Along with host Brazil, 31 soccer nations big and small have spent up to
two years getting to this point. Now, after the trial and tribulation
that accompanied the grueling World Cup qualifying process, their fate is no
longer in their own hands.
To begin with, it is all about pots.
After that, it is largely about pot luck.
Along with host Brazil, 31 soccer nations big and small have spent up to two years getting to this point. Now, after the trial and tribulation that accompanied the grueling qualifying process, their fate is no longer in their own hands.
To a large extent it is in the lap of the soccer gods. The global gathering of national coaches and their respective employers at the FIFA World Cup draw on Friday in Brazil (CBCSports.ca, 11 a.m. ET) represents the survivors from an original field of more than 200 starters.
In other words, 84 per cent of the world didn't make it to Brazil. Yet most of the world will be watching.
Here's what we know for sure. Before celebrities and ex-players go fishing for balls in bowls, there are rules and regulations to be observed. The World Cup draw will, for example, have eight seeded teams -- one for each group of four.
In theory, at least, the fortunate elite are handed a head start. They are purposely kept apart in the preliminary stages to try and ensure the best teams have the best chance of reaching the knockout phase of the tournament.
This is where FIFA's much criticized world rankings come into play. It really doesn't matter what you or I think of the way the world governing body chooses to rank its member nations. We may all believe, with some validity, that it makes no sense to seed Switzerland and not Italy, for example, but our opinion simply doesn't count.
What counts, ahead of the draw, is a country's ranking as of October 2013. On those standings alone the seeds have been calculated. Position A1 is spoken for. Everything else is up for grabs. Brazil, as host for the first time in more than 60 years, gets top billing.
The other seeds -- based entirely on October's rankings -- are Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay and Switzerland. I'll pause a moment while you ingest the usual and not-so-usual suspects.
Between them, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany have won 11 of the 19 World Cups ever played while Uruguay has won two of the four tournaments staged on the South American continent, including 1950 -- the only other occasion on which Brazil has hosted.
Ancient history, perhaps, but it is worth noting that no European nation has ever lifted the World Cup in South America. On that basis alone it is no surprise that half the seeds for 2014 originate from the South American continent.
Some, it would seem, are more suitable seeds than others. Exhibit A: Colombia, a nation returning to soccer's global showpiece after a 16-year absence, and that has only once advanced beyond the group stages in four previous appearances.
True, Los Cafeteros qualified comfortably behind Argentina, conceding a miserly 13 goals in 16 games. Colombia has also beaten fellow seed Belgium in a recent friendly, but a lack of World Cup success puts a major question mark against its elevated status.
The (Pot) X factor
The other main draw factor is geographical. Nations from the same confederation (or continent, effectively), with the exception of Europe, cannot be drawn in the same group. Thirteen countries into eight groups doesn't work, so five of them will contain two European rivals.
Watch out for an extra pot. Pot X will make a brief but potentially decisive debut at the draw. It is not as dark and mysterious as it sounds. It is merely a slightly clumsy way of ruling out any possibility of three European teams ending up in a single group. A random non-seeded UEFA qualifier, perhaps Italy or Holland, will be forcibly directed into a group containing one of the four South American seeds.
England manager Roy Hodgson is not so much concerned with who rather than where. Even though, like South Africa in 2010, it will be a Southern Hemisphere "winter" World Cup, it won't feel much like winter as we understand the term.
The vastness of Brazil -- stretching from north of the equator to south of the Tropic of Capricorn -- means weather conditions for the players will differ significantly depending on where the group games are played. The northern city of Manaus, for example, is hot and humid year round, while in the south, Porto Alegre will offer a much cooler, temperate climate for players and spectators alike.
Last but by no means least -- get ready for The Group of Death. Agreed, it's a cliché, but let's face it -- no World Cup draw would be complete without one. The draw for 2010 threw together Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast, then ranked No. 2 in Africa.
Of course there's no rule that states there can't be more than one Group of Death. Based on the seedings and the pots, here are a couple of possible permutations that could have us drooling at the mouth.
Group of Death 1: Brazil, United States, Italy, Netherlands.
Or maybe this: Group of Death 2: Germany, England, Mexico, Chile.
Nigel ReedNigel brings his extensive experience, passion and knowledge of the game of soccer to his role as play-by-play announcer and soccer analyst on CBC. Reed has spent more than 20 years covering the game, most notably a five-year stint from 1999 to 2004 where he was a host and producer for the English Premier League for BBC.
Since moving to Canada, Reed has become the voice of Major League Soccer on CBC. He was part of the CBC broadcast team for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, covering weightlifting, taekwondo, and equestrian in addition to soccer. He was a member of the CBC 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa panel. During the tournament he proudly became a Canadian citizen.