Ranking the 8 Teams in World Cup Draw Pot 1
The draw for the FIFA 2014 World Cup is almost upon us and, as decided by the organising committee, eight sides will enter the draw as seeds and find themselves automatically separated from each other.
Included among those eight are hosts Brazil and the seven highest ranked sides in the world at FIFA's October cut-off point, with Spain, Argentina and Germany all making the grade.
While some may disagree that the eight represent the strongest sides in the draw, they will now play an important role in how the tournament ultimately plays out. France, Italy and Netherlands, for instance, could be drawn against any one of the top seeds.
Which, though, are the strongest of the eight teams seeded for Friday's draw?
Switzerland are a good side and have performed well to earn their place among the seeded teams for next summer's tournament. But are they better than Netherlands, Italy or even England? It is easy to suggest not.
However, a fairly straightforward qualification pool and the intricacies of FIFA's ranking system have played in their favour and, as such, the Swiss will be the seeded team that every side hopes to draw on Friday.
They have some excellent players, many of whom are still very young. The likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Gokhan Inler, in particular, are greatly admired but are unlikely to lead a side to World Cup glory at present.
Their seeded status should ensure progression to the Last 16, but it would be a major surprise to see Switzerland reach the semifinals. A quarterfinal berth would be a good result for Ottmar Hitzfeld and his side.
Everybody in football is aware of the rise of Belgium's current generation of stars, but title success at the 2014 World Cup would seem a somewhat unrealistic prospect.
Recent home defeats to Japan and Colombia suggest there is still some improvement to be made by Marc Wilmots' side, while the conditions and their lack of major tournament familiarity will count against them in Brazil.
However, that said, there are all the basic ingredients in place for a deep run at the tournament if they can find form next June. In Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens, they have players capable of hurting any side in world football.
There is a lot of work still to be done ahead of next summer and a quarterfinal finish will represent a strong performance ahead of Euro 2016, which should be the group's real target for success.
Uruguay may not have been particularly convincing in qualifying, having to come through the play-off system to reach the World Cup, but their recent results suggest that they have now found a better balance once more.
Uruguay's familiarity with the conditions in Brazil plays heavily in their favour, with many European sides in particular set to find life tough in Northern regions of the country.
Tabarez's side also have great experience at major competitions, winning the 2011 Copa America and earning 3rd place at the 2010 World Cup, which will be to their advantage this time around.
While they will not be fancied by many to emerge as winners of the tournament, the prospect of Uruguay making another run to the semifinals should not be discounted.
Second only to Argentina in South American qualifying, Colombia are a team that could go far in next summer's tournament if they truly believe in their own ability to beat major nations.
Signs are good, with November bringing an away victory over Belgium as well as a draw with the Netherlands. On South American soil, meanwhile, their familiarity with the conditions will also be a major factor.
Colombia are a team built upon a mix of power and skill. Attacking full-backs Pablo Armero and Juan Cuadrado keep the side moving forward, while Radamel Falcao is a giant presence in the penalty area.
At the same time, though, the likes of James Rodriguez and MacNelly Torres can provide a delicate touch if required. Jose Pekerman has options and a side aware of its own ability. Now, though, they must step up on the biggest of all stages.
Not everything is quite right for Joachim Low's Germany side heading into the tournament, but there is enough about the team to suggest that they will once more be among the sides to beat.
The success of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund should be a positive for the side, who had started to acquire a reputation of faltering at the business end of competitions. They now have plentiful experience of seeing out victories.
What Germany have in their favour, is a group of special attacking players in Mezut Ozil, Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and, beyond that, Julian Draxler. Concerns over the lack of a top central-striker can be overcome, even if it is far from ideal.
Phillipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger will need to take on important leadership roles if success is to be achieved, bringing the side a wealth of experience from their decade with Bayern. All the ingredients are there for success, it just remains for the right balance to be struck.
The current Alejandro Sabella guided Argentina side are a world apart from the team coached by Diego Maradona four years ago and head to the World Cup full of confidence after a comfortable qualifying campaign.
The Albiceleste have struck a balance that sees the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria combine to form perhaps the competition's most potent attacking unit.
Importantly, though, they have also fixed the issues that lay deeper in the side, with Ezequiel Garay, Pablo Zabaleta and Javier Mascherano, in particular, taking on key roles within the side.
The competition being hosted in South America should play in their favour and they will be well backed by travelling support. If they can start strongly, they will be a real handful as belief in their ability to win the tournament grows.
It is remarkable that, as reigning European and World Champions, Spain will not enter the World Cup as undisputed favourites for the title. But, such is the difficulty of a World Cup in Brazil.
La Roja, though, will be formidable challengers at the tournament, striking fear into opponents due to their exceptional record over recent years and energy-sapping style of play.
After their convincing defeat in the final of the Confederations Cup, questions were raised in many quarters as to whether the five years of domination the Iberians had exerted upon football was coming to an end. Next summer, we will have a definitive answer.
With the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and David Silva in their ranks, however, only a fool would write Spain out of contention.
After their stunning performance at the Confederations Cup, in which they defeated favourites Spain 3-0 in the final, Brazil will enter the 2014 World Cup as the front runners for the title.
Aiming for a sixth triumph at the event, the Selecao have more historical pedigree than any other side and will also benefit from vociferous home support, which is traditionally a major factor at the competition.
Luiz Felipe Scolari has completely changed the side's outlook in the 12 months of his reign, having taken over a team in disarray after poor showings at the Copa America and Olympic Games.
The Familia Scolari is once more, but those wearing the canarinha will have to deal with unenviable pressure if they are to secure the title that the host country so desperately craves.