CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) -- France will not be a seeded team at Friday's World Cup draw, setting up potential clashes with powerful teams like Brazil or Spain in the group stage.
Host South Africa will be seeded in Group A, allowing it to open the World Cup at Soccer City on June 11. The other seeded teams -- based on the October FIFA rankings -- are Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina and England.
France won the World Cup in 1998 and was runner-up in 2006 but struggled to qualify for the 2010 event, prevailing only in a contentious playoff against Ireland highlighted by a handball from Thierry Henry which led to the decisive goal.
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said France was a victim of its lackluster qualifying campaign since the seedings were based on the October rankings. Previously, past results in World Cups also had an impact.
In France, former national team coach Michel Hidalgo immediately raised questions.
"I am asking myself if this is not a sanction for the handball of Henry," he told RTL radio. "It is an injustice. It looks like France is being sanctioned."
Valcke denied such speculation, insisting the seedings were based on technical facts only.
"It was purely sporting criteria. There was never, never, a question of the France-Ireland game in the discussion," Valcke said.
The French federation sought to avoid any controversy.
"I had done my math and we had very little chance to get in the first pot," president Jean-Pierre Escalettes said. "So we will meet someone from the first pot, where there are a lot of great teams."
There will be four pots in all, allowing organizers to set up eight groups in the opening rounds.
The potentially toughest group could consist of four of the current top 14 teams in the world -- Spain, France, Cameroon and the United States.
The first pot will have the seeded teams, and the three others will be based on geography. Pot 2 will have the Asian and CONCACAF teams, Pot 3 will have to the five other teams from Africa and South America, and the last pot will have the eight remaining European teams.
The geographical division was made to guarantee a more global makeup of teams in all the groups.
The draw will also make sure that South Africa cannot play another African team in the first round. There are fears that the hosts might not make it past the first round, denting the chances of success for the first World Cup held in Africa.
Overall, FIFA decided it wanted to reward recent play more than past performances in the World Cup, hence its reliance on the latest ranking results.
"It is to recognize their qualifying campaign," Valcke said. "Holland had a great qualifying campaign (and) Spain is the first team having won all their matches."
France finished only second in its group before struggling past Ireland in a playoff, needing an unpunished handball from Henry to set up the deciding goal.
The rankings were decided on the October standings and not the latest one from November to eliminate the advantage some teams might have had from additional games in the European playoffs.
In October, France was ninth, two places below England, the lowest seeded team. Had the November rankings been taken into account, France would have jumped ahead of England and Argentina.