Posted October 17, 2013

The seeds, the playoffs, the draw and everything to come on the road to the World Cup

2014 World Cup, U.S. men's national team, World Cup qualifying
There's still plenty to be decided between now and the 2014 World Cup draw on Dec. 6.

There’s still plenty to be decided before 2014 World Cup draw on Dec. 6. (Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)

Imagine a World Cup draw that places the U.S. with Brazil, Italy and nemesis Ghana. Or a quartet pitting the Americans against Germany, Ivory Coast and the Netherlands.

Those frightening scenarios could unfold when the eight first-round groups are sorted on Dec. 6, thanks in part to FIFA’s decision to seed the top seven nations (along with host Brazil) from the new world ranking released Thursday.

Fourth-ranked Colombia, No. 5 Belgium and No. 6 Switzerland have been in good form this year and made the cut for a seed in a tournament that’s still eight months way. The Dutch (assuming Uruguay qualifies) and former champions Italy and France (who still need to qualify) did not.

Regardless of the ranking, second-tier sides like the U.S. — the sort that aim to get out of the group and then take their chances in the knockout rounds – likely would prefer to face off against the likes of Switzerland and Colombia rather than the Italians. At a World Cup, pedigree often matters. Some teams are more imposing and consistent then others. Nations like Mexico, Belgium and Uruguay rise and fall. Others are perpetual threats.

At the next World Cup, the U.S. could get lucky and be paired with a manageable seed, or it might be drawn into a historically difficult “group of death”. Its fate may depend on those unpredictable plastic balls.

Thursday’s ranking laid out one more important piece of the roadmap to Brazil. Here’s where everything stands.


The top seven ranked teams plus Brazil will be seeded in Pot 1 for the 2014 World Cup draw.

The top seven ranked teams plus host Brazil will be seeded in Pot 1 for the 2014 World Cup draw on Dec. 6.

Host Brazil, world champion Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium and Switzerland are guaranteed seeds next summer. If Uruguay defeats Jordan in next month’s playoff, La Celeste will be seeded. If Jordan wins, the eighth-ranked Dutch will claim a seed.

It’s fashionable in soccer circles to claim the FIFA ranking is pointless — that it’s a fabrication designed to generate publicity and attract sponsorship.

Ask Colombia, Switzerland and Belgium if it’s pointless. Past World Cup performance no longer impacts seeding, making the ranking something that federations may have to take into consideration when scheduling future friendlies. Those games now have competitive ramifications.

The U.S. maintained its spot at No. 13. The Americans did their part to earn a World Cup seed, but Jurgen Klinsmann’s team also needed Turkey to beat Holland, Slovenia to beat Switzerland, Poland to tie or defeat England and Ecuador to tie or beat Chile to have a chance. None occurred.


Twenty-one of the 32 places are spoken for. Brazil, as host, was guaranteed a spot.

Europe: Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Spain and Switzerland.

South America: Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador.

North America: Costa Rica, Honduras and the U.S.

Asia: Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea.

Among those 21, only Bosnia will be making its World Cup debut.

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Twenty-two countries remain alive for the 11 additional berths, at least technically. Egypt’s stirring run ended, for all intents and purposes, with Tuesday’s 6-1 thrashing by Ghana, though the Pharaohs won’t officially be eliminated until after the second leg of the playoff.

The 11 remaining spots will be determined by home-and-home, aggregate-goal series.

STRAUS: Egypt’s World Cup dream hits roadblock as Ghana routs Pharaohs


Runners-up from eight of the nine UEFA groups will be drawn on Monday into four playoff series. Denmark is the unlucky odd nation out. After the results against the sixth-place team in each group were expunged (since one group had only five countries), the Danes had the worst record of the nine at 2-2-4.

Europe will seed the playoffs using the same FIFA ranking. Portugal, Greece, Croatia and Ukraine will be separated. Among the unseeded four lurks a former world champion (France) and the continental Cinderella, Iceland.

The games will be played on Nov. 15 and 19.

Teams from Pot 1 will be drawn into playoffs with Pot 2 teams for UEFA's final four World Cup spots.

Teams from Pot 1 (lower FIFA rankings) will be drawn into playoffs with Pot 2 teams for UEFA’s last four World Cup spots.


Each of the 10 group winners was drawn into a two-team playoff. The openers already have taken place. The second legs are next month, and “Team 2” will host. Continental powers Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria are in good shape to win their playoffs.

