RIO DE JANEIRO — The first major World Cup milestone on the road from Soccer City to “Soccer Country” will be reached today when the draw for the preliminary round of the 2014 finals takes place in the home of five-times world champions Brazil.
Little more than a year since Spain beat Netherlands in the World Cup final in Johannesburg, the world champions’ name will go into one of the dozens of perspex bowls to be used as they discover who they will face in the defence of their trophy.
A total of 824 matches will take place before the identity of the 31 nations joining hosts Brazil in the finals will be revealed by November 2013.
The days when the draw consisted of middle-aged men in suits sitting at a desk pulling balls out of velvet bags are long gone of course and today’s 100-minute ceremony has cost more than $30 million and will be broadcast live around the globe.
It will take place in a specially constructed auditorium at Marina da Gloria not far from Sugar Loaf mountain because there was no other suitable buildings in Rio available to house more than 1 000 attending dignitaries.
“All the planning for this event began over a year ago and it has taken two months to set everything up. We are hoping to put on a great event that makes Brazil proud and shows the world we are ready to host the World Cup,” Joana Havelange, director of the local organising committee and the grand-daughter of former Fifa president Joao Havelange, said.
Ten former and current Brazilian international players including World Cup winner Ronaldo and current young hopes Neymar and Ganso will assist with the draw for five of Fifa’s six confederations.
There will be no draw for the South American confederation, whose nine contenders will play each other in a single league system, seeking to make, for them, the relatively short trip to Brazil in three years’ time.
Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke, who will conduct the draw ceremony, highlighted that the proceedings are more than just a showbiz extravaganza.
“Due to political sensitivities, Georgia and Russia and also Azerbaijan and Armenia will not be in the same group and if they are drawn together, we will change the order,” he said.
All the draws will be based on Fifa’s current world rankings which could produce some intriguing battles, especially in Europe where former world champions France are among the second-seeded teams and could face the likes of the world champions, England, Germany or Italy, who they met in the 2006 final.
Vicente del Bosque, who guided Spain to success in South Africa last year, Laurent Blanc of France, Guus Hiddink of Turkey, Fabio Capello of England and naturally, Mario Menezes of Brazil, are a few of the 38 national coaches attending the draw.
While some preliminary qualifiers have already taken place, the competition will begin properly later this year and be completed by November 2013.
Fifa said on Wednesday the finals will be staged from June 12 to July 13 in 2014.