If you’ve watched the playoffs or a knockout tournament before, you understand the idea of a team’s draw impacting how likely they are to win the whole thing. But in the playoffs, at least, that’s usually determined by a team’s regular-season performance.
There is, of course, no season that leads into the World Cup. Much of the winner’s success will be based on the group they were placed in and how they finished in the group. Coming in first in a group often sets up teams for success in their first knockout stage matchup since they get to play the second-place team from another group but even which second-place team they play is basically down to chance.
So, how does a team end up in the group they end up in? Given how important that placing is, understanding how they ended up there is important. Before we get into the specifics of how the draw worked and the rules around it, here’s how the groups actually shook out.
- Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands
- Group B: England, Iran, USA, Wales
- Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland
- Group D: France, Australia, Denmark, Tunisia
- Group E: Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan
- Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
- Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon
- Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea
The World Cup Draw
The group draw took place earlier this year in Qatar and was a dramatic and hilarious broadcast that has myriad highs and lows throughout the half-hour snoozefest. If you’d like to fall asleep quickly you can watch the entire debacle here.
Getting back to the specifics, 32 teams were split into eight pots for the draw. Most of the teams were known at the time, about 29. The remaining three teams were added via two different playoffs, and a final European playoff match. It’s worth noting this is the last World Cup that will feature 32 teams, the 2026 edition will be expanding to 48 nations.
The way that the overlords at FIFA split things up is mostly based on FIFA rankings. The first pot consisted of Qatar, since they’re hosting, and the top seven teams from the FIFA World rankings at the time of the draw in April. Those seven teams were Brazil, Belgium, France, Argentina, England, Spain, and Portugal.
The next two pots were grouped in the exact same way, through the FIFA rankings. Pot four was determined from the five lowest-ranked teams along with the winners of the three playoffs we talked about earlier. Overall, there are 13 teams from Europe, five spots from Africa, four from Asia and South America, three from Concacaf, and three from various playoffs. Each group was assigned one team from each pot.
Here’s how the pots looked on April 1 as the draw took place:
Pot 1: Qatar, Brazil, Belgium, France, Argentina, England, Spain, Portugal.
Pot 2: Mexico, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Uruguay, Switzerland, USA, Croatia.
Pot 3: Senegal, Iran, Japan, Morocco, Serbia, Poland, South Korea, Tunisia.
Pot 4: Cameroon, Canada, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Wales/Scotland/Ukraine, Peru/Australia/UAE, Costa Rica/New Zealand.
Within each of the four-team groups, there can only be one nation from each federation, except for UEFA. So Mexico and the United States couldn’t be in the same group while England and Spain could be. It’s worth noting that Europe is capped at no more than two teams in the same group. The groups are determined from little pieces of paper drawn out of bowls that represent each pot.
Once the tournament starts, the groups will be sorted out by each team playing every team from their group. The group stage will take place from Nov. 21-Dec. 2. After the group stage matches have been played, the top two teams from each group will advance to the 16-team knockout stage where the tournament is decided in four rounds of matches that take place from December 2 till the final on Dec. 18.