Why is the World Cup draw such a big deal?

The eyes of the sports world were firmly focused on Cape Town as FIFA, soccer's world governing body, conducted the official draw for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa on Friday.

Draw expected to attract global TV audience of more than 200 million, according to FIFA.

The list of dignitaries scheduled to attend is long, but it includes an Oscar-winning actress, a host of top athletes and several Nobel Peace Prize winners.

And if that's not enough, one of the most recognized and important political figures of the 20th century will address the gathered audience, with more than 800 members of the media from all parts of the world looking on from the press section.

Indeed, the eyes of the sports world will be firmly focused on Cape Town as FIFA, soccer's world governing body, conducts the official draw for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa on Friday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, Noon ET).

Live Blog and Stream

Want the inside scoop on the 2010 FIFA World Cup draw? Join soccer experts Jason de Vos and John F. Molinaro at Noon ET on Friday, Dec. 4, as they provide live updates during CBCSports.ca's live blog.

You can also watch the World Cup Draw on the main CBC TV network and online at CBCSports.ca starting at noon ET.

Who will be drawn into the Group of Death? What path will Italy face if it is to repeat as World Cup champion? Which group will your team play in?

Log on to CBCSports.ca and tune in to CBC to find out.

Charlize Theron to host

The draw ceremony will be co-hosted by South African actress Charlize Theron and feature appearances from, among others, Ethiopia's two-time Olympic gold medallist Haile Gebrselassie, English soccer star David Beckham and Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Frederik W. de Klerk.

Former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela, who played a major role in bringing the World Cup to Africa, will deliver a special message via video at an event that FIFA says will draw an estimated global TV audience of more than 200 million people in 200 countries.

Four years ago, the draw for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany attracted a worldwide TV audience of 134.5 million and was shown live in 137 countries.

All this for an event that revolves around celebrities pulling small balls out of glass tumblers! It really prompts the question: what's the big deal about the World Cup draw?

Quite a lot, actually.

First of all, soccer is by far the most popular sport on the planet and its quadrennial World Cup - and not the Olympics - is the biggest and most-watched sporting event in the world.

According to Sponsorship Intelligence, a London-based firm specializing in sports marketing, the 2006 World Cup was watched, in whole or in part, by about 5.9 billion global TV viewers. Compare that with the only 4.7 billion viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, who watched some of the 17 days of TV coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Second, the World Cup draw is of the utmost importance to fans of "the beautiful game" everywhere because it will determine the eight first-round groups and the match order for the 32 teams who will contest the FIFA World Cup from June 11 to July 11, 2010, in South Africa.

Essentially, the World Cup draw is a signpost, a marker at the edge of the road indicating that the finish line in a gruelling marathon is within sight - after biting their nails while watching four years of qualifying games, soccer fans will find out the opponents their team will have to overcome and the path it will have to follow to achieve World Cup glory.

The World Cup draw ceremony is rich in glitz, music and dance, pageantry and glamour - four years ago, German supermodel Heidi Klum hosted the event - and a fair bit of edge-of-your-seat drama.

The Group of Death

The drama comes in the form of seeing which countries will compete in the Group of Death, a phrase believed to have been coined by former manager Omar Borras when his Uruguay side was drawn into a group with West Germany, Denmark and Scotland at the 1986 World Cup.

The term was adopted by the media and soon entered into the lexicon of soccer parlance, universally used to refer to the toughest World Cup group with the strongest teams, and subsequent World Cup tournaments have provoked the question, "Which group is the Group of Death this time?"

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke will be the centre of attention on Friday, as he is the one charged with the responsibility of swirling the balls in the glass pots before pulling them out for the world to see, thus determining the fate and fortune of 32 nations.

Interestingly, pomp and circumstance hasn't always been a part of the World Cup draw. The draw for the first two tournaments, 1930 in Uruguay and 1934 in Italy, were not conducted until all of the teams arrived in the host country before the start of the competition.

It wasn't until the 1938 World Cup in France that FIFA made the draw an event unto itself, held months in advance of the competition. The 1938 draw was made by Yves Rimet, the grandson of the former FIFA president Jules Rimet. 

Yves recalled the event in a 2004 interview: "I didn't want to go. Like most children, I was quite shy. When we got to the door of the Salon de l'Horloge, I saw all the people and was even more afraid. As soon as I spotted my grandfather at the table, I headed straight for his side, and didn't even look at anyone else!

"After that, I remember picking out the balls, of course, and the journalists' questions."

Global media event

The World Cup draw has undergone major changes since then and has grown into one of the biggest global media events.

The 1966 draw at London's Royal Garden Hotel was the first to be televised. One of the most ambitious draw shows to date, for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, boasted a star-studded lineup featuring opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti and movie legend Sophia Loren.

American TV icon Dick Clark produced the draw for the 1994 World Cup and pulled out all the stops in Las Vegas, with live performances from James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow and Julio Iglesias.

Four years ago, some of the game's all-time greats (Franz Beckenbauer, Pele, Lothar Matthaeus and Johan Cruyff) converged in Germany, but it was Heidi Klum who stole the show, conducting the ceremony in a revealing, sleek, azure gala dress.

All of which leads us to Friday's festivities in Cape Town.

What will be the lasting memory of the 2010 World Cup draw? What surprises are in store for the TV viewing audience? And, most important, who will be drawn into the Group of Death?

We'll soon find out.