Hosts South Africa are the sole seeds for the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup draw on Saturday despite being the lowest ranked of the eight qualifiers.
The benefit for Bafana Bafana will be considerable as it means dodging two-time winners Brazil and either World Cup holders Italy or European champions Spain in the mini-league first round next June.
That can only help a national team ranked 80th in the world this month behind Spain (1), Italy (3), Brazil (5), Egypt (21), United States (24), New Zealand (60) and Iraq (75).
While Bafana Bafana defeated Cameroon 3-2 in a midweek friendly to claim a record-equalling fourth consecutive international triumph, they overcame only lightweights Equatorial Guinea at competitive level this year.
Failure to win or score in home or away encounters with another minnow, Sierra Leone, meant South Africa were eliminated from the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.
Another boost for the hosts is a decision to keep apart nations from the same continent, so while South Africa go into Group A, African champions Egypt will be in the other pool.
Outsiders Iraq, New Zealand and the United States complete the line-up for a draw to be staged at the Sandton Convention Centre.
This will be the sixth edition of a competition that began as a biennial event in Saudi Arabia 11 years ago but is now staged every fourth year 12 months ahead of the World Cup by the host country.
The June 14 to 28 event has added significance for South Africa as it seeks to silence largely European criticism of readiness to become the first African hosts of the World Cup.
Concern has been expressed over deadlines being met at stadiums hit by strikes, interruptions to power supplies following national cuts early this year, transport infrastructure and spectator security.
Government and football officials have tired of rejecting negative claims and the ”festival of champions” offers them a chance to translate optimistic sound bytes into tangible proof that World Cup preparations are on track.
Brazil appear for a record sixth time while Italy, Spain and Iraq make their debuts in a competition to be staged in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Rustenburg, with $3,75-million on offer to the winners.
Even the four nations who head for home after fulfilling three first-round fixtures collect $1,4-million, having had the chance to test World Cup conditions and facilities.
Among the Confederations Cup qualifiers, only surprise 2007 Asian champions Iraq are out of contention for the 2010 showcase, failing to make the cut for the 10-team final qualifying phase in their region. — Sapa-AFP