Hundreds of millions of football fans are expected to follow the World Cup draw on Friday, knowing that pure luck of how teams are picked from the four pots will go a long way to deciding who wins in the trophy in 2010. FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke and actress Charlize Theron will casually swirl the little balls around the pots and draw them out to decide the make-up of the eight four-team groups that will play the first round of next year's event.
Just how fickle the draw can be is illustrated by what awaits host nation South Africa. Bafana Bafana is seeded in the draw as hosts, so will avoid the world's top teams. But it might still get a challenging set of opponents like France, United States and Chile. Then again, it could get a more benign draw like New Zealand, Uruguay and Slovenia.
The only restriction upon the draw is that no two teams from the same geographical confederation can be drawn into the same group, barring European teams.
“The draw can produce anything,” World Cup chief executive Danny Jordaan said, hoping for a kind draw for the hosts. “We hope on the luck of the draw. It is important for us as the host nations that our team must progress in the second round and we will keep our fingers crossed.”
France will be particularly anxious after it just missed out on being seeded and might have to play powerhouses like Spain or Brazil in the opening group stage.
“I just hope that we won't end up in the toughest group,” said French federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes. Inevitably, one of the groups will be dubbed the 'Group of Death', indicating a tricky combination of four strong teams left to fight it out for a top-two place that will bring a berth in round two.
Pot 1 contains the seeded teams, and the three other pots are based on geography. Pot 2 will have the Asian and CONCACAF teams, Pot 3 will have teams from Africa and South America, and Pot 4 will have the eight unseeded European teams.
It remains to be seen if South Africa will be helped or hindered by the rule which prevents it facing another African team in the first round. While the weaker African teams have been regarded as a relatively kind draw in the past, they are expected to perform more strongly on their home continent in 2010.
After a series of disappointing recent results and a belated change of coach, the South African public is questioning how its team will perform as hosts.
“Can we give a good performance. Can we emulate what the South Koreans did,” said Steve Komphelo, coach of Rustenburg's Platinum Stars, referring to the 2002 World Cup when co-host South Korea stunned everyone by reaching the semifinals. “Can we hit the final? Can we be a surprise package?”
Because South Africa is seeded, it will avoid the world's top teams: Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, defending champion Italy, Germany, Argentina and England.
Friday's event, under the iconic Table Mountain, is billed as an African celebration. Nobel Peace laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Frederik W. de Klerk will be among the attendees and Nelson Mandela will address the crowd of 3,000 through a video message.