In the 2014 World Cup qualifying preliminary draw which took place at the Marina da Gloria in Rio de Janeiro, the main beneficiaries were South America.
The FIFA executive committee, despite repeated pleas by the representatives from Africa and the North, Central America and the Caribbean Zone (Concacaf) decided to retain the same qualifying berths for all the continents in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. This means that with Brazil qualifying automatically as hosts South America gained an extra spot at the expense of Africa. At the 2010 World Cup six African nations including hosts South Africa qualified.
However except for Ghana none of the African nations advanced to the knock out rounds. So Africa’s request for an extra berth was rejected. The representative from the Concacaf region also lobbied for a fourth place but their claims were rejected. As Brazil will not be playing in the South American (Conmebol) qualifiers, four of the nine participating countries will automatically qualify for the 2014 World Cup. The fifth placed South American team will play the fifth placed Asian qualifiers in the intercontinental playoffs. So possibly for the first time ever, six South American nations including hosts Brazil will play in the World Cup.
The recent Copa America tournament showed the rapid improvement in standards of the minnows of the South American region like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Thus the South American qualifiers will be extremely competitive and the quality of the World Cup will not be diminished in any way if there are six South American nations in the 2014 tournament.
As always there will be 13 qualifiers from Europe, the nine group winners and the winners of the four play-offs between the second placed teams. The European draw is somewhat lop-sided. All the heavyweight European countries have tough draws. In contrast, Greece should sail through from Group G, with only tiny Slovakia offering some opposition.
Again in Group E the main contenders to qualify will be either Norway or Switzerland. In all the other groups there will be either two or three countries competing for the top spot.
Bitter rivals Croatia and Serbia along with Belgium will battle for qualification from Group A. In Group B, there are four tough nations, Italy, Denmark, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.
In Group C, a close contest is expected between Germany, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland. 2010 runners-up the Netherlands will compete in Group D with Turkey (always dangerous in home matches), Hungary and Romania. Portugal and Russia are the main contenders in Group F. England will battle with East European rivals, Poland and Ukraine in Group H.
The five-team Group I is the group of death in the European qualifiers. Both reigning champions Spain and 1998 winners France are in the same group.
Australia, Japan and South Korea are favoured to qualify from Asia but there will be a stiff contest for the fourth spot. Botswana and Burkina Faso could be the dark horses from Africa to reach the World Cup finals for the first time.