Playing Out a Possible World Cup 2014 Draw Based on Form and Standings
The draw for the 2014 World Cup Finals will take place in December, by which time we'll know the identities of the 31 nations set to join hosts Brazil in June and July next year.
We'll also know the seedings for the draw, which can play a big role in determining the strength of the group a team is drawn into.
Based on how FIFA set up the World Cup 2010 draw, we should expect four pots of eight teams to be laid out. The first will be made up of Brazil plus the seven highest-ranking teams in the world.
FIFA used the October 2009 rankings for the 2010 draw to take into account the full qualifying process.
The other three pots will be split geographically, to keep teams away from those from the same qualifying region during the group stage. In the case of Europe, which will send 13 teams to Brazil, there will likely be a limit placed of two teams in a group.
Based on a combination of current standings, form and guesswork, here's how the pots might line up for the draw in December. I've also configured a random draw to illustrate how things might work.
FIFA.com used for rankings data, qualifying format information and more.
Pot 1 (Top Seeds)
PREDICTED TEAMS: Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Croatia, Portugal, Colombia, England
Pot 1 is made up of the host nation and the seven highest-ranked teams in the world.
If the draw was being made today the teams in this pot would be Brazil (hosts), who are already secured a place in Group A, plus their South American rivals Argentina and Colombia. The other five spots would go to European teams.
That's assuming all of those listed qualify of course. One of Croatia and Belgium, being in the same qualifying group, will face a playoff. That may also be the case for Portugal and England, based on their current standing.
Pot 2 (Asia, Oceania and North/Central America)
PREDICTED TEAMS: Panama, Costa Rica, USA, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Korea Republic, Japan, Jordan
Perhaps generously, three CONCACAF teams are guaranteed a spot at the 2014 World Cup.
On current standing that would be Panama, Costa Rica and the USA. I would expect Mexico to break into that three, perhaps at the expense of Panama. Rankings suggest the fourth-placed team would have a good chance of winning a playoff against the top team in the Oceania region, however, which is likely to be New Zealand.
New Zealand (ranked 91st in the world by FIFA) have won six of six in qualifying so far, all against weak opposition. With that in mind, I'm expecting the CONCACAF team to advance in the playoff.
The Asian region will send at least four teams to the World Cup. Uzbekistan, Korea Republic, Japan and Jordan are currently in position to qualify automatically from the two groups.
The two third-placed teams, currently Iran and Australia, face a playoff to reach another playoff—in which they would play the fifth-placed team from the South American region to decide who goes to Brazil.
That team is currently Venezuela but could just as easily be 2010 semifinalists Uruguay or Chile.
Form would suggest the South American team will progress.
Pot 3 (South America and Africa)
PREDICTED TEAMS: Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Ghana, South Africa
South America will have a minimum of five representatives at the World Cup, with four qualifying from their group and Brazil already secured a place as tournament hosts.
I'm predicting they'll take that number to six when the team coming fifth in South American qualifying wins a playoff against an opponent from the Asia region.
Remember Brazil, Argentina and Colombia have already been drawn in Pot 1.
The African region is where things get really, really complicated. The 10 group winners in qualifying will be drawn together in two-legged playoffs to decide Africa's five representatives at the World Cup.
It's not clear whether these ties will be seeded.
Based on current standings their FIFA ranking and no small amount of guesswork, I'm predicting Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Ghana and South Africa will make it through.
Pot 4 (Europe)
PREDICTED TEAMS: Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Montenegro, Netherlands, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France
Europe will send 13 teams to the World Cup. The nine group winners go automatically, with the eight best runners-up drawn in four playoff matches.
Five teams—Spain, Germany, England, Croatia and Portugal—are currently on track, should they all qualify, to secure a spot in Pot 1.
That leaves eight for the final pot. Based on current standings, combined with squad depth and form, I'm backing France to advance through the playoffs. Should Montenegro hold firm in their group, I think England will also come through in a playoff round. One of Croatia or Belgium should advance that way also.
Random World Cup Group Draw
There's no science behind this part. If we pluck one nation from each pot across the eight groups (with one notable caveat), here's what a potential World Cup 2014 draw might look like in December.
With so many European teams at the tournament, it's impossible to keep them all apart. Let's assume, as happened at the 2010 World Cup, the limit is two per group. The six South American teams can be kept in separate groups, however.
Here's my random draw:
GROUP A—Brazil, Panama, Chile, Russia
GROUP B—Germany, USA, Ecuador, Switzerland
GROUP C—Argentina, Costa Rica, Tunisia, Montenegro
GROUP D—Croatia, Mexico, Uruguay, Netherlands
GROUP E—Portugal, Uzbekistan, Ivory Coast, Italy
GROUP F—Colombia, Korea Republic, Nigeria, Belgium
GROUP G—England, Japan, Ghana, Bosnia-Herzegovina
GROUP H—Spain, Jordan, South Africa, France
All just speculation of course. Based on these groups we might see a last-16 clashes between Brazil and the United States, England and France and Portugal and Colombia. I don't know about you, but I'd quite like to see those games.
The real draw happens in December. Be sure to stay tuned to Bleacher Report for our coverage.