The clock is ticking!
England are among 32 teams eagerly awaiting Friday’s star-studded draw for the finals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The ceremony, which gets under way at 1700 GMT at Cape Town’s International Convention Centre, will be watched by millions of fans around the world.
By the end of the draw, nations will know the identity of their group-stage rivals and the date of every game.
The tournament is set to kick off on 11 June, with the final on 11 July.
But that final, which will take place at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium, seems a long way off for the teams as they prepare for a ceremony that has drawn the great and the good from the worlds of politics, sport and show business.
Revered former South Africa president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela, one of the architects of the first World Cup to be held in Africa, will address the audience by video message at the age of 91.
On Thursday, Fifa president Sepp Blatter and his executive committee staged a symbolic meeting on Robben Island, the notorious apartheid-era prison in Table Bay off Cape Town, where Mandela was incarcerated for many years.
Jacob Zuma, one of his successors as president, will kick off proceedings alongside Blatter, with former president FW de Klerk and archbishop Desmond Tutu also on hand.
South Africa’s Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron will bring a touch of Hollywood glamour to the draw, alongside England midfielder David Beckham, Ethiopian athletics legend Haile Gebrselassie and Springboks rugby union captain John Smit.
England star David Beckham, in South Africa to help promote England’s 2018 World Cup bid, said: “It’s not about trying to avoid teams.
“Once you get to this point, if you want to go all the way in the competition you have to beat the best teams and the best players, so I think it doesn’t matter who you come up against in the draw.”
The 32 qualifiers will be assembled into eight groups but there are plenty of dangerous teams like Portugal, currently ranked fifth in the rankings, and France, who are seventh, who have not been seeded.
Portugal have eliminated England in their last two major tournaments, both times through penalty shoot-outs, while France, who controversially qualified in a play-off against the Republic of Ireland following a Thierry Henry handball in the build-up to the decisive goal in a 2-1 aggregate victory, won the tournament in 1998 and were beaten finalists last time in Germany.
The eight seeds will all be in pot one, with the remaining three pots drawn on regional boundaries.
Each seeded nation will face one team in pot two – a side from Asia, north or central America, or Oceania – one from pot three, which has five African and three South American sides, and one from the exclusively European pot four.
A worst-case scenario on Friday would result in Fabio Capello’s England side taking on France, Ivory Coast and the United States, while a far easier proposition on paper would have England facing Slovenia, Algeria and New Zealand.
“I don’t worry about that ‘group of death’,” said Capello. “You have to play against all of the teams at some point, but of course if you play against the best teams it’s not so easy to pass the first round.”
Pot 1 (seeds): South Africa, Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina, England
Pot 2 (Asia, Oceania and North/Central America): Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Mexico, Honduras
Pot 3 (Africa and South America): Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay
Pot 4 (Europe): France, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland, Greece, Serbia, Denmark, Slovakia (BBC Sport)
As the World Cup draw looms a few short hours away people all around the world will be eagerly hoping that their country avoids the ‘group of death’ and once made we will all be making plans for next summer with a fine tooth comb to make sure they do not miss a single game, even if that game pits Slovakia versus Honduras, such is the awe inspiring power of the showpiece trophy.
So who do you want to see go head to head in the group stages?