For about an hour, much of the planet will come to a dead stop, all eyes and attention glued to four bowls of what look an awful lot like pingpong balls. A lottery that could make someone rich beyond his or her wildest dreams? No, though some would argue this can bring even more happiness.
Friday is the World Cup draw, when the 32 countries in next summer's tournament in Brazil are divvied up into eight groups for first-round play. Land in a good (read: easy) group, and a team can start looking ahead to the knockout rounds, maybe even the final. Get lumped in with Brazil, the Netherlands and Italy and, well, there's always Russia in 2018.
Even if you can't tell the Portuguese Ronaldo from the ones who played for Brazil (hint: look for the hair gel), here's a quick guide so you can celebrate — or commiserate — with your futbol-loving friends during Friday's draw:
WHAT ARE THESE POTS?
FIFA wants the draw to be as fair as possible for every team, be it defending champion Spain or first-time qualifier Bosnia-Herzegovina. It also wants to prevent countries from the same federations — Africa or South America, for example — from facing each other in the early going.
But how best to do all that?
The 32 teams are split into four groups, or pots. The host country, Brazil, and the seven seeded teams — Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Uruguay — are in Pot 1. The remaining teams are placed in pots based on their geographical location. The United States is in Pot 3 along with the other nations from the North and Central America and Caribbean region, and the four Asian countries. The non-seeded European teams are in Pot 4. Because there are nine of them, however, one country will be chosen at random and moved to Pot 2, where it will join the remaining two South American squads and the five teams from Africa.
WHY NOT JUST SEED THE ENTIRE FIELD?
If you watch selection of the NCAA tournament field, you know that only creates more grumbling. No matter how many times you crunch the numbers, examine strength of schedules and try to quantify the intangibles, there's going to be arguments over why Team A was seeded 15th and why Team S is higher than Team G. Seeds are simply another word for rankings, which are subjective guesses, at best.