Africa's five bids won't be officially decided until after the second leg of playoffs.

Africa’s five World Cup bids won’t be officially decided until after the second leg of playoffs in November.


CONCACAF, South America, Asia and Oceania each send one team to an intercontinental playoff. The match-ups were drawn in 2011.

Uruguay, which finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, will be heavily favored to defeat Jordan, which has never qualified. In the other series, Mexico will look to make the most of its World Cup reprieve against New Zealand.

Games are scheduled for Nov. 13 and 20. “Team 1” will host the first leg.

Mexico's fourth-place finish in the Hexagonal sends it to a playoff against New Zealand for a World Cup berth.

Mexico’s fourth-place finish in the Hexagonal sends it to a playoff against New Zealand for a World Cup berth.

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Fate will have its say on Dec. 6 in Mata de São João, a beach town in Bahia. The specific procedure hasn’t been announced, but it’s unlikely to change too much from past draws.

The eight seeds each will be placed in a group. A second pot will contain eight European teams, who can be drawn into any of the eight groups. In the World Cup’s first round, continental confederations are kept apart except for UEFA.

If Uruguay defeats Jordan, as expected, there will be nine unseeded European sides. That last team could be drawn separately into a group headed by Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or La Celeste or put in one of the other three pots with that same provision.

CONCACAF teams tend to be drawn from the same pot as the Asian sides. If Mexico and Uruguay win their playoffs, both CONCACAF and Asia will send an easy four teams each, creating a perfect pot. An upset by either Jordan (adding a fifth Asian team) or New Zealand (removing the fourth CONCACAF team) could complicate matters.

A fourth pot likely will contain the five African survivors, Chile and Ecuador, and perhaps the final European side. But FIFA could switch it up.

By the night of Nov. 20, at least, the 32 teams will be known.

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Matthew Cush
Matthew Cush

Why can't they have a second pot consisting of the next eight ranked teams, to avoid the group-of-death syndrome? Seems to me FIFA is just trying to get at least a couple of very minor teams into the knock-out stage to make things more "interesting" to the casual fan.


The USA deserves to be in the World Cup this time around.  Not sure I care about who they have to play against in the opening round.  It's luck of the draw and with only a few exceptions, these are the BEST teams in the world.  It's win or go home.  USA   USA   USA!!!!!!!!!


Maybe you should have given some attribution for those tables you lifted off of Wikipedia?


Given the history with FIFA, it will come down to which country pays the most bribes.  


Small correction: If Uruguay qualify by beating Jordan, they will have the 6th seed, not the Swiss. Switzerland will have the 7th.


"Past World Cup performance no longer impacts seeding" - is that accurate? As I understand it, World Cup games are still heavily weighted in distributing ranking points.


No need to worry over something we don't have any control over. The pools will come up and let's see where the US stands. In any once-in-a-four year event, there will be the usual narratives about favorites and underdogs. But in reality, anything can happen. Spain thoroughly dominated Switzerland in their opening WC 2010 match ... and lost on the scoreboard (and became the first team to win the WC after dropping their first match). The history of WC is rife with bad refereeing and bad breaks. A deflected shot can glance off the post or sneak into the goal. And of course, if the game comes down to penalty kicks, it's a coin flip.

So it's difficult to gauge expectations when it comes to the USMNT. "In Klinsmann We trust" and hopefully he can put the very best, well-prepared players on the pitch with a solid game-plan. And then, fingers crossed for some luck and good bounces. There's a reason why in the past four WCs, the likes of Uruguay, Turkey, South Korea, Croatia, Sweden, and Bulgaria have made the WC semis.


I will root hard for the USA, but the reason the draw seems so scary is that, notwithstanding the #13 ranking, I doubt we would be favored against any of even the unseeded European or South American teams or Ghana or any other team with a proven Champions League attacker.  Our defense is far too porous and our offense far too inconsistent. 


@M20 You're correct, the results of the 2010 WC still are counted in the October 2013 FIFA rankings. The rankings go back 4 years (from October 2009). So obviously the last WC results are counted. However, FIFA used to weigh past WC results more heavily than the current FIFA rankings do. Furthermore, they not only used the last WC played, but even older WC's from 8-12 years ago.


@DSM Ye of little faith. Most of the Gold Cup and last few WC qualifying games saw the USMNT's 2nd stringers, and guess what, they were still winning. This team is in fine form and when they have a healthy squad, they can compete with any team in the world. I'm excited to see who the US draw in December for WC14!!