One thing that stands out heading into Friday's World Cup draw is the depth. Since qualifying featured very few major shockers, all of the top national teams are heading to Brazil and almost every one of the 32 sides should at least be competitive.
Confirmed World Cup finals draw pots in full. pic.twitter.com/DhBQk6nWiv— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 3, 2013
For the top contenders—Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina—that's no big deal. Those elite squads will be expected to advance regardless of the draw. Then there's teams like England, Portugal and the Netherlands, which are a step behind those teams, but will still face high expectations after the draw.
So one group to watch closely on Friday is the sides with potential to make a deep tournament run, but only if the draw falls their way and keeps them out of a "Group of Death." For this trio of teams, draw day is a critical stop on the road to the World Cup.
The Ivory Coast is an interesting case. Four years ago, the Elephants were viewed as a strong contender with the tournament in Africa and many of their star players in their prime. Then they were drawn into a group with Brazil and Portugal, leading to an early exit.
Heading toward 2014, the hype is not nearly as high and those stars are four years older, but on the surface the squad is still very strong. Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Toure highlight a dangerous attack while Didier Zokora and Kolo Toure lead an experienced back line.
Yes, the Ivory Coast needs some luck in the draw, which would consist of missing out on one of the aforementioned top four teams and a top European squad from Pot 4. If that happens, there's a chance the Elephants live up to the 2010 hype in 2014.
Getting placed in Pot 3 alongside the other CONCACAF teams and those from Asia puts the United States in a worrisome position. It guarantees the Americans will be in a group with one team from Pots 1 and 4, which are both loaded with top squads.
Which of these national teams is the most dangerous?
In a perfect world, the U.S. would avoid the big four teams from Pot 1, the European team that moves to Pot 2 and the top remaining European teams from Pot 4. A group featuring Switzerland, Cameroon and Croatia would be the best-case scenario, but the odds are low. A tough group is far more likely.
If the Americans do get lucky on draw day, reaching the quarterfinals or beyond isn't out of the realm of possibility. For that to happen, manager Jurgen Klinsmann must find a way to get Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan on the pitch together working effectively.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
On the outside, the Bosnian squad is one of the teams other nations are hoping to draw from Pot 4 to avoid the likes of the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, England and France. But if they do end up in a weaker group, they have the upside to not only advance, but survive in the knockout rounds.
The Zmajevi have two things that make them potent. First, they feature an attacking duo in Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic that should be able to put consistent pressure on opposing back lines. Second, they have one of the Premier League's top goalkeepers in Asmir Begovic, who is capable of stealing matches.
Are they good enough to survive if they get moved to Pot 2 and end up alongside a combination of Brazil, Italy and one of the better teams in Pot 3? Probably not, but if they avoid that dreaded fate, don't count them out from reaching the latter stages of the tournament.