The World Cup draw is here – and you’d like to think FIFA has gone through a few practice runs.
So we’ve done the same thing, using this excellent draw simulator tool to predict what the groups may look like when the balls are picked out of the bowls on Saturday morning.
Here’s what the simulator produced – assuming the Socceroos can get beat UAE and Peru to escape the playoff.
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Pot 1: Qatar, Brazil, Belgium, France, Argentina, England, Spain, Portugal
Pot 2: Mexico, United States, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Uruguay, Switzerland, Croatia
Pot 3: Senegal, Iran, Japan, Morocco, Serbia, Poland, South Korea, Tunisia
Pot 4: Tunisia, Cameroon, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, (UEFA qualifier: Wales), (Asia v South America playoff winner: Australia), (North America v Oceania playoff winner: Costa Rica)
Our simulation sees Costa Rica come out of the CONCACAF-OFC section as expected, Wales come out of the final UEFA qualifier after facing the Scotland-Ukraine winner, and Australia knock off both UAE and Peru for a pleasantly surprising berth in Qatar.
For years FIFA’s rankings have been questioned, but at this point they’re reasonably good. Germany and the Netherlands are the obvious powers you’d like to avoid from Pot 2, and there are no restrictions keeping them from being paired with a European top seed.
ULTIMATE GUIDE: Everything you need to know about the World Cup draw
But there are no severely-underseeded nations, with the possible exception of the final UEFA qualifier, who has to be placed in Pot 4 because we don’t know who they are yet. Wales or Ukraine would be in Pot 3 if they had already qualified, while Scotland would be the top team in Pot 4.
So as you’ll see below, it’s unlikely we’ll see a group of death quite like those in years gone by, like 2014’s Spain-Netherlands-Chile-Australia or England-Italy-Uruguay-Costa Rica (from which Costa Rica advanced).
Let’s see how our simulated draw played out.
Average ranking points: 1569
Getting the final UEFA qualifier makes Group A, which is always going to be easy because it has lowly hosts Qatar instead of a powerhouse its top seed, slightly more balanced.
Mexico would be the highest-ranked team, kicking off the tournament against the hosts just like in 2010 against South Africa, while Senegal and Wales are ranked very close to each other and it would be a tight battle to see who advances of those two.
Qatar did at least made the semi-finals of the Arab Cup last December, beating UAE 5-0, but in a series of 2021 friendlies against the US, Serbia (x2), Portugal (x2) and Ireland, lost a combined 19-1.
Average ranking points: 1602
You’d heavily favour France and Uruguay to make it out here, with Morocco and Saudi Arabia each having made it out of the groups in just one of their five World Cup appearances.
Having said that Uruguay wasn’t too convincing in CONMEBOL qualifying, finishing third as expected but losing six of their 18 matches with a goal difference of zero.
Average ranking points: 1612
This may not be as easy to pick as an Argentina-Netherlands top two makes it look.
Serbia has won at least one game in its two previous World Cup appearances, while Canada is the best Pot 4 side (other than the unknown UEFA qualifier) having finished first in CONCACAF, above Pot 2 nations Mexico and USA.
Average ranking points: 1603
Poor Poland and Ghana.
Brazil-Germany would be an extremely tasty group stage match – 7-1, anyone? – and you would expect the two powers to make it safely out of this quartet.
Average ranking points: 1594
Now here we go. How fun does this sound for the Socceroos?
A first ever World Cup clash with the Poms headlines, plus a rematch of the final group stage match in 2006 against Luka Modric’s Croatia which saw the Aussies through to the knockout stages, and the easiest possible draw from Pot 3 in Tunisia. Juicy.
Look, Australia would probably get knocked out in the groups, given Croatia made the final in 2018 and England made the last four, but no Aussie soccer fans are actually expecting a spot in the last 16 right now. (They’re not even expecting a spot in the groups.)
And strange things happen in tournaments. Could the Socceroos beat Tunisia and earn a point or two against the European sides to sneak through? It’s not impossible, right?
After all Croatia only made the round of 16 at the Euros, and England is England.
Average ranking points: 1587
A pretty even group with Ecuador quite low-ranked, but the US and Japan could both realistically expect to make it out and even challenge Spain, who haven’t made it out of the round of 16 since winning the 2010 event.
Average ranking points: 1622
This is what we mean about there not really being a group of death this World Cup; on the rankings, this is the toughest group, yet you wouldn’t exactly call this a group of traditional powers.
Belgium did make the last four in 2018 but their ranking at or near the top of the world has always felt a bit over-inflated.
Average ranking points: 1593
The weakest group not including Qatar – but that’s because of Portugal’s low ranking, with Iran and Cameron two of the best teams from their respective groups.
Cristiano Ronaldo will be desperate to make it out of the round of 16 for the first time since 2006 but this wouldn’t be a cakewalk.