The World Cup draw takes place on Friday and SB Nation is here to get you ready with everything you need to know about the 32 qualified teams.
On Friday, a large group of celebrities and former players will walk down a red carpet and head into a room where they will watch grown men fumble around with ping pong balls. There will be musical guests. There will be very cheesy video packages about the wonderful culture and landscape of Brazil, the history of the World Cup and the great careers of the players participating in the draw. It will be ridiculous, but the results of the draw matter. A lot.
Upsets happen in the group stage of every World Cup, but for many teams, their fate will be sealed with the draw. They'll know instantly if they have a shot to make a deep run or if they should be happy just to get the experience of going to Brazil and playing three World Cup games.
The 32 teams that qualified for the World Cup have been organized into four pots. Usually, the teams are organized into even pots with eight teams apiece, but a lower number of European teams than usual have been seeded, resulting in one nine-team pot and one seven-team pot. One European team will end up as a wildcard and we could end up seeing the Group of Death to end all Groups of Death as a result -- it's possible that Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States all end up together.
There's also the possibility of some notoriously weak groups popping up, thanks to some less than fantastic teams getting seeded. Uruguay went to the semifinals of the last World Cup and has plenty of talent, but finished fifth in South American qualifying. Belgium is similarly stacked, but hasn't even qualified for the last two World Cups or the last three editions of the European Championship. And then there's Switzerland, which got seeded thanks to a couple of solid wins and a quirky aspect of the FIFA rankings that didn't reward playing lots of tough games unless you won all of them.
For those who haven't followed the entire qualifying process, there's a lot to get caught up on, especially since almost every team has a reasonable chance to make some noise in Brazil. Below, you'll find a preview of every team in the draw to help you do just that.
Brazil is only 11th in the FIFA rankings, but by virtue of hosting the tournament, they're a seeded team and will be automatically placed in Group A to allow tournament organizers to plan for home games. They're joined by quite a few of the usual suspects in Germany, Spain and Argentina, but the other four seeds are newcomers to the upper echelon of the sport. Uruguay, a semifinalist in 2010, squeaks in despite finishing fifth on their own continent in qualifying. Colombia and Belgium have earned their way into the top group with spectacular performances over the last two years, while Switzerland did a bit of gaming the system, though it's not clear whether or not they knew what they were doing.
Asia, North and Central America
The United States feels better about this World Cup than most after they surged through The Hex, but like the other teams in this pot, their World Cup fate could be decided by the draw. There are possible easy paths to the knockout stage and impossible group stage draws in play for everyone. Costa Rica and Honduras will probably struggle to get out of their groups no matter what happens, but the U.S. and Mexico could go far if the draw shakes out well.
A similar dynamic exists with the Asian teams. South Korea and Japan are knockout stage veterans at this point and will pose a threat to whoever draws them. Iran and Australia, meanwhile, probably need a miracle draw to feel like they have a decent shot of getting out of their groups.
The ultimate set of wild cards exists in the pot of unseeded European teams. None of the nine are weak, but the difference between the best and worst teams in this group is significant. No one wants to see Italy, while everyone's rooting to end up with Greece. No one's going to cry about drawing England, either.
Portugal, the Netherlands and the aforementioned Italians are a scary proposition for anyone and could have been seeded in another year. Italy is coming off a great run in Euro 2012, the Netherlands was runner-up at the last World Cup and Portugal, despite recent struggles to qualify for major tournaments, has Cristiano Ronaldo. They make up the top tier of teams in this pot.
England and France are certainly no pushovers and have enough talent and depth that they could become serious threats at any time. They just haven't looked great at any point in the last two major tournaments or qualifying cycles. Russia and Bosnia were both excellent in qualifying, while Croatia have a startling number of world-class players for the size of their country and strength of their domestic league.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Africa and South America
Chile, the nerd darlings of the last World Cup, returns with a similar entertaining style. Marcelo Bielsa isn't coaching the team anymore, but his disciple Jorge Sampaoli has picked up where he left off. Ecuador has the pieces to get through the group stage, but understandably, they haven't been great since the death of star striker 'Chucho' Christian Benitez.
Ghana has just as much talent as the teams who made it to the Round of 16 in the last two tournaments, while the Ivory Coast will be hoping for some good luck, for a change. Les Elephants drew arguably the tournament's toughest group in the last two straight World Cups. Nigeria is also primed for a run to the knockout stages with a great roster and a beloved coach in Stephen Keshi, but their governing body usually finds ways to mess up a good thing. Cameroon and Algeria are the weakest teams in the pot, but their two stars -- Samuel Eto'o and Sofiane Feghouli, respectively -- are good enough to fire them to an upset or two.
Editor Kevin McCauley
Producers Brian Floyd, Chris Mottram
Writers Kevin McCauley, Ryan Rosenblatt, Graham MacAree, Kirsten Schlewitz, Tim Palmer, Jeremiah Oshan, Zach Woosley, Peter Berkes, Uros Popovic, Jack Sargeant, Andi Thomas
Project Manager Chris Haines
Lead Designer Georgia Cowley
Lead Developer Josh Laincz
Designer Ramla Mahmood
Special Thanks Tate Tozer, Brian Anderson, Cory Williams