The night sky was so bright it could have been during the day. Its sharpness matched my mind. This was no night to go to sleep.
The first snowfall of winter came hard and while most of my neighbours would wake up to it I hadn't slept yet.
It was 3am and the World Cup draw was today.
The office Christmas party had wrapped up an hour earlier and my drive home needed to be done without tired eyes. Thankfully, I was too excited to be tired.
Eight months earlier I had won the World Cup lottery. Well, a pair of tickets to three matches in Germany for the 2006 World Cup, to be precise.
C1 vs C3, E2 vs E4, and G2 vs G4 were about to mean so much more. Letters would turn into teams and with it the evolution of a true World Cup would be born.
I would advise every fan of this sport to be involved in a World Cup lottery once in their life. There is a true uniqueness to it, a special feeling of anticipation knowing you will be parachuted amongst yet to be determined cultures to watch their teams play on the greatest stage of all.
That is what millions of people will be thinking this Thursday night ahead of the draw in Brazil on Friday.
If you are not one of the lucky ones to have tickets to the event there are still reasons to be very excited ahead of the draw with many things to look out for.
With that in mind here are five things for you to watch out for during Friday's draw in Brazil.
Location, location, location
“I'm more concerned by the venues than by the teams we draw,” said England boss Roy Hodgson on Monday. “There are venues in Brazil that will be harder to play in than others.”
This a World Cup for the country of Brazil and organizers have ensured the travelling circus goes all over the vast land. For the third straight World Cup, one country is hosting the event but it will feel like more.
In 2006, the distance between the most northern host city to the furthest southern host city (Munich to Hamburg) was less than 800 km, or eight hours in a car. In 2010 that distance (Polokwane to Cape Town) was 1,700 km. In Brazil the distance between Manaus in the Amazon northern region of Brazil to the southern city of Porto Alegre is a staggering 4,700 km.
It is the equivalent of taking a trip from northern England to southern Turkey. With that comes massive climate differences. Twelve different cities will host games and many teams on Friday will be desperate to be given games away from the tropical North East cities of Fortaleza, Natal, Recife and Salvador.
Five of the eight seeded teams will play games in this region including G1 who will play all three matches in the very hot and humid territory where temperatures will be in the high 20s. The four seeded European teams – Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium – will be desperate to avoid G1 and hope to get one of C1, F1, or H1 to stay away from the intense heat, where many games are expected to start in the afternoon.
For the 24 teams not seeded, there are exactly one third of the slots available for them to hit that gives them favourable draws with the climate– B3, B4, E2, E4, F4, H2, H3, and H4. The true premium slots to hit, particularly for European teams, are in fact B4, E4 and H2. These are the three spots Hodgson will be dreaming about on Thursday night as they will become the three teams who get to play two out of their three group games in the two southern cities of Porto Alegre and Curitiba, where average temperature is a very comfortable 19 degrees.
Remember, H stands for happy when it comes to teams desperate to avoid the hot climate. It is the only group that doesn't play a single game in one of the five northern cities.
The slots teams will be desperate to avoid, which include at least two games in the sticky North, are A2, A3, A4, C2, C3, C4, D2, D4, G2, G3 and G4.
A3, D4, and G4 are officially the three slots that would give Hodgson and his fellow managers nightmares as all three games are played in the North. A3 not only has to do this but also must play Brazil!
Being drawn with a weaker seed
If things do not go well climate-wise for Hodgson and England they will certainly be hoping to get Switzerland or Belgium. There has been a lot written as to why these countries are seeded over teams like Italy and Netherlands. This has nothing to do with FIFA bias. It is based around their world rankings and teams who missed out on being seeded this time should do better at arranging more competitive games next time in the build up to a World Cup draw.
However, no one will tell you that Switzerland and Belgium are better than the Italians and, maybe, the Dutch. Currently they are teams everyone wants to be drawn against in Brazil. The last time a World Cup winner didn't win their group was 1982. With four teams from South America along with Germany and Spain seeded, the other two represent a real chance at giving other teams an opportunity to win the group.
Since the World Cup went to 32 teams in 1998, 23 of the 32 seeded teams have won their group but in each of the last three World Cups at least two of the seeds haven't. Two talented but young European sides playing in South America look the likeliest seeds this time around to not win their group.
Brazil's rapid rise from a team the nation was disgusted with to World Cup favourites has been remarkable. The pressure on Neymar and his mates will be incredible but will only intensify as the tournament goes on. In the group stages the team will play without fear, determined to show the world what they can do, and that is very dangerous for any opponent drawn in group A. Not only is group A a difficult one for climate reasons, it is also a group with a host nation that absolutely will qualify for the last 16, leaving the three drawn into it fighting for one spot. Group A is a group teams will want to avoid.
The position of the seeded teams
The 24 non-seeded teams are not the only ones who will look to stay away from the hosts. The assigning of groups for the seeds will be the first thing that takes place during the draw and it happens fast. It is also the part of the draw that most just ignore, wanting for the other teams to be drawn as quickly as possible.
Don't make that mistake. The last non-seeded team to win the World Cup was Argentina in 1986. Most of these seeds demand your attention as true World Cup contenders and where they are placed in the tournament-style bracket after the groups is crucial. For example, group winners of B, D, F and H go on the opposite side of the draw to the winners of group A, likely Brazil.
Teams like Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, and Germany will certainly be looking to get in one of those groups to stay away from Brazil until the final, and if they don't the stories of potential Uruguay or Argentina vs Brazil matchups will be written well before a ball is kicked. Seeded in F or H is ideal for a European powerhouse like Spain or Germany because they would avoid Brazil and the heat.
Why Brazil would want to be given a stern test from a team like England or Portugal
As much as no one will want to play them, Brazil will be better off if a good team is placed in their group. It may look great to be handed three easy games but past World Cups have shown this is not good for a team when it comes to the knock-out games. Spain was tested early in 2010 with a loss to Switzerland, while other teams like Argentina and Brazil cruised in their groups only to suffer later.
Like Spain in 2006, Italy had a very competitive group while Brazil's game against Turkey in 2002 helped them significantly later in the tournament. France in 1998 cruised in their group but were very poor in their last 16, taking 113 minutes to score against Paraguay.
From the 24 teams not seeded, Brazil would likely get one team from Africa and one team from either CONCACAF or Asia that they wouldn't struggle with, with one preferably being given A2 to take the pressure off Brazil in the opening match. That leaves Europe as being the likely confederation that could give Brazil a team that would provide the host nation with a game that could test them, although Mexico's style of play against South American teams could do that if they get their acts together. Italy and perhaps the Dutch would be considered a little too strong for Brazil at that stage but a game against Portugal or England would be ideal for the host nation. And if they are given A3 and forced to play all of their games in the heat, even better.