By: STEVEN WRIGHT – SPORTS EDITOR
Christmas comes early for soccer fans across the world Friday, Dec. 6.
Even with the 2014 FIFA World Cup over six months away, the speculation of how the tournament may play out begins when the draw is held in Brazil, the tournament’s host nation for the second time.
The Brazilian’s place is the only part of the draw where no drama lies prior to Friday’s draw, as they are automatically slotted into the first position in group A as the tournament host.
The fates of the remaining 31 nations and other eight groups as a whole are unknown until the draw begins.
And when it does, the intrigue will be at an all-time high, which has to excite fans even more than usual.
The pot assignments were announced Tuesday, Dec. 3, by FIFA and the tournament organizing committee.
However, there’s a twist.
The four selection pots have been divided up as usual. The tournament’s top seeds and those in different geographical regions were separated between pots to ensure no two countries from similar qualification areas will be matched up in the opening group stage. An exception was made for European nations, as there are 13 who will compete, making it impossible to place them all in a single pot.
Pot 1 includes the top seeds and tournament host, which are Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Columbia, Belgium, Uruguay and Switzerland.
Just seven countries will go into pot 2 though, as South American qualifiers Chile and Ecuador are joined by African countries Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria.
Pot 3 has the four Asian qualifiers of Australia, Iran, Japan and the Korean Republic, along with the four North and Central American squads: Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and the United States.
In pot 4 are the nine remaining European nations: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Russia.
Teams from each pot will be randomly placed into the eight groups. Pot 1 will be emptied first, all the way through pot 4, and teams will be placed sequentially as they are drawn, starting with group A and through H. However, with seven teams in one pot and nine in another, a special step will be made that has added to the intrigue.
To begin the draw, a European team from pot 4 will be randomly picked and placed into pot 2 to balance the pots. Pot 1 will then be emptied to begin the actual draw as normal. Upon reaching pot 2, the European team drawn from pot 4 will be picked from it to begin that pot. A pot X will have already been created with the four seeded team’s from South
America included in it. From that “pot X,” one team will be drawn to decide where the European squad from pot four will be placed. The pots will then be emptied as normal from the remainder of pot 2 through pot 4 until all have been selected.
The positioning order from two to four for each nation in each group will also be randomly selected as each squad is drawn to determine the schedule order of matches in the round-robin group phase. Those in positions one and two, and those in positions three and four face each other first.
The goal of the additional pot X-step helps ensure three European nations do not end up in the same group together. It should also be noted in the event one of the two South American nations in pot 2 are drawn into a group with a seeded South American team, they will be moved to the next group in order that has a European team as its top seed.
In doing so, excitement grows, becoming all hands on deck in creating dreaded “groups of death,” in which multiple powerful squads end up in a single group together.
The tournament already has 19 of the top 20 countries in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings qualified, and only seven not in the top 32 made the tournament. It was inevitable “group of death” would be made.
However, there’s a strong chance for more than one, and the United States very well could be included in one..
The U.S. is the top ranked team in its pot at 13th in the world. It’s also the weakest pot though, with four of the bottom five ranked teams in the tournament placed in it. Therefore, they cannot be placed in a group with any of those squads, leaving only the majority of the world’s power teams as possible opponents.
A few websites let you run simulations of the possibilities for the draw’s final outcome. One website, ultra-zone.net, gave me a balanced and somewhat favorable group of Belgium, Algeria and France for the Americans. I hit the simulate button again, and it came out with a bad news Belgium, Ivory Coast and England group.
Friday’s draw will be a great watch that provides plenty of nerves for fans around the world. The potential matchups are numerous, and what ends up as the final selections are guaranteed to bring along anticipation.
Even though the 2014 FIFA World Cup does not kick off until June 12, 2014, the buildup begins this week.