COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil — Thirty two teams and a world of possibilities.
The 31 countries that qualified for the 2014 World Cup and host nation Brazil will cross fingers and toes and hope for the luck of the draw on Friday when their names are plucked from bowls one by one in a globally televised extravaganza to determine where, when and, most importantly, who they will play in Brazil next June at football’s showcase tournament.
Will Brazil be paired in a tough opening group of opponents who could sink its campaign for a sixth World Cup victory, souring the tournament that, all told, is costing the nation nearly $11 billion?
Who will triumph if four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi is drawn against Cristiano Ronaldo, his nemesis in the most intense individual rivalry in football? There will be frissons of excitement if the draw groups Messi’s Argentina and Ronaldo’s Portugal together.
Could defending champion Spain be drawn to play its opening game against the Netherlands? That repeat of the ill-tempered 2010 final would also cause sharp intakes of breath.
With the world title at stake and because of football’s rich and deep sporting, historical and political rivalries, the transparent bowls holding the teams’ names are bound to cough up mouthwatering match-ups.
Around the world, eyes will be trained on 1998 World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane and other former stars from the eight nations that have won the trophy as they pluck out balls containing slips of paper bearing the teams’ names. Even in the 177 football-playing nations and territories that didn’t qualify for the month-long tournament, fans will hope for encounters worthy of the sport’s showcase.
Bosnia-Herzegovina will get its first taste of the nervous excitement of a World Cup draw, having qualified as an independent nation two decades after its war that killed more than 100,000 people. Other nations are old hands: Seven have qualified for each of the last seven World Cups — Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Spain and the United States.
The 90-minute draw ceremony, televised live to more than 190 countries, will shift into higher gear Brazil’s efforts to use the tournament as a window on the world. Keen to show that it has more to offer than sandy beaches, samba and soccer, the world’s seventh-largest economy has built and renovated 12 stadiums and poured billions more into other public works.
Such expenditure in a country with millions living in third-world poverty has sparked vigorous debate about the value of sporting mega-events, especially with Olympic host Rio de Janeiro also spending heavily to prepare for the summer games of 2016. Protesters who poured into Brazil’s streets during the Confederations Cup warm-up tournament in June listed World Cup spending among their grievances.
Some 1,300 guests and 2,000 journalists were converging on the Brazilian Atlantic beach resort of Costa do Sauipe for the draw. Aside from Uruguay’s Oscar Tabarez and Miguel Herrera of Mexico, all the team coaches were expected, anxious to find out not only who their opponents will be but where in the world’s fifth-largest country they will play.
FIFA executives agreed Thursday that all 32 teams will get at least $8 million in prize money, with $35 million for the champion.