We may be nearly three years away from the kickoff of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but the first major step towards determining who will take part occurred in Rio de Janeiro with the preliminary draw for World Cup qualifying on Saturday.
The United States, which gets a bye until the third round of CONCACAF qualifying, was drawn into Group A along with Jamaica and the winners of Group E and Group F from round two. Mexico and Costa Rica were drawn into Group B with the winners of groups A and B while Honduras and Cuba rounded out the field in Group C to be joined by winners of Group D and C.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the hexagonal with the top three teams earning a place in Brazil while the fourth-placed finisher faces a home-and-away playoff with an Asian team in an intercontinental playoff. The USA faces an easy road to the hexagonal with 115th-ranked Guatemala its highest-ranked challenger.
Here is a quick look at some of the highlights from today's draw:
The European draw saw a bit of controversy with perennial powerhouse France being relegated to Pot 2 despite a lofty FIFA ranking. World-champion Spain was the unlucky recipient of the 2006 runner-up and the two will face off in a very difficult Group I. Group A will feature a United Kingdom derby between Scotland and Wales while England should have no problems with a weak Group H.
The top finishers in each European group earn an automatic berth while the top-eight runners-up advance to a home-and-away playoff to determine the final four places.
The odds for a New Zealand return to the World Cup got a bit longer with the news that Oceania will face the fifth-placed finisher in the CONEMBOL region. There was no draw for the South American teams which will instead advance directly to a nine-team round robin tournament.
The draws for Africa and Asia passed without any juicy matchups in the opening rounds. As of today, 175 teams remain the running for the final 31 qualifying spots with Brazil, as host, the only automatic qualifier. The United States will begin World Cup qualifying in June of 2012.
During the ceremony, FIFA president Sepp Blatter attempted to assuage any fears of Brazil's ability to host the tournament despite reported delays.
"It is a matter of trust and confidence and FIFA have trust in Brazil and are confident of its abilities," Blatter said. "Football is the beating heart of Brazil. It is a multi-cultural country of joy and celebration blessed with natural beauty and a booming economy."
What did you think of today's draw? Confident the USA can advance without any troubles? Excited for the "Group of Death" in Europe? Excited about the qualifying campaigns of any other country?
Share your thoughts below.