The structure was unveiled by FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, which selected the top-seeded teams based on world rankings in October. Those top-ranked teams were then placed in Pot 1.
Here is an explanation of the procedure for selecting World Cup pots, via Nick Schwartz of USA Today:
“Each of the 32 participating countries is drawn into one of four pots consisting of seeded teams based on October’s FIFA world rankings (Pot 1), African and South American teams (Pot 2), Asian and North American teams (Pot 3), and European teams (Pot 4).”
Here are the World Cup pots:
Pot 1 — Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Switzerland, and Uruguay.
Pot 2 — Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Chile, and Ecuador.
Pot 3 — United States, Iran, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Australia, Japan, and South Korea.
Pot 4 — Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Russia. One of these four teams will be switched to Pot 2 before the draw and placed in a group with one of the other South American teams.
A full explanation of the draw procedures for the World Cup pots can be found here.
Schwartz noted that the World Cup pots show a difficult path for the United States, explaining:
‘Even if the USA gets lucky and draws one of the weaker South American teams in Pot 1 that isn’t attached to a European team in the pre-draw, Pot 2 contains few favorable matchups (Chile is No. 12 in the world, Nigeria is the current African champion, the Ivory Coast is loaded with European-based talent, and Ghana has eliminated the USA in each of the last two World Cups). Put simply, there’s a much higher change of a bad draw for the Americans than there is for an easy draw.”
More information about the World Cup pots can be found at FIFA’s official website.