The eyes of the football world focused on Cape Town on Friday, with fans of 32 competing nations hoping for a kind draw at next year’s World Cup.
Coaches, former football greats and celebrities were gathering for a draw ceremony to decide the eight groups of four teams.
Oscar-winning movie star Charlize Theron will help FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke in a lavish ceremony due to start at 7 p.m. local time (1700 GMT).
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Defending champion Italy, five-time winner Brazil and European champion Spain will be looking to avoid the sort of draw that makes it tough to get through the group phase. Teams from New Zealand to Mexico, Chile to North Korea, Slovakia to host South Africa will hope those conducting the draw will give them a chance of a place in the knockout phase.
The 32 nations in the draw have been split geographically into four pots which will eventually produce eight groups of four teams.
South Africa, as host, has been given one of the seeded positions along with Italy, Brazil, Spain, England, Germany, Netherlands and Argentina.
“Expectations are very high and this is the start of the World Cup for me and the other coaches involved,” said South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who led his native Brazil to the 1994 title and has coached at three other World Cups. “I have been involved in World Cup draws before. As Brazil’s national coach, expectations were just as high but this one is extra special because we are the World Cup hosts.”
The other three South American teams – Paraguay, Chile and two-time World Cup winner Uruguay – are also in the same pool so they can’t meet in the first round. The same applies to the four Asian qualifiers, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Australia. and Africa’s other qualifiers, Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
Cafu, who captained Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title, said Africans will have an edge at the tournament “because of playing on home territory and because of the supporters.”
Only two African teams have advanced as far as the World Cup quarterfinals, with Cameroon reaching that phase in 1990 and Senegal matching it in 2002.
The 13 European teams in the competition can’t avoid each other altogether, but there can’t be more than two in any group.
The second band of European teams – France, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Denmark, Switzerland, Greece and Serbia – are in the same pool. That has angered the French, who felt they should have been seeded after winning the title in 1998 and reaching the final four years ago.
Because France is in the European pot, there could be a repeat of the 2006 World Cup final in the group stage, with Italy possibly meeting the French.
With the draw ceremony for the June 11-July 11 championship taking place and hundreds of delegates and officials from around the world gathering in Cape Town, the bidding nations for the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 are also taking the opportunity to impress observers.
David Beckham is one of the leading figures backing England’s bid. But the 1966 hosts face opposition from the United States, Australia, Russia, Japan, Qatar, Indonesia, South Korea and joint bids from Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium.