There are eight remaining European teams vying for qualification to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. On October 21 they will learn of their playoff fate as the draw unfolds in Zurich, Switzerland.
This process involves the four seeded teams—determined by their FIFA ranking—placed in Pot 1, where they will be matched up with the remaining four teams that make up Pot 2.
|European Playoff Draw, October 21, 14:00 CET|
|Pot 1||Team||FIFA Ranking|
The draw itself is fairly simple. One team is drawn from Pot 1 and one from Pot 2. These two teams are then placed into a third pot. After this, Pot 3 is stirred again before being drawn one by one. The first team drawn is the home team for the first leg.
This process is then repeated for the remainder of the balls, determining both fixture and home advantage for the first leg. The teams with the highest number of goals across the two legs are the winners, with away goals coming into play in the event of a draw.
The games will be played on November15 and 19, with each team inevitably looking to avoid the higher-ranked countries in Pot 1. Neutrals, however, will be praying for France and Portugal to be drawn together and deny one country a place at the World Cup next year.
Other possibilities that could result in tough, heartbreaking fixtures include Ukraine vs. Greece, Sweden vs. Croatia and Iceland vs. Romania. If all those games came to pass then it would be incredibly exciting, but reasonably unlikely.
There's also something to be said for the World Cup just not being the same without Croatia, Portugal or France involved. No Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Mandzukic or Franck Ribery, or established Premier League players like Nani, Olivier Giroud or most of the Newcastle United squad.
The World Cup thrives as much on anticipation as it does on actual football, so it would be a shame to go into the tournament knowing that we will not see some of the game's biggest stars on the world stage.
Conspiracy theorists will snipe that there's no way FIFA will let the World Cup pass by without Ronaldo featuring, but the reality is that football remains a team sport, so if the players don't collectively get the result, they don't deserve to go.
A great upset is part of the sport's DNA, and an underdog success is always a welcome sideshow.
Regardless of the teams going through, the winners of the playoff games are then added to the draw taking place on December 6 in Bahia, deciding the teams for the group stage of the World Cup.