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The draw for the World Cup finals takes place in Bahia, Brazil on Friday
Thirty-two nations from across the globe await their fate for the 2014 tournament
Teams are seeded and organized into four different pots, with an extra "X- factor"
No more than two countries from Europe of South America in each group
A grueling qualification campaign is over, and for 32 footballing nations the dreaming can begin.
On Friday those lucky enough to have qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will learn who they are to meet in the group stage at one of the biggest sporting showpieces on the planet.
The fixtures will be finalized – this year by a more complicated process than previous events – the participants will discover where their matches are to be played and they can start plotting a route to the final in Rio de Janeiro.
For the host nation, too, this is a chance to generate some positive news after months of headlines detailing delays in construction and public protests at spiraling costs.
The most recent, and tragic, tale to emerge concerned the death of two construction workers after a crane collapsed at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo – due to host the World Cup’s opening match.
Friday marks the start of a countdown to June 12 next year, when Brazil will begin a month-long festival of football, likely to captivate the world.
The draw will take place in the resort of Costa do Sauipe in Bahia on the northeast coast of Brazil.
In attendance will be representatives from each World Cup nation as well as FIFA’s top brass, including president Sepp Blatter.
The ceremony will be broadcast live to 193 countries from 1 p.m. local time (1700 CET) with 1,300 guests alongside a bank of 2,000 reporters.
As ever, there will be entertainment, including turns from Brazilian singers Alexandre Pires and Vanessa da Mata as well as dance troupe Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker.
There has been some controversy already when the two actors scheduled to host the draw – Lazaro Ramos and Camila Pitanga, who both have dark skin – were replaced by another married celebrity couple, Fernanda Lima and Rodrigo Hilbert, who are blond and white.
What is it?
The World Cup draw determines which of the 32 nations will face each other in the group stages.
Teams will be drawn into eight groups of four, based on FIFA’s seeding system and geographical separation, meaning that teams from the same qualification zone can’t be drawn in the same group.
There is an exception for European countries, given there are 13 participating in the tournament, but no more than two from the region can be drawn in the same group.
The winners of a particular group will face the runner-up of another when the tournament enters its final-16 stage – the first of the knockout rounds.
Eight teams in the draw are seeded – seven are the highest placed teams from FIFA’s rankings, the other is host Brazil.
The top seven when the seedings were announced in October comprised of defending champion Spain along with Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay and Switzerland.
The seedings are calculated on how a team has played over the past four years, with the most recent year given greatest importance. Teams earn ranking points for a win or a draw but nothing for a defeat.
The points vary with each game depending on who is playing and whether it is a friendly or qualifying match.
When there are eight unseeded European teams – as in 2010 – the draw works easily and smoothly, meaning FIFA can organize the nations into four pots of eight teams.
But because there are nine unseeded European teams in the 2014 World Cup, things become a little more complicated.
FIFA has decided to put these nine teams into one pot, and prior to the draw they will pull out one nation to go into pot two with five African nations and the two unseeded South American sides.
That country will be selected at random, despite France – which qualified through the playoffs – being the lowest ranked nation from the European qualifying phase.
This random element has not gone down well with some of the other countries in that part of the draw.
As a starting point, Brazil will automatically be drawn into Group A due to its role as host.
Then the other seeded teams will be allocated their groups, which runs as far as Group H.
And then it gets rather complicated.
With one of the unseeded European teams now residing in pot two, there are now nations from three geographical zones in the same pot.
That increases the chances of three European teams ending up in the same group, a violation of FIFA’s “geographical separation” principle.
As such, the governing body decided to create “Pot X” into which four of the seeded South American teams will be placed.
One is drawn out and then paired together in a group with the unseeded European team from pot two.
After that, the rest of the teams will be allocated to their groups – with the only other issue residing with Chile and Ecuador, who can skip a group in order to avoid being drawn with seeded South American teams.
Group of Death
As ever with any high-profile soccer draw there is the potential for the much-touted “Group of Death.”
Whichever unseeded European team is plucked out of pot four and put into pot two might be forgiven for watching the rest of the draw from behind their sofa.
That nation will be guaranteed to face one of the South American seeds from Pot X – Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Uruguay.
Then they could face the United States from pot three and either Italy or Netherlands from pot four, making qualification for the last 16 much harder.