The four pots from which the World Cup’s 32 nations will be drawn have been announced, with FIFA throwing a late curve ball into the mix. Much of the announcement in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia was mere confirmation of what we already knew: joining Pot 1, made up of the eight seeded teams, will be a pot of teams from Asia and CONCACAF, as well as another comprising the remainder of the unseeded European teams.
However, with their being nine unseeded European teams, rather than moving the lowest ranked one, France, into Pot 2 with Chile, Ecuador and the African qualifiers, one of the nine UEFA qualifiers from Pot 4 will be drawn into Pot 2.
Confused yet? So was FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, the man making the announcement. Essentially, after the teams from Pot 1 are allocated their group, one of the unseeded European teams will be drawn into a group with one of the seeded South American teams -- Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Uruguay -- and the draw will then proceed as normal from there. Got it? Good.
Here’s a recap:
Pot 1: Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay and Switzerland
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Pot 2: Chile, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon (plus one side from Pot 4)
Pot 3: Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras and the United States
Pot 4: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Russia
The specter of one of the deadliest groups in World Cup history already loomed large and now it is even more threatening. The scenario is particularly worrisome for those sides in the weakest of the pots, Pot 3, which, of course, includes the United States.
Consider this nightmare draw, for example: Hosts and favorites Brazil are drawn out of Pot 1, Italy get picked out as the European side to move into Pot 2, then comes the U.S. into an already unwanted section before the revelation of the Netherlands completes the horror. All the work Jurgen Klinsmann has done in the past two years trying to move the U.S. forward on the international scene would surely count for nothing. The luck of the draw could end the Yanks' aspirations of matching their quarterfinal berth in 2002 before they had even kicked a ball in the competition.
Conversely, things could look a lot rosier if the U.S., or any of the other Pot 3 sides, including potential dark horse Mexico, are thrown into a “group of life.” Having to take on Switzerland, Algeria and Greece, for example, would leave any of those sides fancying their chances of reaching the Round of 16.
As well as the identity of the opponents, Friday’s draw will also be crucial in determining when and where each team will be playing. In an already massive country, politics have meant that many of the groups will entail trips of great distances between matches. Another outcome that each team will want to avoid is playing in the northeastern cities of Salvador, Natal, and Fortaleza at 1 p.m. local time when the conditions will be sweltering.
Perhaps a draw has never been so crucial. The World Cup truly starts now.