The draw is still a little ways off, December 6th to be exact, but that doesn’t mean a little fun and speculation isn’t in order.
First off, there is a lot of guesswork and maybes in this post since a number of places are not yet settled for UEFA, CAF, OFA, CONMEBOL, and CONCACAF.
How the Draw Works
The draw will be divided into four pots. The first pot consists of the hosts, Brazil, and then the seven highest ranked teams in FIFA’s world ranking index (this is really the only relevancy for the rankings). The other three pots are based off of region and sporting abilities (how strong the regions are). The idea is to spread out the best teams and the regions, so the groups have relatively similar strengths and teams aren’t from the same region.
Possible Pot Groupings
As of now, it is expected that pot 2 will hold the AFC (Asia) and CONCACAF (North/Central America) teams. Pot 3 will hold CAF (Africa), non-seeded CONMEBOL (South America), and OFA (Oceania, should New Zealand qualify). Pot 4 would hold the non-seeded UEFA (Europe) teams.
Pot 1 is virtually decided with only one spot not yet allocated. The definite pot 1 teams are: Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, and Switzerland. The final spot will be taken by either Uruguay or The Netherlands. Uruguay is facing Jordan in the AFC-CONMEBOL playoff next month. Should Uruguay win the tie, and they are expected to, they would take the final spot. Should Jordan advance, then The Netherlands would take the final spot.
Should pot 2 hold the Asian and North/Central American teams, the qualified teams are: South Korea, Japan, Australia, Iran, U.S.A., Honduras, and Costa Rica. Mexico, who is in the other intercontinental playoff match, would round out the pot should they beat New Zealand next month. Mexico should win, but it’s certainly not definite.
The pot is up in the air a bit since Africa is still in the last round of qualifying. There are five matches for Africa’s five spots. As of now, with the first leg done, only two teams have one foot securely in the door, that would be Ghana (6-1 up on Eygpt) and the Ivory Coast (3-1 up on Senegal). Both will be away though for the second leg, but they should have the quality to see themselves through. The other “leaders” in their ties are Burkina Faso (3-2 lead on Algeria), Nigeria (2-1 on Ethiopia), and Tunisia and Cameroon are level at 0-0 (Cameroon will be home for the second leg). The two non-seeded CONMEBOL teams that would also be in this group are Chile and Ecuador. New Zealand would also be in this pot should they defeat Mexico.
The pot that is up for grabs the most, the UEFA pot. UEFA will send 13 teams to the finals. 4 are seeded in pot 1 (Spain, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland, and a further 5 are qualified by winning their respective groups (Italy, England, Netherlands, Russia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina). The last 4 teams will decided through the playoffs. The ties are as follows: Portugal vs Sweden, France vs Ukraine, Greece vs Romania, Iceland vs Croatia. The winners of those ties will make it to the finals.
An Array of Possible Changes
There could be a few changes to the pots depending on how the two intercontinental playoffs shake out. IF Uruguay and Mexico advance, as is largely expected, then the problem comes with pots 3 and 4. Pot 3 would have seven teams (5 from CAF and the 2 non-seeded CONMEBOL teams) while pot 4 would have nine (UEFA’s 5 auto-qualifiers and 4 playoff winners).
What would likely happen is what happened in 2006. The lowest ranked team would go into a special pot. FIFA would use the October rankings for that. Who that would be is difficult to predict due to the playoffs. Of all the teams in the reckoning, the likely possibilities are Iceland (46), Romania (29), and surprisingly France (21). If FIFA runs it like they did in 2006, lowest UEFA team would either go straight into group A with Brazil or be drawn first and then from the four (or five) CONMEBOL seeded teams the rest of the group would be drawn.
IF Jordan and Mexico win the playoff, then the problems becomes pot 2, which would suddenly have nine teams. I’m not really sure what FIFA would do, as there isn’t any simple re-arrangement to make equal groups of eight. Pot 1 and pot 4 would be fine, but there would be 5 AFC, 5 CAF, 4 CONCACAF, and 2 non-seeded CONMEBOL. I suppose you would see something similar to the special pot scenario. FIFA would likely put the weakest team (which I think is Jordan) in the special pot, AFC would have 4 to go with CONCACAF’s 4 to make pot 2, and pot 3 would just have 7 teams from CAF and CONMEBOL.
If it can to this then Jordan would have to go into a group that does not get one of the other four AFC teams. Again, I’m not positive how FIFA would cope with this situation. Whether Jordan would automatically go into group A, and FIFA would just select from the CONCACAF teams for that group, or if they would just go randomly into some group.
The final scenario sees Uruguay and New Zealand win the playoffs. Pot 1 would be fine, pot 2 would be one short, pot 3 would be fine, and pot 4 would have the one extra. Again, probably the aforementioned special pot situation for the UEFA side.
The seemingly most unlikely scenario sees Jordan and New Zealand upset the two traditional powers. While the most unlikely, it’s also the cleanest in terms of setting up the final draw. All of the pots would have eight teams, and there would be no need for a special pot. The Netherlands would move from pot 4 to pot 1, allowing pot 4 to have the four auto-qualifiers and four playoff winners. Pot 2 would have five AFC teams and three CONCACAF teams. Pot 3 would have the five CAF teams, two CONMEBOL teams, and one OFA team.
My Wild A** Guess at the Pots
I think the most likely situation sees scenario 1 unfold with Mexico and Uruguay winning the two playoffs. I think that Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Algeria will win the CAF spots. And the final four UEFA teams will be Portugal, France, Croatia, and Greece.
So, the pots may be:
Pot 1: Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay, and Switzerland
Pot 2: South Korea, Japan, Australia, Iran, USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras
Pot 3: Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria, Chile, and Ecuador.
Pot 4: England, Italy, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Netherlands, Russia, Portugal, Greece, and Croatia.
Special Pot: France
If the draw looks like this, the only special rule is that France would automatically go into a group with one of the non-UEFA pot 1 teams (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Uruguay).
Thoughts on Possible Group Combos
If we assume the above pots, going into a pot with the likes of either Brazil/Argentina, France from the special group, a strong UEFA team like Italy or the Netherlands, and a strong African team like Ghana would be the worst possibility, and definitely a “Group of Death”. An ideal group would, in theory, be something along the lines of an out of sorts Uruguay or Switzerland, a weaker African team like Cameroon, and a weaker UEFA team like Greece. It still wouldn’t be easy, but it would be preferable.
Like I said, this is all speculation on my part, and just for kicks. We’ll certainly know more come next month when all of the qualifiers are done and over. The final draw, again, is on December 6th.