fifawcIt’s time for our first installment of World Cup Bracketology. Although technically, this should probably be called “World Cup Selectology” or “World Cup Groupology”…but dammit, there’s a bracket involved eventually, and that should be good enough for everyone involved.

For the completely uninitiated, the World Cup is comprised of 32 teams, all hailing from six different “Confederations”, or soccer-playing regions. Some of these confederations don’t make geographic sense – for instance, Australia is in the Asian confederation (AFC), Guyana is in the North and Central American confederation, Israel is in the European confederation – but most of those oddities won’t really come into play.

The host team (which is Brazil in 2014) automatically qualifies. Other teams gradually qualify as they play through their confederations’ qualifying processes. Eventually, by the end of November of 2013, all 32 spots will have been claimed, and on December 6th, a drawing will take place which will put those 32 teams into eight groups of 4. Each of those groups will consist of one “seeded” team, and then one team drawn from each of three different “pots”.

Now, FIFA is notoriously unclear when it comes to announcing their procedures and thought processes. FIFA is also notoriously corrupt, and I have the wildest of notions that these two items are somehow connected. No one really knows whether the overall selection is honestly produced or rigged. However, you could make the same claim about the NCAA men’s tournament selection process, so why let that have a negative effect on things?

The purpose of World Cup Bracketology is to try and accurately project the eight seeded teams, as well as the way the remaining 24 teams are drawn into the groups. As of June 25th, there are only five teams who have guaranteed their places in World Cup 2014, and a bunch of spots still up for grabs. So part of this exercise also relates to projecting who will be in the field of 32. As we get closer to the actual draw date of the tournament, more and more teams will have claimed qualification spots, so that part of the equation will get a bit easier.

Ready to give it a whirl? Let’s begin by showing you the list of qualified teams thus far. Included in parentheses is their home confederation:

QUALIFIED (5)

Brazil (HOST)

Japan (AFC)

Australia (AFC)

Iran (AFC)

South Korea (AFC)

Now, the next step is to figure out the likely qualifiers for the rest of the confederations. Let’s go one-by-one through these confederations, starting with the AFC.

AFC: The Asian Football Confederation gets 4.5 berths, and four of those berths have been decided already (as seen above in the QUALIFIED list). The remaining half-berth will be decided in a two-legged playoff game between Jordan and Uzbekistan, to be played during the first two weeks of September. The winner of that playoff then has to play another two-legged Intercontinental playoff against the fifth placed team from CONMEBOL, the South American confederation.

Going strictly off of their group qualifying efforts, I’m backing UZBEKISTAN for the playoff spot – they finished tied with South Korea, barely missing out on the automatic berth only because South Korea had a slightly better goal differential. Jordan didn’t perform nearly as well in their group.

CAF: The Conferedation of African Football receives 5 full berths, and has the most bizarre of all the qualifying procedures. Currently the teams are engaged in ten groups of four. The winners of those ten groups then get drawn, one against the other, in five two-legged playoffs, with the winners of those playoffs advancing to the World Cup.

rimetAs of today, several of the groups don’t even have clear winners, so much of this section is admittedly speculative. But let’s go ahead and try to divine the winners of all the groups. Given the results already in, my guess is that the following ten teams will comprise the playoff round: Algeria, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia.

These teams will then be paired off based on FIFA rankings, so the playoff matchups as of right now would feature Cote d’Ivoire / Ethiopia, Ghana / Senegal, Nigeria / Congo, Algeria / Egypt, and Tunisia / Libya. Given that lineup of games, I’m projecting COTE D’IVOIRE, EGYPT, GHANA, NIGERIA, and TUNISIA to qualify.

CONCACAF: This confederation gets 3.5 berths, with the half-berth matching up against Oceania’s qualifier, who is New Zealand. The top three teams qualify automatically. While there are still four games left to play, I feel safe in projecting the UNITED STATES, COSTA RICA, and MEXICO as the three automatic qualifiers, with HONDURAS matching up against NEW ZEALAND in the playoff.

CONMEBOL: The South American confederation gets 4.5 berths, with their fifth placed team matching up against the AFC’s playoff winner. My current projection for this confederation has ARGENTINA, COLOMBIA, ECUADOR, and CHILE all receiving automatic berths, with VENEZUELA nabbing the playoff spot, mostly due to Uruguay having a brutal schedule down the stretch.

OFC: Oceania has already seen NEW ZEALAND qualify for the playoff against the CONCACAF fourth placed team.

UEFA: The European confederation has thirteen berths, which are providedby the winners of 9 groups of five or six teams, and then two-legged playoffs between the eight best second-placed finishers in those groups. Yes, this is as confusing as it sounds. This post is already approaching Tolstoyian levels of length, so let’s just skip ahead to the qualifiers. The nine group winners that I project to emerge with automatic bids are CROATIA, ITALY, GERMANY, NETHERLANDS, SWITZERLAND, PORTUGAL, BOSNIA, ENGLAND, and SPAIN. Also, after a lot of mathetmatics and projection, I think the four additional UEFA teams are RUSSIA, BELGIUM, HUNGARY, and FRANCE.

So that gives us 34 teams – the 30 automatic qualifiers, plus our two playoff matchups. My predicted winners for those two playoff matches are NEW ZEALAND and VENEZUELA.

Stay tuned for part two of World Cup Bracketology as we get down to seeding and bracketing!