By Charles Cooper and Vincent Melita
203 teams started. 32 remain. It’s time for World Cup 2014!
So how did we get here? Through a series of qualifying tournaments that took place in six different geographic zones, the 203 teams that started with their country’s hopes of a World Cup berth were whittled to the 32 that will be playing in Brazil.
Let’s take a look at the United States region, CONCACAF. 35 teams began play in the region. The bottom 10 teams in the region based on the FIFA world rankings played each other in randomly drawn home-and-home matches with the winners going on to the second round of qualifying. Those five teams were placed into groups with 19 other teams (the ones in the region that were ranked 7-25) to make six four team groups. The winners of those groups went into the third round (or in soccer terms, leg, of qualifying.
Still with us? Good. It gets easier from here.
The teams that won their groups in the second leg were joined by the teams in the region that were ranked 1-6 by FIFA, who had gotten a bye into the third round. The 12 remaining teams were slotted into three groups and played six, round-robin games within their group. The top two teams in each group advanced to the final stage of qualifying.
In that final stage, all six teams played each of the other five remaining teams twice, once at home and once on the road. The top three teams after the 10 games were in the World Cup! The fourth place team had a two game playoff against the champion of the Oceania Football Confederation. The winner of that playoff was also bound for Brazil.
So now we have the 32 teams. How do we find out who they play?
On December 6, FIFA held the World Cup draw in which all 32 teams were slotted in their groups. Through all the rules of the draw, the 32 teams were slotted into eight, four-team groups. Each team will play the other teams in their group during the round-robin. The top two teams in each group will then advance to the “knockout” or single-elimination stage with the winner being presented the World Cup Trophy in July 13.
Let the games begin.