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How Does the FIFA World Cup Final Draw Work?

World Cup Final Draw

Servicemen practice at the Kremlin in Moscow on the eve of the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

With the 2017 FIFA World Cup set to begin on December 16th, teams have finalized their squad lists. On Friday, those 32 teams be watching closely as the 2017 World Cup draw takes place. Gary Lineker will be the host for the draw, and Maria Komandnaya will be his co-hosts. Eight “high profile” assistants will also be present for the event.

The FIFA final draw is a detailed process. There are many different restrictions in place that complicate things as teams are placed. We’ll run through things step by step in order to avoid any confusion, starting with the “pots”.

Step One: Pots

First, the 32 qualifying teams are divided equally into four pots (eight teams per pot). Teams are placed in these pots based on their rankings; the highest-ranked teams will be in pot 1, while the lowest-ranked teams are in pot 4. Each year, the host of the tournament automatically earns a place in pot 1, regardless of ranking. So, this year, Russia will be in pot 1, along with the seven other highest-ranked teams.

Step Two: Pot 1 Draw

FIFA will draw pot 1 first, placing the teams among eight groups. These groups are numbered A through H; they’ll have room for four teams each (A1, A2, A3, A4, for example). The host team (Russia this year) will automatically slot into the first slot in group A. The rest of the teams in pot 1 will be drawn out randomly, with the first  random selection slotting into B1, the second to C1, etc. This process will continue until pot 1 is empty and slots A1 though H1 are occupied.

Step Three: Pot 2 Draw

The drawing process for pot 2 is a bit more complicated. This is where the element of confederations comes into play. Two teams from the same confederation cannot be drawn into the same group, unless there are more than eight teams from that confederation. There are 14 qualifying teams from Europe in 2017, so each group contain either one or two European teams.

The teams are still drawn out randomly from pot 2, and assigned groups in alphabetical order. So the first team drawn from pot 2 would be placed into group A, then randomly assigned a position from A2-A4 within the group. The second team would be placed into group B, etc. However, if a team would be placed into a pot that already contains a team from its confederation, they are instead assigned to the next possible pot based on the confederation rules. The skipped group would then be filled in with the next random selection.

Step Four: Pots 3-4 Draw

Pots 3 and 4 are drawn in the same way as pot two. However, things get a bit more complicated towards the end. At the end of the draw, the last few draws must be planned so that the groups can all be in line with the confederation rules. So, if a team drawn and assigned to a group would lock at least one remaining team into a group that already has representatives from its confederation, that team must instead be reassigned to a group that would make the remaining alignment work.

If that word sequence is a bit tough to follow, you can watch FIFA’s official video here; they explain the whole process very clearly, and with visuals.

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