The World Cup draw is like a rack shot in a movie where the picture starts out as a blur, then suddenly clicks into sharp focus. After the global scrum of qualifying — 824 games played by 203 teams over the course of 904 days — the draw will take 90 minutes to neatly bundle the surviving 32 nations into eight groups of four. In so doing, the tournament’s opening round will be revealed: 15 days of games and locations in which footballing fate meets free will, leaving every nation with a realistic sense of whether they have a chance of emerging from group play unscathed or if, as Scottish fans used to sing, they will “be home before their postcards.”
Yet this will be a draw with a difference. The slate of participating teams is a veritable Murderers’ Row of footballing talent. The average FIFA draw ranking of the qualifiers for 2010 was 26 (SPI 20.3). In 2014 it will be 21.1 (SPI 20.3) There is only one debutant in Bosnia & Herzegovina in a field which contains 31 squads that can genuinely boast of being among the best teams in their region, plus England. World Cup 2014 promises to be a tournament so suffocatingly competitive that the traditional clichéd “Group of Death” will feel redundant.