From 5.30pm on Friday, the eyes of the football world will be on Cape Town's International Convention Centre, where the draw for next summer's World Cup finals will be made in the now customary extensive and complex ceremony. With luck, complications may even be fewer than usual, as the number of representatives from the different parts of the world is for once quite convenient.
Once the eight seeds have been nominated by the organising committee on Wednesday (South Africa as hosts are among them as team A1, probably to the unlucky exclusion of Holland), a further eight European countries will remain, one to go into each group. There will also be eight teams left from Africa (five) and South America (three), who can therefore be kept apart, leaving eight from the remaining regions.
It is those last eight which offer the widest differential in ability, as it is possible to be drawn against anyone from the United States (ranked 14th in the world) to Australia (21st), New Zealand (77th) and North Korea (84th).
ARGENTINA (Fifa ranking 8th)
Made hard work of qualifying under Diego Maradona's unstable leadership but still have abundant talent in their ranks.
Physically tougher than England and technically better; and that's just Fabio Capello's view. Who could argue with him?
Euro 2008 runners-up and unbeaten in qualifying. Badly affected by goalkeeper Robert Enke's death but will be over that by next June.
May not be seeded and could therefore be dangerous opponents for any top seed. Won all qualifying games, conceding only two goals.
Reigning champions were poor at Euros and Confederations Cup but have quality in midfield and defence, if not attack.
IVORY COAST (16th)
Best of the six Africans, who drew away to Germany recently and will be formidable if Didier Drogba stays fit.
The only team to beat Capello's England by more than a single goal (2-0 in February). Should have their best World Cup ever.
"At times it seemed like we were playing Barcelona," said Slovakia's coach Vladimir Weiss after losing 2-1 at home to Chile earlier this month.
Lost only once in six matches against England. Lucky to qualify at Ireland's expense but have talent almost in spite of coach Raymond Domenech.
Physically powerful squad with the quality of Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari at the heart of their midfield. Could do well.
England's nemesis at the past two tournaments. If Capello can win a penalty shoot-out against these boys, the sky is the limit.
Finished ahead of France, who took four points off them, in a weak group. Nemanja Vidic would enjoy kicking Wayne Rooney.
Finalists in both the Gold Cup and Confederations Cup this year. More and more players are gaining experience with European clubs.
Happy to meet
Showed plenty of character to come through a volatile play-off against Egypt after being denied during the group stage.
One sport in which England should beat Australia (don't mention Upton Park 2003). Without Mark Viduka they lack an experienced striker.
Coach Paul le Guen rescued their qualifying campaign. Their sixth World Cup out of the last eight but they are heavily dependent on Samuel Eto'o.
Good to see some of Europe's most colourful supporters back after eliminating their old rivals Sweden. Well beaten by England in 2002.
Deadly dull European champions in 2004, still under Otto Rehhagel. Pulled off the same trick with a 1-0 play-off win over Ukraine.
Wigan and others have found capable players such as Wilson Palacios, Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas.
Had to sack Sven Goran Eriksson to get their qualifying group back on track. Will field Arsenal's Carlos Vela but they have no obvious scorer.
Pipped Tunisia in the last few minutes of qualifying with a late goal by Obafemi Martens. Less dangerous than Ivory Coast or Ghana.
Fourth successive finals but have not scored in three meetings with England, the last of them a dull 1-0 defeat at the 2006 World Cup.
Thrilled to finish ahead of the Czech Republic in qualifying but looked poor at Wembley in March, falling apart to lose 4-0.
Not to be confused with Slovakia, the Slovenes came through the same group, then beat Russia. Also lost at Wembley, 2-1 in September.
Achieved their highest Fifa ranking for 15 years under Ottmar Hitzfeld. Still lost at home to Luxembourg before winning the group.
SOUTH AFRICA (86th)
Failed to qualify for the forthcoming Afican Nations Cup and as their ranking suggests they have only home advantage in their favour.
SOUTH KOREA (52nd)
Fourth in 2002, but the end of their long unbeaten run to Serbia at Craven Cottage (!) recently was a more realistic indication of status.
Play-off winners over Costa Rica to reach only second finals since 1990. Even coach Oscar Tabarez says: "There is a lot to improve on."
There for the ride
Struggled to score goals while finishing runners-up to Australia. Must hope for something from set-piece specialist Shunsuke Nakamura.
NEW ZEALAND (77th)
Had little to beat in Oceania once Australia suddenly became part of Asia, though they still managed to lose at home to Fiji.
NORTH KOREA (84th)
Almost as mysterious as in 1966, but can hardly expect to beat Italy this time. Defensive team will be happy to keep scores down.
How the four pots should look
Pot 1 (seeds) Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Spain.
Pot 2 (Europe): Denmark, Greece, Holland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland.
Pot 3 (Africa, South America): Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria; Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay.
Pot 4 (Asia, Oceania, Concacaf): Australia, Japan, New Zealand, North Korea, South Korea; Honduras, Mexico, USA.
Possible group of death: England, Holland, Ivory Coast, USA. Four years ago, Holland and the Ivory Coast were thrown together in the toughest group, with Argentina and Serbia. Less experienced in 2006, Ivory Coast missed out and Serbia finished bottom with only one heavy defeat. Something similar could happen again with the United States as dangerous outsiders.
Possible group of mirth: England, Slovakia, Algeria, North Korea. While keen to avoid Holland and Portugal, England need not fear any of the other non-seeded European teams. Similarly, few of those in the fourth pot other than the USA should cause concern; although under Sven Goran Eriksson England laboured against Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago.
Where the seeds play group games
A1 (South Africa): Johannesburg (11 June), Pretoria (16 June), Bloemfontein (22 June).
B1: Johannesburg (12 June), Johannesburg (17 June), Polokwane (22 June).
C1: Rustenburg (12 June), Cape Town (18 June), Port Elizabeth (23 June).
D1: Durban (13 June), Port Elizabeth (18 June), Johannesburg (23 June).
E1: Johannesburg (14 June), Durban (19 June), Cape Town (24 June).
F1: Cape Town (14 June), Nelspruit (20 June), Johannesburg (24 June).
G1: Johannesburg (15 June), Johannesburg (20 June), Durban (25 June).
H1: Durban (16 June), Johannesburg (21 June), Pretoria (25 June).
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