If the Gods are smiling on England at the Stade Velodrome tomorrow night they will be paired with Brazil, Jamaica and Iran. If they are looking the other way, they could be thrown in with Brazil, Nigeria and Croatia.
The same applies to Scotland, who were placed in the same banding as England when Fifa finally revealed how the World Cup draw will be decided. However, due to the complexities of the system England and Scotland could be drawn together - and if they were it would be with either Brazil or Argentina as the group seeds.
As revealed in later editions of yesterday's Independent an inner cabal of Fifa's executive committee decided, in the Hotel Sofitel here late on Monday night, that England would not be among the seeds. Using a complex formula taking into account the last three World Cups and three years of Fifa rankings, they selected Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Romania and the Netherlands to join the hosts, France, and the holders, Brazil, as the seeds.
This proposal was accepted by the full executive committee yesterday. The remaining 24 teams have been divided geographically so as to ensure each group will have, as far as possible, two European sides, one South American or Asian, and one African or North/Central American. The consequence of this will be a draw of considerable drama and length - there will be more than 50 individual acts of pulling balls out of pots. It will inevitably throw up a "group of death" and also offers the possibility of Croatia being paired with Yugoslavia, Iran with the United States, and England with Italy.
England's failure to be seeded was not a surprise to the FA, but it was to the wider world. Glenn Hoddle was bullish about his team's prospects. "Not being seeded was not a surprise to me," he said. "The lesson is to make sure we never fail to qualify again. Whatever we get we'll handle. We had a tough qualifying group and we won it. We'll take what comes.
"I won't lose any sleep if we are pitched in with Brazil. If we beat them or lose to them there are still two other matches and then we won't play them until we reach the final. It would be an advantage if we have Brazil in our group. What we don't want is Brazil, Nigeria, Croatia. We don't want a group of death. We had a bit of that in the qualifiers.
"I know the coaches of the seeded countries will turn up and say `I hope we avoid England'.
"I'm getting a taste for it now. I'm very excited and I'm ready for it. When I'm out of a job I'll look back on this time fondly. Personally I wish we were starting now - then I think of a fellow called Alan Shearer and I don't mind waiting."
Craig Brown, the Scotland coach, was less keen on facing Brazil, who beat Scotland in 1974, 1982 and 1990. "I would like to avoid them and Romania," he said, "but I would take Germany, Italy or any other seed. England would be all right, although there may be logistic problems with both sets of fans moving at the same time. We're not frightened of them, nor is it a case of seeking revenge for Euro'96. All the teams know Scotland can give them a hard game. All their coaches know we're capable of eking out a result."
Both teams received good news yesterday when Fifa decided not to suspend players who had received a second yellow card in their final qualifying game: only dismissed players will be penalised. This releases Sol Campbell for England and John Collins for Scotland.
The implications of failing to qualify also became more apparent to nations like the Republic of Ireland and Australia when it was revealed that each country will receive nearly pounds 2m for qualifying. Each appearance after the quarter-finals will reap another pounds 1m as well as the obvious spin-offs.
The French had wanted to allocate all the seeds in order to concentrate the Dutch and Germans in the north and Italians and Spanish in the south, but Fifa refused. They are trying to ensure the draw appears fair and, despite doubts, it looks as if it may be. Even the old cold balls-warm balls trick is unlikely to work in the near-zero temperatures. Besides, as Sweden's Lennart Johansson, chairman of the executive committee, said: "If we pre-arranged too much there wouldn't be much of a draw left."
Fifa have decided in future to avoid the undignified lobbying for seeding which has characterised the build-up to this draw by determining the procedure for the 2002 World Cup before the qualifiers start. "The only thing which needs adjusting is how a team who got through the back-door of the play- offs is seeded," said Hoddle. "But," he added, "to look at it from Italy's point of view, if we had not been seeded after being runners-up and semi-finalists at the last two World Cups we would have been peeved."
How the draw will work
The draw will split the 32 teams into eight groups (A-H) of four. Group winners and runners-up will go on to the second round.
The draw is designed to ensure there are not two South American teams, or three European teams, in the same group. For the purposes of the draw, the teams have been split into four pots:
Seeds: Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Romania, Netherlands.
Pot A (Africa and Concacaf): Cameroon, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia, South Africa, United States.
Pot B (Europe): Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, England, Scotland, Norway, Yugoslavia.
Pot C (S America and Asia): Chile, Colombia, Iran, Japan, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, South Korea.
Brazil will be named as team A1 (the seeds in Group A) and France C1.
The other six seeded teams will be drawn in order B1, D1, E1, F1, G1, H1.
A draw will determine which pot is drawn next.
Whenever Pot A is drawn the eight teams will be placed in order A-H as they emerge.
If Pot B is drawn before Pot C the first eight drawn will be placed A- H as they emerge. The remaining European team will be placed with either Argentina or Brazil (another draw determines which of the two). When Pot C is drawn it will be ensured that the three South American teams are not drawn with the remaining South American seed (Argentina or Brazil).
If Pot C is drawn before Pot B, one European team will be drawn first and placed with either Argentina or Brazil (another draw). Pot C will then be drawn, making sure the three South American teams are not drawn with the remaining South American seed (Argentina or Brazil). In this scenario the remaining eight teams in Pot B can then be placed A-H as they emerge.
Apart from the seeds, each time a team is drawn there will be a mini- draw to determine its place in the allotted group, e.g. B2, B3 or B4.Reuse content