Once the rather sickening applause has died down, he’ll say a few words and introduce a short film which will doubtless begin with a scene of poor children kicking a ball in some dusty, dirty favela. They will then magically appear on Copacabana beach with a silhouetted man who will turn out to be Pele before the Samba legend lifts the World Cup surrounded by the now-smiling kids.
All that will do is sweep the current (many) problems in Brazil under the carpet and get in the way of what Friday’s really all about – not a PR stunt, rather the all-important World Cup draw.
Here, we cut through the nonsense and give you the lowdown on the big announcement…
SOUTH AMERICA – On home soil and having thumped defending champions Spain in the Confederations Cup final, Brazil are the obvious favourites. Yet the fact that a star-studded Uruguay outfit had to book their spot through the play-offs goes to show how strong the CONMEBOL is.
Argentina are expected to be the Brazilians’ main South American competition and given Carlos Tevez has been out of the frame since 2011, you can see why. Lionel Messi will be turning 27 during the tournament and it could be ‘Leo’s’ best chance to add a major international trophy to his array of club successes. Although, a weak defence could let him, and his side, down. Colombia are the darkhorses having finished second in qualifying, just two points behind Argentina, while Chile, with Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, are also not to be taken lightly.
All eyes, though, will be on the hosts. They may lack the Samba stars of old but coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has previous after taking them to victory in 2002, and if Neymar shines then Carnaval could come early for Brazil.
WHO TO AVOID: Brazil and Argentina, obviously, but despite their poor qualifying campaign no side will be happy to get Uruguay. WHO TO HOPE FOR: Slim pickings here but Ecuador look the weakest of a quality bunch.
EUROPE – If we haven’t already heard it a 1,000 times we soon will do, no European team has ever won a World Cup in South America…blah, blah, blah…However, what’s clear over the past decade is that Europe remains the powerhouse of the game and the stat above could well be kicked into row Z.
Defending champions Spain look slightly on the wane, but will always prove to be tough opposition, especially if Vicente del Bosque can decide who the first-choice striker is.
It’s Germany, though, who are likely to be the strong contenders. Their B-team easily beat England and their first team’s good enough to beat anyone with a midfield as gifted as theirs (Schweinsteiger, Gotze, Reus to name just three).
Of the other usual suspects, the Netherlands look typically strong, but we said that before their Euro disaster last summer. Italy will always present a threat and anyone who likes their football will want to see Andrea Pirlo play in Brazil for as long as possible.
It’s Belgium, however, who appear to be the ones to keep an eye on. Blessed with talent and in the finals for the first time in over a decade they are ones to watch.
WHO TO AVOID: Bar the obvious, Bosnia won’t be the whipping boys some think and the Netherlands are the side in Pot 4 to miss. WHO TO HOPE FOR: Greece won’t trouble many teams and Croatia, while good on paper, are in a downward spiral.
AFRICA – According to Pele, Africa should have won about 20 World Cups by now. But we are talking about a guy who thought El Hadji Diouf was better than John Charles…
Anyway, once again the African teams will travel to the showpiece more in hope than expectation. And the way the draw works out means it looks very tough for more than two of the continent’s quintet to make it through to the second round.
WHO TO AVOID: Simple this, Ivory Coast with Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure will be the main threats and Ghana with them. WHO TO HOPE FOR: Algeria may have given England a scare in 2010 but will make up the numbers next summer.
ASIA – Errrrm. Where to start? Japan are the strongest of the four Asian teams and have made their fifth consecutive finals. But of the rest it’s hard, even with South Korea, to see them getting out of their likely groups. As with Africa, the draw seems to make it tough for Asia’s qualifiers.
WHO TO AVOID: With Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa in the midfield, Japan will be no pushovers. WHO TO HOPE FOR: The rest…
NORTH, CENTRAL AMERICA AND CARIBBEAN – After getting off to a slow start there’s a real hope Stateside coach Jurgen Klinsmann could lead the USA to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2002. Striker Jozy Altidore flourished during a dominant qualifying campaign and Klinsmann will be hoping he can form a deadly partnership with young gun Aron Johannsson, who he poached from Iceland.
Mexico are the other major threats from CONCACAF and, while their troubles in qualifying have been well documented, with Javier Hernandez leading a blend of seasoned veterans and up-and-coming youngsters they remain a dangerous proposition.
WHO TO AVOID: USA have an experienced manager with a settled group of players who really know their ‘soccer’. WHO TO HOPE FOR: Costa Rica did well to qualify ahead of Mexico but likely to be making up the numbers in Brazil.
POOL PROBLEMS – HOW THE DRAW WORKS
There’s only one thing harder than winning the World Cup – figuring out how the draw works. But after working long into the night, we’ve saved you the trouble…
>> The 32 countries will be split into four pots, and drawn into eight groups each containing four teams.
>> At the start of the draw, one European team from Pot Four will be selected at random and added to Pot Two to make it eight countries in each pot.
>> The four seeded South American teams will then be put into a temporary pot (Pot X) and the European team from Pot Two drawn in the same group as one of them.
>> The draw will then proceed with Pot One being emptied and the teams allocated to position one in the Groups A-H in turn.
>> Pots Three and Four will then be emptied in order but no South American teams can be in the same group, and there’s a maximum of two European teams in each group.
>> Teams from Pots Two, Three and Four will have their positions in the group drawn randomly.