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World Cup draw seedings skewed by war, pandemic

Next week’s World Cup draw will have some of its seedings skewed because of Russia’s war with Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.

FIFA outlined the procedure Tuesday for the draw in Qatar on April 1. Only 29 of the 32 teams in the draw will be known by then because of the war and global health crisis.

The three remaining places will be decided in June, one from Europe in matches involving Ukraine and the others from the intercontinental playoffs.

At the draw in Doha, the 29 qualified teams will be put into four pots according to their FIFA ranking, which is based on national team results and will be updated the day before the draw.

Host Qatar is in Pot 1 along with defending champion France, Belgium, Brazil, Argentina, England and Spain. The final top-seeded team will likely be either Italy or Portugal, who are in the same playoff bracket.

Germany, the 2014 World Cup champion, has been ranked outside the top 10 for more than three years and will be in Pot 2.

FIFA resolved the uncertainty around how to seed the three undecided entries by creating placeholder spots in Pot 4. The teams affected could land in a tougher World Cup group than their ranking merits simply because they could not complete their games as originally scheduled.

Besides Ukraine, Wales and Colombia are among the teams that could be affected. Each of the three, if they were to qualify, would likely have been in Pot 3.

Only 15 teams have so far qualified for the World Cup ahead of more games around the world over the next week.

Ukraine was scheduled to play at Scotland on Thursday with the winner advancing to play either Wales or Austria on March 29. Ukraine asked for a postponement because it was not possible for home-based players to train and travel during the Russian invasion.

The pandemic also created a backlog of games, wiping out nearly all national team football outside Europe in 2020 and causing the intercontinental playoffs to be delayed.

Those playoffs are scheduled to be played in Qatar on June 13-14. An Asian team will play a South American team, and the Oceania representative will play a team from the North American region.

World Cup draws are balanced to separate teams from the same continent. The 13 European nations will be allocated so that none of the eight groups has more than two teams from that continent.

The World Cup is scheduled to be played from Nov. 21-Dec. 18 in eight stadiums around the Qatari capital of Doha.

The host nation is currently ranked No. 52, the lowest of the teams already qualified. That is higher than 2018 host Russia, which was ranked No. 65 when the groups were drawn four years ago.

FIFA removed Russia from the qualifying playoffs this month as punishment for invading Ukraine.

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