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Thursday, December 4, 1997 Published at 17:13 GMT


World awaits cup draw
image: [ Brazil won last time - but who will they face in France next year? ]
Brazil won last time - but who will they face in France next year?

BBC Radio 5 Live will have full coverage of the draw and you can listen to it live on this site from 1800 GMT on Thursday.

Click here to listen to the draw.

Thirty-two coloured balls hold the fate of nations in the draw for the World Cup finals.

The occasion at the Marseille State Velodrome is outwardly simple yet inwardly complex.

It involves putting 32 names in four bowls and pulling them out into groups.

This will be done by eight guest stars, including French ace Jean-Pierre Papin, German veteran Franz Beckenbauer, and Liberian George Weah of AC Milan.

Teams will be drawn into eight groups with a mix from different continents and eight seeded teams kept apart.

[ image: Footix: the official mascot of the French World Cup]
Footix: the official mascot of the French World Cup
This year marks the first time organisers have held the ceremony outside.

The strong Mistral wind could wreck the show if it decides to play up during the 45-minute ceremony.

But the former French player, Michel Platini, joint chairman of the organising committee of Fifa, the world's governing body, said going outdoors was necessary to cater for a crowd of 38,000.

"We want to put on a big show where soccer is at home - in a stadium," he said. "We didn't want to do it indoors just before 1,200 VIPs."

A television audience of up to 600 million will join the fans in the velodrome to watch live in more than 100 countries.

Geographical spread

The process of choosing groups for the June 10 to July 12 championship in France began on Tuesday when Fifa picked eight seeds - Brazil, host France, European Champions Germany, 1994 runners-up Italy, Spain, Argentina, Romania and the Netherlands.

The other 24 sides have been put into three geographical groups:

  • European group: England, Scotland, Norway, Bulgaria, Croatia, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Austria, Denmark.

  • African/CONCACAF (North and Central American) group: Cameroon, Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa, Jamaica, USA, Mexico.

  • South American/Asian group: Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Japan, South Korea.

England fear "Group of Death"

England fans are worried Glenn Hoddle's men will be put in a "Group of Death" against tough opponents such as Brazil, Nigeria, and Croatia.

But Hoddle said: "You could spend all day thinking, 'We might have them, or them.' You can't plan it until Thursday."

[ image: The competition runs from June 10 to July 12, 1998]
The competition runs from June 10 to July 12, 1998
The North Americans, on the other hand, fear they are being written-off.

US coach Steve Sampson said: "I guess we're considered a second-tier team. I'm disappointed but I understand."

Half of sides go on to knock-out

The best two teams from each side go through to the 16-team knock-out stage.

From there, it is on to the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and, finally, the final.

One thing certain even at this stage is that all sides will play their three first-round games in different stadiums.

Not even the French or the seeds have a home ground for the tournament.

Pele will attend ceremony

A rift between the Brazilian Sports Minister, Pele, and the Fifa President, Joao Havelange, will not stop the world's most famous player attending Thursday's draw.

But Pele is to play no part in the official ceremony itself.

Fifa General Secretary, Sepp Blatter, said: "He is invited as Minister of Sport for Brazil and will be in the VIP enclosure."

Pele fell out with fellow Brazilian Havelange after his drive to clean up Brazilian football brought him into conflict with the Fifa President's son-in-law.

The BBC's Adam Mynott reports from Marseilles. Dur. 1' 05"

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