• World Cup draw

Explaining the World Cup finals draw

Dale Johnson
December 4, 2013
Jerome Valcke and Sepp Blatter looked just as confused as the rest of us © VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images

FIFA have caused more than their fair share of confusion in announcing the procedure for Friday's World Cup draw, with the mysterious "Pot X" ensuring plenty of head-scratching.

As you might expect, it's all far more simple than it may sound and "Pot X" is a massive red herring.

Let's take the first decision: making uneven pots of eight, seven, eight and nine teams. Pots for the World Cup draw are always dependent on how many European teams are unseeded (origin of host nation and FIFA rankings being important factors). In the draw for 2010 there were eight, making it simple for FIFA to produce four pots of eight teams. But for 2014, there are nine unseeded European teams, and FIFA has decided to put all these into one pot and perform what is in effect a pre-draw. The European team plucked out in the pre-draw will be moved into Pot 2 to join the five African nations and the two unseeded South American sides.

England's World Cup group fate will be decided on Friday © Getty Images

Anyone who has been playing around with a draw simulator will now be asking why France are not automatically in this pot. The assumption was that FIFA would use the same pot build it used for the 2006 finals, when there were also nine unseeded European nations.

On that occasion, the lowest-ranked European nation, Serbia & Montenegro, found themselves placed in a special pot - though they were in effect the eighth team of a pot (as will happen this year too). They were automatically drawn against a South American team to make sure the geographical rules of the draw were observed.

This time, rather than placing the lowest-ranked European team in a special pot, FIFA has decided to randomly draw which of the nine European nations will fulfill what is effectively the same role - ensuring there are not three European teams in one group.

Let's make it clear here that FIFA - whatever you think of the decision - has not moved the goalposts. World football's governing body had never made any kind of announcement about how they would build the draw. It never does until three days before the event itself. We can use precedent to best guess but that is all we can do before the official announcement.

Now, so we don't run the risk of causing more confusion, let's bring it back to basics.

* All eight Pot 1 teams will be drawn into groups in order from A to H.
* One of the nine European teams in Pot 4 will be randomly drawn and moved to Pot 2.
* One of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Uruguay from Pot 1 will be drawn out to be grouped with this European team.
* FIFA will accomplish this by placing Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay into a temporary "Pot X."
* The nation drawn from "Pot X" will be in the same group as the European team that was moved to Pot 2.
* FIFA will then draw the position in that group for the European team.

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So what difference does it make to the European team that is drawn into Pot 2 in this pre-draw? It could be very significant.

Whichever European team ends up in Pot 2 is guaranteed to draw one of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Uruguay - a South American nation in a South American World Cup is bad news no matter which of the four you get - and also a second European team. So the worst-case scenario is that you could be drawn against Brazil, Netherlands and United States/Mexico. Imagine, then, if the European team dropped into Pot 2 (and therefore making up this group) is, say, Italy or England.

After the pre-draw has taken place, the eight seeded nations from Pot 1 will then be drawn into position 1 in each group, in order from A to H. Brazil are already allocated into position A1. World Cup draw pots graphic Other / ESPN FCFIFA has revealed the four pots for the World Cup finals draw.

So now on to the mystical "Pot X." What exactly is FIFA trying to achieve here? One of the rules of the World Cup draw is that no more than two European nations can be in one group. That means the "extra" European team must go to a group with a South American seed. "Pot X" contains the four South American seeds.

Think of it this way. When UEFA does the Champions League draw, it makes sure that only one team from each country is in each group. So UEFA will, for instance, state that only groups A, C, E and H are available to a given team. It will put balls for those four groups together and draw one out. The same thing is happening here, but in a far more convoluted way.

From this point on it gets simple - bar one small caveat. The European team from Pot 2 will be drawn into a position in the "Pot X" group - position 2, 3 or 4 to build the fixtures. Then the other seven nations from Pot 2 will be drawn. The first team will drop into Group A (Group B if Group A was picked from "Pot X") and have their position drawn, and then through to H in order. The only difference comes with unseeded Ecuador and Chile, who must be drawn against one of the seeded European teams because there cannot be two South American nations in one group.

If Ecuador or Chile are drawn to go in with another South American team, the draw will "skip" that group and place them in the first available group with a European seed. So, if Chile are drawn out for Group A, they cannot be matched with Brazil.

There is no other clash possible, so as soon as Ecuador and Chile are out of the hat, the confusion is over. From that point it is:

* Draw a team from a pot.
* The team goes in a group in alphabetical order.
* The position in the group (2, 3 or 4) is drawn.

The Asia and CONCACAF pot will be drawn third, and finally the remaining eight European nations.

Hopefully that has cleared things up, a little at least.

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