The 2014 World Cup is still six months away, but the drama and the samba party begins Friday with a draw ceremony aimed to showcase Brazil’s natural beauty and “carnaval” atmosphere.
A TV audience of more than 200 million people is expected to tune in to the 90-minute extravaganza (11:30 a.m., ESPN2, Univision) as teams’ fortunes rise and fall with the selection of colored balls from glass jars.
Fans from every corner of the globe will stop whatever they are doing to catch the news of which teams wind up in which groups. Here in South Florida, soccer-friendly sports bars and restaurants will be hosting watch parties. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are hosting one at Mickey Byrnes Pub in Hollywood. Expect plenty of lunchtime eruptions and groans.
The draw can be compared to the NCAA Tournament’s Selection Sunday, but unlike the college basketball event, in which all teams are seeded, only eight of the 32 World Cup teams are seeded (via a complex ranking system), leaving the rest of the field entirely in the hands of fate.
It is possible, for example, that the unseeded United States could wind up in a group with five-time World Cup champion Brazil, four-time champion Italy and 2010 runner-up Netherlands. On the other hand, the Americans could end up facing Switzerland, Algeria and Greece.
The teams have been divided into eight pots of four, and from those pots will emerge Groups A through H for the three first-round matches. Because there can be no more than two European teams and one South American team per group, the selection process is complicated.
There will surely be belly-aching for teams that end up in so-called “Groups of Death,” and celebrating for the teams that seem to get an easy path to the knockout rounds. This year, there could be more fretting than ever, as the field is considered the strongest in recent memory. Twenty-three of the top 25 teams in the FIFA world rankings are in the field of 32.
Pot 1 includes the eight seeded teams: host Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Switzerland and Uruguay.
Colombia and Switzerland seeded ahead of Italy, Netherlands, France and England? That’s right. The Colombian “Cafeteros” are hot, having finished second in South American qualifying behind Argentina.
Led by star Radamel Falcao, they beat Belgium and tied Netherlands in friendlies. Switzerland, meanwhile, rolled through its qualifying round, allowing just six goals in 10 matches.
Pot 2 is for unseeded teams from South America and Africa: Chile, Ecuador, Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria.
Pot 3 includes Asia, Central and North America: United States, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea. Because CONCACAF was placed with Asia, this pot has five of the six lowest-ranked teams in the field — Honduras (41), Iran (45), Japan (48), South Korea (54), Australia (59) — so the 14th-ranked Americans are assured they won’t get any of those seemingly-lighter teams in their group.
Pot 4 is for the non-seeded Europeans: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Russia.
Buckle your seat belts.
The draw is being held in Costa do Sauipe, a breathtaking coastal resort town in the province of Bahia, approximately 56 miles from Salvador, one of the host cities.
Brazilian actors Fernanda Lima and Rodrigo Hilbert are hosting the show. Other entertainers include Margareth Menezes, who is Brazil’s equivalent of Aretha Franklin or Celia Cruz, Olodum and Emicida. Ricky Martin is performing the 2014 World Cup song.
The balls will be drawn by famous players from previous World Cups. Among them are France’s Zinedine Zidane, Brazil’s Cafu, Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro, and England’s 1966 hat-trick scoring Sir Geoff Hurst.
The opening game of the 2014 World Cup is June 12 in Sao Paulo, and the final is July 13 in Rio de Janeiro. The tournament will be hosted across 12 cities in the fifth-largest country in the world, which means location of games is as important as the opponent. One team could end up having to travel 3,000 miles from Sao Paulo to northern sites Fortaleza and Natal, while another team could hang around a much smaller geographic area that includes Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann is eager to find out the first three opponents.
“It’s really exciting because you can feel it. … You can start making plans; you can start analyzing the teams and get familiar with the locations where you play them. You get to work. That’s what you love to do. This is what you work for two and a half years. … The process starts now. You need to lead them six months in advance in terms of what they’re going to expect and to make sure that they are ready because once you kick off the first game, they’re going be emotionally going 200 miles per hour. ”
England manager Roy Hodgson summed up the anxiety of draw day like this: “We will hope for our best, but it is like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. We will open it up and see what we get, then try and digest it.”