What Is The FIFA World Cup Draw and How Does It Work?

Saturday is the big draw, so I figured I’d spend a little time explaining exactly what that means. I’ll use UEFA1 as an example.

Using the updated rankings released today2, FIFA will separate the 53 competing nations of Europe into six pots; nine teams in the first five and eight in the last pot. It’s a simple procedure: going down the UEFA rankings list, we simply slide the top nine teams into pot 1, the next nine into pot 2, and so on.

Here’s how the six pots break down.

Pot 1 Pot 2 Pot 3
Spain France Switzerland
Netherlands Montenegro Israel
Germany Russia Republic of Ireland
England Sweden Belgium
Portugal Denmark Czech Republic
Italy Slovenia Bosnia-Herzegovina
Croatia Turkey Belarus
Norway Serbia Ukraine
Greece Slovakia Hungary
Pot 4 Pot 5 Pot 6
Bulgaria Armenia Wales
Romania Finland Liechtenstein
Georgia Estonia Iceland
Lithuania Cyprus Kazakhstan
Albania Latvia Luxembourg
Scotland Moldova Malta
Northern Ireland FYR Macedonia Andorra
Austria Azerbaijan San Marino
Poland Faroe Islands

As we’ll see in a moment, using a pot system keeps the top ranked teams from getting grouped together. This is important because the winner of each group will qualify to appear at the World Cup finals in Brazil, so it’s only fair that the best teams aren’t stuck playing each other at this stage.

The first round of qualification consists of eight groups of six teams (Groups A through H) and one group of five teams (Group I). The teams in each group will play each other twice in a round robin format, home and away. The draw is what will place teams into groups and it works like this:

One by one, FIFA will pull the teams in pot 6 from a hat3 and slot them into the sixth position of Groups A through H. For example, let us imagine that the 8 teams in pot 6 come out of the hat in the following order:

  1. Kazakhstan
  2. San Marino
  3. Liechtenstein
  4. Iceland
  5. Wales
  6. Luxembourg
  7. Andorra
  8. Malta

After emptying pot 6, our groups will look like this:

Group A Group B Group C
Pot 1 Pot 1 Pot 1
Pot 2 Pot 2 Pot 2
Pot 3 Pot 3 Pot 3
Pot 4 Pot 4 Pot 4
Pot 5 Pot 5 Pot 5
Kazakhstan San Marino Liechtenstein
Group D Group E Group F
Pot 1 Pot 1 Pot 1
Pot 2 Pot 2 Pot 2
Pot 3 Pot 3 Pot 3
Pot 4 Pot 4 Pot 4
Pot 5 Pot 5 Pot 5
Iceland Wales Luxembourg
Group G Group H Group I
Pot 1 Pot 1 Pot 1
Pot 2 Pot 2 Pot 2
Pot 3 Pot 3 Pot 3
Pot 4 Pot 4 Pot 4
Pot 5 Pot 5 Pot 5
Andorra Malta

The random draw repeats for Pot 5, placing each team into the fifth group position, then pot 4 and so on, until the hat is empty and we’ve got our groups set up and ready to play.4

The group stage matches will be contested between September 7, 2012 and October 15, 2013.5 The nine group winners will qualify immediately, while the eight best group runners-up move to round 2 (the “Continental Play-Off”) to play for the four remaining spots for European nations. A second random draw will take place to decide how these eight teams will pair up. Each pairing will play a home-and-away series. The team with the best aggregate score from each series will qualify, rounding out the full roster of thirteen European teams who will compete in Brazil 2014.


  1. The Union of European Football Associations []
  2. By the way, how the fuck is Brazil still ranked higher than Uruguay? I know the rankings are points based, but this just seems criminal to me. []
  3. I’m pretty sure they don’t actually use a hat, but how awesome would it be if they did? []
  4. Of course, there are a couple of politically motivated exceptions. As a result of tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, FIFA has agreed to not draw these two nations into the same group. Of course, as you can see above, they are both in pot 5 and thuscan’t be drawn together. This does not, however, hold true of Russia and Georgia, who can’t seem to get along in the wake of the South Ossetia War. Seeing as how they are in different pots, the possibility exists for them to be drawn into the same group. FIFA will have to intervene if this happens and make a switch somewhere. []
  5. These dates are subject to change. []