would like to avoid Manaus because of the humid conditions in the middle of the Amazon, the mayor of that city, Arthur Virgílio Neto, said he would also not welcome the England team.

"We Amazonians would also prefer it if England did not come here," he said in a statement. " We will be hoping for a better draw of a team with more sensitive, cultured and educated technicians."

With additional reporting by Anna Kaiser