COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil (Reuters) - FIFA will go ahead with its controversial decision to stage World Cup matches at midday in tropical venues, president Sepp Blatter said on Tuesday as soccer’s governing body announced a bafflingly complex procedure for Friday’s draw.
General Secretary Jerome Valcke caused general bewilderment as he tried to explain the workings of the draw which will decide which teams comprise the eight first-round groups at next year’s tournament.
“It’s not easy to understand it the first time, I agree with you” he said. “It took me some time to be sure I had the right explanation.”
Each group will consist of one team from each of four pots with Pot 1 featuring the top seeds: Brazil, the host nation, alongside Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland.
The other pots will be based on geographical criteria so that countries from the same confederations are kept apart.
Pot 2 will contain the five African teams, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon, plus the non-seeded South American teams Chile and Ecuador and a European team to be moved out of Pot 4 in a pre-draw.
Pot 3 will feature Japan, Iran, South Korea, Australia, United States, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras while nine European sides, Bosnia, Croatia, England, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia and France, will comprise Pot 4.
Valcke revealed that a pre-draw will be held to move one of the nine European teams into Pot 2 where they would then be drawn against one of the four seeded South American teams to preserve the geographical balance of the draw.
To complicate matters further, the four South American seeds would form a temporary Pot X and the three not drawn against the European team in Pot 2 will return to the main draw.
A seeded team’s place in the draw will determine how much travelling around the vast hinterland of Brazil, the world’s fifth largest country by area, will be involved and may therefore not be so beneficial as in the past.
The seeded team in Group H will have a relatively easy first round schedule with matches in the milder conditions of Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
But the seeds in Group G will play in the intense heat of northeastern cities Fortaleza, Natal, Salvador or Recife.
The team that meet Brazil in the opening game - position A2 in the draw — will face a 3,880-km flight to Manaus in the Amazon for their next match before a 4,508-km flight to Recife for their third game.
Any team surviving that probably deserves a place in the last 16 for stoicism alone.
Kickoff times could also pose a threat to a team’s chances depending on whether they play in the humid north or the chilly south.
From June 12 until June 22 when there are three matches a day — the programme switches to four a day from June 23 to June 26 for the last round of group games — matches are due to start at 1pm, 4pm and 7pm local time which is 1600GMT, 1900GMT and 2200GMT to maximize European television audiences.
However, the early kickoff time has sparked some unease as it will be very hot in the northeast at that time of day.
Blatter said last month that FIFA could reconsider but changed his mind on Tuesday.
“We are sticking with the kickoff times, they have been decided. There is no change,” he told reporters.
From June 23 until June 26 a pair of games will kick off at 1pm and the other pair at the same time later in the afternoon, although the clock will show 4pm in one stadium and 5pm at the other because they are in different time zones.
Brazil, already allocated position A1 in the draw, will kick off the World Cup on June 12 in Sao Paulo, where two construction workers were killed last week when a crane collapsed on to the stadium staging the opening match.
The host team then play in Fortaleza before finishing their group matches in the capital Brasilia.
In such a vast country, there was an early plan to revert to the arrangements once used in World Cups where teams were based in one region instead of travelling all over the country but Brazilian organizers did not want one region to stage all of Brazil’s first round games.
As that was not politically expedient, FIFA agreed every team had to travel all over, resulting in the huge distances covered, apart from those in Group H where the venues are relatively close.
The team drawn in position E3 has the unenviable task of playing in the wintry cool of Porto Alegre then the tropical heat of Salvador in its first two group matches.
With the World Cup less than 200 days away and with roads, airport buildings, stadiums and other infrastructure projects unlikely to be ready or abandoned altogether, Brazil’s problems seemed a long way away in the idyllic resort setting of Costa do Suape in Bahia state where the draw takes place.
Representatives of the eight countries to have won the World Cup will assist in the draw with organizers saying that Pele would be included.
Friday’s glitzy ceremony being shown live in 193 countries around the world, will, for 90 minutes at least, mask all the problems Brazil still faces to be ready in time for next year’s big kickoff.
Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Brian Homewood/Rex Gowar