Now that the World Cup pots have been confirmed, countries around the globe will be tuned in Friday for the official draw. Managers will now have to quell nerves and focus on preparing their staffs for the task of scouting their future opponents. With a six month preparation window, final roster tweaks and lots of prayers for the health of players will fill the minds of the likes of Vicente Del Bosque, Roy Hodgson and Jürgen Klinsmann. But before the draw, it is worth noting a few nuances and expectations for Friday.
1. How many can say they expected the 9th European side to be drawn from Pot 4 into Pot 2? Analysts were expecting the lowest ranking UEFA side would be shifted into the pot housing the African sides and remaining South American sides. Few saw this as an opportunity for FIFA to place a random European side in this pot. What does this mean? Well, it means that France no longer face the prospect of a group with a top South American side and a quality European side (unless they are drawn from Pot 4 Friday). Furthermore, it means that Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands (all now ranked in the Top 10 in FIFA rankings) could potentially find themselves in an unenviable position that would force them into a group with a top 10 side from South America. This matters because only South American nations have won World Cups hosted in South American countries. Additionally, this also poses the threat of having a group with 3 Top 10 countries in a single group. Had the lowest ranked side (France by October rankings and Russia by November rankings) been placed in Pot 2, this would not be possible.
2. We can say there are certainly going to be 3 groups with 2 European countries and 1 South American country. It is almost certainly within these three groups that a Group of Death or multiple Groups of Death will emerge. As mentioned, having the potential for a group with 3 Top 10 countries from the most recent FIFA rankings would be entertaining and a shame for the side that would not finish in the top 2 of that group. Also, European sides will also not want to be placed in a group with Chile or Ecuador. Both of these countries are guaranteed to be paired with 2 European countries. Chile will certainly be the more feared of the two after their dismantling of England at Wembley last month. However, playing in Brazil will only enhance the support for the two South American sides that have already begun scouting the European sides that will prove major tests in their bid to get out of the group stage in World Cup 2014.
3. The pots are heavily unbalanced. While it is understandable that FIFA tries to ensure some geographic parity, they have failed to create balance within the pots themselves. Pots 2 and 3 are the prime example. Pot 1 and Pot 4 have essentially become the top ranked teams and the second highest ranked teams (although the United States, Chile, Ivory Coast and Mexico do all rank higher than the lowest ranked European side). As per the November FIFA rankings, here are how the pots average:
Pot 1 – 5.625 average ranking
*Pot 2 – 27.429 average ranking
Pot 3 – 39 average ranking
*Pot 4 – 13.778 average ranking
*It is worth noting that Pot 2 will have an average ranking between 24.625 (if Portugal are drawn into Pot 2) and 26.75 (if Russia are drawn into Pot 2) while Pot 4 will have an average ranking between 12.75 (if Russia are drawn into Pot 2) and 14.875 (if Portugal are drawn into Pot 2). However, the disparity is still great with Pots 2 and 3 having such a lower average ranking.
4. The United States actually has become the team that no one wants to draw. The United States is the highest ranked country outside of teams in Pot 1 and 4 and while the Pot 2 European side is certainly a team that one of the top 4 South American sides want to avoid, the United States is the team everyone in Pot 1 and 4 will want to avoid. It does not guarantee the United States will create a Group of Death as statistics show a 50% chance of that happening, but it does guarantee that the group will have the highest non-European and non-South American side awaiting it. Does this mean the United States will ruin someone’s World Cup hopes? Certainly not. What it does mean is that the United States are the one team in Pot 3 with a legitimate chance to cause major problems to the top nations in the tournament. No offense to Iran, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras, but those teams are a welcome opponent to many given the strength of the tournament field. However, this also means that the US must hope beyond hope that they receive a favorable draw to progress into the Knockout Stage.
Friday will present a lot of drama and heartache, but it was certainly worth pointing out some of the unique characteristics of World Cup 2014 prior to the draw taking place.