Privjet, niños. On Friday, the World Cup finally thrums into first gear after the meandering qualifiers and the nail-bitting play-offs with the official draw in Moscow, this time starring Gary Lineker–once a major critic of soccer’s governing body–and local Russian star Maria Komandnaya. Our gazes will be fixed on 32 small balls representing the World Cup participants and our minds will drift to all the possible permutations coming out of the four pots.
A World Cup draw can’t be hard, can it? Well, this is FIFA and, in 1982, the draw was a catastrophe; balls were in the wrong pot, and the tumbler broke, cascading ping pong balls all over the stage. Sepp Blatter, the new secretary general (and future corrupt boss), fidgeted in his chair at so much incompetence. How things have changed: this time, FIFA president Gianni Infantino and his chummy Vladimir Putin will preside over the draw, and mistakes will not be tolerated.
Here are the permutations for the Latin American finalists as FIFA prepares for the draw, which airs on Fox at 10 AM Eastern on Friday, December 1. You can also stream it on the official FIFA website.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Dream scenario: Switzerland, Iceland, and Saudi Arabia
Nightmare scenario: Spain, Senegal and Serbia
The five-time World Champions will be one of the favorites to lift the World Cup in Russia. Brazil coach Tite arrived with confidence in Moscow, saying that “at times drawing a strong group strengths the team for the knock-out rounds.” Still, Brazil will want to avoid 2010 world champions Spain, and even England, from pot 2. Senegal–with Sadio Mané as its star–from pot 3, and Serbia from pot 4 may also offer strong opposition. In the dress rehearsal, Brazil drew a tough group with England, Denmark, and Morocco, so they’ll hope the live show goes more in their favor.
Lionel Messi walks from the ground at half time during the Brasil Global Tour match between Brazil and Argentina in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images for ICC
Dream scenario: Switzerland, Tunisia, South Korea
Nightmare scenario: England, Denmark and Nigeria
Will this be Lionel Messi’s grand farewell to international football? Can Jorge Sampaoli galvanize a struggling Argentina? Plenty of question marks surround this albiceleste outfit, who suffered heavily during the qualifiers and crossed the finish line sweating. The Argentineans can’t meet Peru, Uruguay and Colombia from pot 2 due to a CONMEBOL conflict, but they won’t be keen on a meeting with historic rivals England. The pace and power of the Super Eagles could also unsettle the fragile Argentinean defense.
Edinson Cavani of Uruguay vies for the ball with Hugo Campagnaro of Argentina during the 18th round of the South American Qualifiers for the FIFA’s World Cup Brazil 2014. Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images.
Dream scenario: Poland, Iran, Panama
Nightmare scenario: Germany, Denmark, Nigeria
Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez will lead the Uruguayan charge in Russia, and they could prove dark horses. The celestes qualified comfortably for Russia and, at the last World Cup, the Uruguayans knocked out Italy in the group of the death, which also included England and Costa Rica. Perhaps the draw will be more favorable to Uruguay this time. By default, they will avoid continental powerhouses Argentina and Brazil from pot 1, which offers some relief. But a pairing with Germany could well spoil that. Danish Dynamite won’t suit Uruguay either from pot 3. Things could look very rosy if they draw Poland, Iran, and Panama.
James Rodriguez reacts during a friendly match between Spain and Colombia. Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Dream scenario: Poland, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
Nightmare scenario: Germany, Senegal and Australia
Los Cafeteros were the barnstorming sensation from the 2014 Brazil World Cup, when the ebullient James Rodriguez blossomed and exited in tears in the quarter-finals. The Bayern star, whose career has been an undulating one, will be keen on a renaissance on the global stage. He won’t want to meet his newly adopted home country early on in Russia. Senegal and Australia from pots 3 and 4 could also be stumbling blocks.
Peru fans sing ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between New Zealand and Peru at Westpac Stadium on November 11, 2017. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Dream scenario: Poland, Tunisia, South Korea
Nightmare scenario: Germany, Denmark, and Nigeria
Back on the global stage after 36 years. Who can forget the delirious scenes in the streets of Lima after the Peruvians trumped New Zealand 2-0? One wonders if Peru will mind the draw at all. A group of death scenario will be a glorious return to the high mass of the game; a dream scenario will offer the chance of progressing to the second round. Whatever happens, Peru will relish the moment.
Javier Hernandez kisses the Mexican badge after of Mexico celebrates scoring during the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Dream scenario: Poland, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia
Nightmare scenario: Germany, Senegal and Australia
El Tri coasted through the Hex and enjoyed some schadenfreude at the expense of the United States. Some may not agree with the policies and philosophy of coach Juan Carlos Osorio, but positive results in recent friendlies away to Belgium and Poland suggest Mexico may finally break the second round jinx. Here is the fast-track to a good draw for the highest ranked CONCACAF team: Poland from pot 1, Tunisia from pot 3, and Saudi Arabia from pot 4. Osorio and co will be happy to avoid Brazil and Germany until later on.
Francisco Calvo and Giancarlo Gonzalez celebrate an own-goal by Panama in the second half during the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal at Lincoln Financial Field on July 19, 2017. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Dream scenario: Poland, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia
Nightmare scenario: Brazil, England, Nigeria.
At the last World Cup the Ticos surprised, progressing from the group of death ahead of European monoliths England and Italy. They will seek a repeat from their Brazil heroics, but a more amiable group would be welcomed. They are in pot 3 in the company of the Scandinavian qualifiers, the African trio of Egypt, Senegal and Tunisia, and Iran. Costa Rica’s doom scenario is very gloomy indeed, although they’ll feel confident against England, despite the Three Lions’ much-improved side.
Fans of Panama watch as their team takes on the United States during the CONCACAF Gold Cup final match at Soldier Field on July 28, 2013. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Dream scenario: Poland, Switzerland, Tunisia
Nightmare scenario: Germany, England, Senegal.
Panama are debutants at the World Cup finals, and so the razzle-dazzle will be new and overwhelming for the team and coach Hernan Gomez. They are also the lowest ranked team from CONCACAF and, in Pot 4, they are considered one of the weakest teams in Russia. Can they spring a surprise? Much will depend on the draw Panama gets. Meeting the defending world champions, England, and Senegal would put a stopper to Panama’s World Cup ambitions, but Poland, Switzerland, and Tunisia offer possibilities.