Argentina, France, Poland seeded in World Cup finals draw pots
With 23 of the 32 finalists for the 2018 World Cup finals now known, and all matches played that will be used by FIFA to rank nations, the draw pots for the group stage are now taking shape.
FIFA is to use its October World Ranking to seed all four pots for the draw, a departure from recent tournaments when only the top eight nations were seeded with other pots grouped by Confederation. The Ranking is officially published on Monday by FIFA, but we have calculated the numbers to see which nations will appear in which pot.
Below is how the pots are looking for the draw, which takes place on Friday. Dec. 1. The pots are provisional as there are six teams yet to be decided by playoffs, and three African finalists to be confirmed. For the purposes of this illustration, the higher-ranked playoff teams and the nations currently top of their qualifying group in Africa are shown.
The eight seeded nations are now locked in and cannot change.
Pot 1: Russia, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France
Pot 2: Spain, Peru*, Switzerland*, England, Colombia, Italy*, Mexico, Uruguay
Pot 3: Croatia*, Denmark*, Costa Rica, Iceland, Tunisia*, Egypt, Senegal*, Iran
Pot 4: Serbia, Nigeria, Australia*, Japan, Morocco*, Panama, South Korea, Saudi Arabia
*Denotes team yet to secure qualification
The decision to seed all four pots by FIFA Ranking is of great benefit to Mexico. In most recent tournaments, Mexico were grouped with fellow CONCACAF nations and Asia teams (as well as New Zealand in 2010). That meant they were guaranteed to be drawn against a seeded nation and at least one European team.
In 2010 Mexico were handed a draw against both Uruguay and France as well as hosts South Africa, and in 2014 they were one again handed the host nation, Brazil, along with Croatia and Cameroon. They advanced from the group stage both times, but they could expect a kinder draw this time. While they will still have to face one of the seeds, it is far more unlikely that they will avoid being drawn against a strong European team (in addition to one they could get from Pot 1).
But the reverse is true for Croatia, Denmark, or the unseeded playoff teams should they qualify instead, as well as Iceland and Serbia. They will now get two strong teams in their group when they could have escaped this when in a pot with all other European teams.
What happens if other nations qualify
If Peru fail to beat New Zealand in the playoffs, then Croatia would be first to move up to pot 2 if they win their playoff, and Serbia would shift up from pot 4 as New Zealand could only be in the bottom pot.
Of the European playoff teams, if either Switzerland or Italy fail to make it then fellow playoff entrants Croatia and Denmark could move up to pot 2. Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland are almost certain to be in pot 3 should they qualify, while Greece would definitely be pot 4. Sweden would be pot 3 unless other unseeded teams win in the playoffs.
The winners of the CONCACAF/AFC playoff between Australia and Honduras are guaranteed to be in pot 4, as would Ivory Coast if they edge out Morocco to qualify. While Senegal will be in pot 3, if Burkina Faso, Cape Verde or South Africa win that qualifying group they are certain to be pot 4. If Tunisia miss out on the finals, then DR Congo would most likely be pot 4.
Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.