Here begins a new adventure. From this entry until the conclusion of World Cup 2014, I'll be bringing you a weekly roundup of the biggest stories pertaining to the greatest show on earth.
We'll start every week with a countdown clock.
Brazil beckons. The draw for the group stages will take place on December 6, and by the time the sun sets in Salvador that day we'll know what's in store for the 32 qualifying nations.
On that theme...
Qualifying state of play
African qualifying has reached the playoff stage. The draw for the two-legged ties was made this week and will see the following nations square off for a place in the finals next summer (FIFA ranking in brackets)
- Tunisia (46) vs. Cameroon (61)
- Ghana (24) vs. Egypt (50)
- Ivory Coast (19) vs. Senegal (66)
- Burkina Faso (51) vs. Algeria (28)
- Ethiopia (93) vs. Nigeria (36)
Elsewhere, five more nations booked their tickets to Brazil last week—the USA and Costa Rica from CONCACAF, Italy and Netherlands from Europe and Argentina from CONMEBOL.
They join hosts Brazil and the four teams through from the Asian region—Japan, Iran, Korea Republic (South Korea) and Australia—in the confirmed column for the World Cup finals.
Beira-Rio Stadium, in Porto Alegre, now has some seats—not all of them yet, but the Brazilian government reports 1,000 will be added every day until the full 51,300 capacity is met, as per Copa2014. The stadium will be home to Sport club Internacional, hence the word 'Inter' spelt out in red in the stands.
Meanwhile, according to Brazilian officials, Dunas Arena is said to be "over 88 percent" ready for action. The Natal stadium will hold 42,000 during the tournament next summer, then be reduced to a 32,000 capacity afterwards. It's not clear what the venue will be used for post-World Cup.
Trophy on tour
It's not just the qualifying nations who go on a journey to reach the finals. The iconic World Cup trophy began a tour this week that will stop off at over 80 countries before returning to Brazil.
The latest edition of the FIFA rankings, released on September 12, saw a few teams in the upper echelons make notable moves. Uruguay rose five places to 7th, Belgium jumped four places to 6th and Jurgen Klinsmann's USA climbed to 13th—a leap of six places.
By far the biggest mover inside the top 30 were Slovenia, who advanced 16 spots to enter at 29. With two games remaining in their qualifying campaign, Slovenia have a shot at finishing second in their group and booking a playoff shot.
Until next week.