Doha: A World Cup like no other in its 92-year history will take shape this week at an unprecedented tournament draw.
When FIFA and host nation Qatar stage the draw ceremony show on Friday, three of the 32 entries will be placeholders because the three-year qualifying programme was delayed and is still ongoing.
A once-in-a-century global health crisis and the war in Ukraine made sure of that.
It means 37 nations will be involved on Friday, including five which will ultimately not play in November when the first winter World Cup kicks off.
The full line-up will not be known until at least June 14, when the intercontinental play-off round ends in Qatar. That is 74 days after the draw and the same date the 2018 tournament started in Russia, which was thrown out of the final stages of qualifying this time over the invasion of Ukraine.
Maybe FIFA got lucky seven years ago by moving the 2022 tournament to November and December to avoid the searing desert heat of Qatar's summer.
The later start created wiggle room to clear the match backlog after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out almost every national-team game outside Europe in 2020.
When and where is the World Cup draw?
The draw is scheduled to happen on Friday at 9.30 pm IST at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre in Qatar.
Where can you watch the World Cup draw ?
1. Argentina 2. Belgium 3. Brazil 4. Canada 5. Cameroon 6. Croatia 7. Denmark 8. Ecuador 9. England 10. France 11. Germany 12. Ghana 13. Iran 14. Japan 15. Mexico 16. Morocco 17. Netherlands 18. Poland 19. Portugal 20. Qatar 21. Saudi Arabia 22. Senegal 23. Serbia 24. South Korea 25. Spain 26. Switzerland 27. Tunisia 28. Uruguay 29. USA
Here's a look at the World Cup draw.
One sure thing is Qatar will be the top-seeded team in Group A, taking position A1 in the schedule of 64 matches in just 28 days.
The privilege is given to all host nations even when ranked No. 65 in the world, as Russia was. Qatar is currently No. 52.
Still, the 2019 Asian Cup winners is the exception among modern World Cup hosts, having never before qualified for the finals. Qatar's debut opens the tournament on Monday, November 21, at Al Bayt Stadium.
It means in the group stage Qatar avoids the world's top-ranked teams, from Nos. 1 to 7 Brazil, Belgium, France, Argentina, England, Spain and Portugal.
Those countries will be the next seven drawn out of top-seeded pot 1 and allocated in turn to Groups B through H.
How the seeding works
Seeding pots are filled according to FIFA rankings which weigh results over several years and are officially updated Thursday.
The next eight highest-ranked qualifiers go into pot 2, which is the second to be drawn. It includes Germany and the United States and Mexico.
Next is pot 3 with teams ranked in the 20s by FIFA and finally pot 4 including Canada, back in the World Cup after a 36-year gap. Canada are in pot 4 despite leading the North American qualifying group.
The simple format is now complicated by the three play-off entries delayed to June: The European bracket containing Ukraine, which cannot currently prepare a team, and the two intercontinental play-offs.
FIFA weighted those entries downward into pot 4 according to the lowest-ranked potential qualifiers, such as Scotland, New Zealand and the UAE.
Higher-ranked playoff teams Peru and Wales face being seeded below their true level.
Geography also limits potential match-ups. Teams from the same continent generally can't go in the same group, except for some Europeans. Europe has 13 of the 31 qualifying slots and they cannot all avoid each other.
Five groups get two European teams, and the other three groups each get one. It means 2014 winner Germany from pot 2 can land with defending champion France.
Each four-team group is a round-robin of six games in total. The order each team plays the other is decided by another draw within the ceremony.
After each team is drawn, a subsequent ball numbered 1, 2, 3 or 4 is picked to place that country in the fixture grid.
This unpredictability means the two highest-ranked teams in a group could meet in any of the three rounds.
The 32-team lineup is the perfect number for a knockout bracket. The top two teams in each group where goal difference is the first tiebreaker advance to the round of 16.
A team's path through to the quarterfinals, semifinals and final is set in the bracket. If Qatar advances as the Group A winner, it must then play the Group B runner-up.
Teams which advance from the same group cannot meet again until the final.
Is there a good or bad section of the draw to land in?
Maybe yes at this congested tournament, which will be four days shorter than the 2018 edition in Russia.
Landing in Group B means starting on November 21 instead of November 24 in Group G or H. That means three extra rest days.
The Group G winner would have to play seven games in just 25 days to win the title. That team also gets just two full days off before a round of 16 game on December 5.
Why is the schedule so tight? This World Cup is jammed into an enforced break in domestic league seasons in Europe.
Reluctant to lose lucrative weekend broadcast slots, Europe's top leagues ensured they will play through November 13 just eight days before kick-off in Qatar.