On Dec. 6 at 4 p.m. GMT (11 a.m. ET), the Group Stage destinations of 32 World Cup nations will be decided.
The 2014 World Cup's eight groups will be drawn in Bahia's luxurious Costa do Sauipe resort, in a venue specially constructed for the big day. The hallowed spheres will be plucked by World Cup winners from the eight nations who have won the previous 19 iterations, including Sir Geoff Hurst, Cafu, Fabio Cannavaro and Zinedine Zidane.
In preparation for the main event, I have staged my own mock draw on behalf of Bleacher Report. I did not have a specially made venue, world-famous footballers or an hour of utterly worthless preamble to put in front of it, but in all other respects, it was a faithful simulation of the real thing, with very interesting results.
How the draw works
Brazil and the 31 visiting nations are not simply thrown into one big transparent bowl and picked out consecutively to be placed into groups. They are initially put in four pots of eight teams.
The pots are divided up by seeding and geographical locations to ensure the biggest teams are kept apart and nations from the same confederation are separated as much as possible. Pot 1 is simply the host and the top seven seeds as determined by the October 2013 FIFA rankings. The other three pots are divided up by geographical location.
The pot allocation has yet to be officially confirmed, but based on research from previous tournaments, here's how they will probably look. You will also notice my draw balls, which have been taken from a children's ball pit, sorted by colour and lovingly labeled:
There are 13 UEFA teams, four from the AFC, five from CAF, four from CONCACAF and six from CONMEBOL. Some teams from the same confederation will inevitably meet at the group stage, but the pots are designed so that a maximum of two UEFA teams can occupy the same group.
Staging the draw
FIFA Secretary General General Jérôme Valcke will be presiding over the real draw. In lieu of such a high profile name, I needed to pick a draw master with the same amount of integrity, intelligence and highly regarded international reputation as a FIFA delegate. So I picked my nine-month-old daughter Jessica:
Starting with Pot 1 and Brazil already picked out—the hosts traditionally get to occupy Group A—Jessica systematically picked each of the pots in turn, populating each group one at a time (so Pot 1 was emptied first, giving each group its first member).
In the interest of transparency and ratification, here's Jessica working her way through Pot 3:
Note how it took her 45 seconds to pick the entire pot of eight teams. The real draw is scheduled to take 90 minutes, with the actual draw process taking 35 minutes. Perhaps in the future FIFA could save everyone a little time and use a baby too?
After literally minutes of drawing the balls, the results came in. Here's how it shaped up:
The obvious "Group of Death" from this draw is Group E:
Both Germany and Netherlands were undefeated in qualifying and are ranked second and eighth respectively. Ghana, meanwhile, topped their initial qualification group and are thought to be one of the most feared African teams, based on their excellent form at the 2010 World Cup and second-round appearance in 2006.
That leaves the victim of the Group of Death as the USA.
The "major" team with the easiest route to the final is almost certainly Italy in Group H:
The Azzurri are facing the lowest-ranked seed in Switzerland, an opponent that hasn't defeated them since the 1954 World Cup. They would also meet an Algeria side that scraped through its CAF third-round qualifier with Burkina Faso and a Mexican side whose form in qualification was quite questionable.
Hosts Brazil would also be expected to enjoy a fairly comfortable ride to the Round of 16 in Group A:
The Selecao's South American counterparts Chile might prove to be a stumbling block—Brazil were booed off the field when they drew in Belo Horizonte in April—but La Roja haven't managed to beat the 2014 hosts in their last 12 attempts.
England, meanwhile, would have a fairly perilous journey to the knockout rounds from Group D:
Colombia have never beaten the Three Lions, but with the likes of Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez leading the front line, the side ranked fourth by FIFA are considered a dark horse in this tournament. AFC Asian Cup Holders Japan were the first team in the world to qualify, clocking up some big wins as they triumphed in AFC Group B. And Africa Cup of Nations holders Nigeria will be keen to ensure their third appearance at a World Cup knockout stage.
Perhaps the biggest story of the group games, however, would come from Group F:
If the real draw reflected these results, then we would see Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo facing each other on the world's biggest stage for the first time. The pair last met wearing their national colours in a February 2011 friendly in Geneva. Both players were on the scoresheet, but Messi's 90th-minute penalty proved decisive in a 2-1 win for the Albiceleste. Portugal have only beaten the South Americans once in six attempts—back in 1972—and the favoured Argentineans would be keen to send Ronaldo and co. back to Iberia after three games.
Stage your own draw
If you don't have a baby or 32 coloured balls at your disposal, you can produce mock draws online at this excellent site.
For everything you need to know about the World Cup Draw proper, check out my guide here.