A few weeks back Robbie Butler questioned how monotonous the Champions League group stages had become due to the dominance of elite European teams. Interestingly he found that "while six or more of the top seeds have qualified from Pot 1, the likelihood of teams qualifying (for the last 32 of the Champions League) from Pots 3 and 4 appears to be improving".
Is the same true for the World Cup? With the draw for the group stages for Brazil due to take place today in Costa do Sauipe, I decided to investigate the likelihood of lower seeded teams, out of the 32 in attendance, qualifying for the last 16 of the competition.
While we can't categorise international teams by 'pots' for the World Cup as they are segregated based on a mixture of geography and seeding (an interesting case actually happened in World Cup 2006 where a special pot contained Serbia and Montenegro to ensure that no group contained three European teams), we can rank the 32 teams according to their relative standings in the competition based on their FIFA ranking.
I've looked at the last 4 world cups (since 1998 it became a 32 team competition). 4 teams qualified from the bottom half of the relative ranking in both 1998 and 2002, or what could be construed as 'the real pot 'C' and 'D'' if we are to purely use and trust FIFA rankings. This increased to 5 teams coming from the bottom 16 in both 2006 and 2010. The 2002 statistic may however be misleading as Japan and South Korea hosted the competition and, of course, had the benefit of home advantage.
So the group stages may not be a formality and with 15% of the 128 places on offer over the last 4 world cups going to teams on the lower end of the relative rankings, it won't surprise me if there is several surprises awaiting top seeded team in the group stage in Brazil.