Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Michael Ballack and the titans of world football lie in wait for England at the World Cup finals next summer, but they will have to wait until the second round at least after Sven Goran Eriksson's side were yesterday seeded among the top eight teams for the tournament. As Fifa revealed their formula for ranking competitors, England found themselves second only to the champions, Brazil.
A month of second guessing which criteria the governing body would use to calculate the top eight teams - who will all be placed separately in each of the eight groups - ended in England's favour yesterday as they claimed their first seeding since the 1990 World Cup. There will be less chance of a "Group of Death" such as they faced with Argentina, Nigeria and Sweden in Japan four years ago, although there remain some dangerous unseeded teams to be drawn from the three other pots.
The hosts Germany, the holders Brazil, as well as Argentina, Mexico, Italy, Spain and France are also seeded, but the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Portugal are among those missing out. The seeding was based on a combined score of Fifa rankings over the last three years as well as performances at the last two World Cups, with twice as much importance placed on 2002 as 1998. The exclusion of the 1994 tournament, for which England failed to qualify, worked in their favour.
The worst case scenario would see England draw, from the third pool, the Netherlands team of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie which was just two places away from being seeded. In pool two they could also get Michael Essien's Ghana, who were beaten just once in qualifying. In pool four the team to avoid is America, just one place out of the seedings.
Eriksson will be in Leipzig on Friday evening to learn who England face, as well as where they will play, but in the meantime the Swede said that the team's seeded status was crucial. "I am absolutely delighted and I think it's right too," he said. "We are one of the teams that have the potential to do very well in Germany and we have some of the best players in the world.
"Finishing top of our qualification group with the second-best record in the whole of Europe was a big achievement and I'm sure that has played a part in this decision. There are many very good sides that are going to be in Germany but I don't think that too many will want to face England."
After the draw is made, Eriksson will consult with Football Association officials to decide on who England play in their next friendly on 1 March - Fifa rules dictate that no team can play another country selected within their World Cup qualifying group before the tournament. Nevertheless, the FA would hope to match England with a side who were from the same continent as one of their summer opponents.
The draw will also dictate where England play their first three games. Apparently, police consultations have advised against Berlin, which would be more difficult to control in the event of trouble. Nuremberg may bill itself as a beguiling medieval city but England fans are more likely to make the association with the post-war Nazi war trials and it is thought that playing there should be avoided.
Brazil and Germany, who have already been placed in their groups so they can play in stadiums that will accommodate the biggest crowds, know they will be playing their games in Munich, Berlin and Dortmund. Fifa also used the seedings announcement to warn that no player named in his national 23-man squad on 15 May will be able to play for his club after that date - unless it is the Champions' League final on 17 May.
It means that should Andrew Johnson make Eriksson's squad, he would not be able to represent Crystal Palace in the Championship play-offs. The winner of the final in Berlin on 9 July will earn £10.7m and the runner-up £9.8m.
Lots to ponder How the 2006 World Cup draw works
Under the seedings system
Brazil have 64 points followed by England (51), Spain (50), Germany (48), Mexico (47), France (46), Argentina (44) and Italy (44). The US had 43 points and Netherlands 38.
The 32 finalists are arranged into four groups, with Serbia & Montenegro in a special pot.
Pool One: Germany (hosts), Brazil (champions), Italy, France, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, England.
Pool Two: Australia, Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia, Ecuador, Paraguay.
Pool Three: Croatia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine.
Pool Four: Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, United States.
Special pot: Serbia & Montenegro.
The draw was set up to prevent teams from the same continent landing in the same group. Europe, with 14 of the 32 teams, is the exception. But no more than two European teams will be in the same group. To avoid a group with three European teams, Serbia & Montenegro will be in a special pot at the draw on Friday and will be placed in a group with either Brazil, Argentina or Mexico.
The eight seeded teams will be drawn into eight different groups. Germany have already been allocated Group A and Brazil Group F. Eight unseeded European sides will be drawn into the eight different groups. The lowest-ranked European side, Serbia & Montenegro will be allocated to one of the groups containing either Brazil, Argentina or Mexico. A pot of the five African countries, Australia and the two remaining South American sides will be drawn into eight different groups. A pot containing the four Asian countries, the US, Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago will be drawn into seven different groups.Reuse content