After nearly three years, and 872 matches, the field of 209 countries has been narrowed to the 31 that will compete alongside host Russia in the biggest, single sporting event in the world.
And yet, the road thus travelled — while riveting for some and arduous for others — will be wiped clean on Friday as FIFA holds the World Cup draw in Moscow beginning at 10 a.m. ET.
The event will feature a plethora of soccer royalty, including Carles Puyol, Fabio Cannavaro and Diego Maradona. But regardless of who draw conductor Gary Linkeker welcomes on stage, none will shine brighter than Lady Luck.
For despite the pomp and celebration, her hand will undoubtedly influence who reigns from June 14 to July 15, as it is determined which groups and potential matchups each team faces in its attempt to summit soccer’s highest peak.
At the moment, all that is known is that Russia, as host, will automatically top Group A.
To determine the rest of the field, FIFA, using its October rankings, has divided the 32 finalists into four pots. The seven highest-ranked nations (plus Russia) have been placed in pot one. The next highest are in pot two, the following in pot three, and the lowest ranked in pot four.
- Pot 1: Russia (host), Germany (1), Brazil (2), Portugal (3), Argentina (4), Belgium (5), Poland (6), France (7)
- Pot 2: Spain (8), Peru (10), Switzerland (11), England (12), Colombia (13), Mexico (16), Uruguay (17), Croatia (18)
- Pot 3: Denmark (19), Iceland (21), Costa Rica (22), Sweden (25), Tunisia (28), Egypt (30), Senegal (32), Iran (34)
- Pot 4: Serbia (38), Nigeria (41), Australia (43), Japan (44), Morocco (48), Panama (49), South Korea (62), Saudi Arabia (63)
These pots will be used to determine the eight groups (A through H), comprised of four teams each. Only one team per pot can be drawn into a group. With no teams from the same geographical confederation able to be placed in the same group. The only exception is Europe which, due to its 14 teams, can have a maximum of two teams per group.
There will be no shortage of star power at next year’s competition. Brazil, as usual, are favourites. Having swept South American qualification, the five-time champs, led by but not limited to Neymar, have rediscovered their past form.
While titleholders Germany seek to become the first nation since Pele’s Brazil of 1958, 1962 to repeat as champions.
Spain and France have…