Friday, December 4, 2009

The Draw

It was glitzy, it was glamorous…it had Charlize Theron! The World Cup draw took place today in Cape Town, South Africa, and it left USA fans salivating. First, after placing the seeded teams, they proceeded with slotting the other teams. Here it is:

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, S. Korea, Greece
Group C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, N. Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

Taking a look at this draw, the US team has to be extremely happy. They have a marquee matchup with England to kick off the World Cup, and they have the two weakest teams in the other pots in Algeria and Slovenia. There is no USMNT fan that wouldn’t take this group in a second. It gives the Nats a great chance to make the second round if they take care of business…get a point against England and win the other 2, they’re easily through.

The best things about the US’s draw is that they have a combined 3 hours of bus riding to get to their 3 matches (2 hours to Rustenberg, 1 hour to Johannesburg), including their final match which will be in their base training city of Pretoria. They also will play in 3 stadiums they visited in the Confederations Cup this past summer. They also have a great draw with their opposing group in the 2nd round, being matched with Group D. Each of the teams in that group (Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana) are beatable. Finally, the heavy hitters of Brazil (#1 in the FIFA rankings), #2 Spain, #3 Netherlands and defending champion Italy are avoided until the World Cup semifinals at the earliest. That is certainly great news.

The “group of death” has got to be Group G, with Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal heavy contenders to not only make the 2nd round, but progress far. One of these teams will be heading home after 3 games. Ivory Coast, which was pitted with Argentina and the Netherlands in another group of death in 2006, has to be feeling awful. Germany has a great chance to get through, but their group is filled with decent teams that can make some noise.

Mexico and France got pitted with Uruguay and host country South Africa, a very lucky draw for these two. South Africa will have to fight to continue the streak of the host nation (or nations) making it to at least the 2nd round of every tournament. No doubt, Irish and American fans will be rooting for Uruguay and South Africa to make it to the 2nd round out of this group. Italy also has a fairly easy group with Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. Spain has a group that should see them easily go to the 2nd round, with Chile, Switzerland and Honduras all battling for 2nd. The Dutch don’t have an easy group with Denmark, Cameroon and Japan in it, and Argentina may have their hands full with South Korea, Nigeria and Greece. What’s certain is that the World Cup will have tons of drama as it always does. What do you all think? Will South Africa make it out of Group A? Will the England/USA matchup prove to be a classic? Who will emerge from the Group of Death? Who has the tools to win it all?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

World Cup Seeds, Pots Determined

Well, the pots for Friday’s World Cup draw have been determined, and while there were a few surprises, all was expected on the American front. First, the seeds, in a departure from previous seedings, was made solely on October’s FIFA rankings, most likely in an effort to punish France for their Hand of Henry goal that sent them to the World Cup over Ireland last month. Under previous seeding criteria, they would have been seeded over the Netherlands, currently #3 in the FIFA rankings and who went through World Cup qualifying with a perfect record. The seeded teams, potted along with host South Africa, are Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina and England.

The pot determination went as expected, which was a downer for USMNT fans. CONCACAF teams were potted with the Asian and Oceania teams, making it very likely that the USA could be in a “group of death” when the draw occurs on Friday. The CAF (Africa) teams (outside of South Africa) were grouped with the non-seeded CONMEBOL (South America) teams. Finally, the non-seeded UEFA teams are in their own pot.

This creates a couple nightmare scenarios for the USA, and gives them only a 1/8 chance of being in South Africa’s group. It also gives them a 5/8 chance of having 2 UEFA teams in their group and a 5/8 chance of having an African team in their group. The ideal scenario would have been for CONCACAF to be paired with CAF, which would have given them a 1/3 chance of getting South Africa’s group (since no two teams from the same confederation outside of Europe can be in the same group) and a 50% chance of getting the 4 lowest seeded teams in the World Cup, the Asian/Oceania teams of Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and New Zealand.

Just for fun, I decided to throw all the teams in the pot and have a mock draw to see what would come up. Again, only a max of 2 UEFA teams can be in the same group, and no other confederation can have 2 teams in the same group. I arranged the groups with South Africa first and then the seeded teams in order of their FIFA rankings. Here’s what I came up with:

Group 1: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, Denmark
Group 2: Brazil, USA, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group 3: Spain, New Zealand, Chile, Greece
Group 4: Dutch, North Korea, Nigeria, Slovakia
Group 5: Italy, Honduras, Ghana, Switzerland
Group 6: Germany, Japan, Cameroon, France
Group 7: Argentina, Australia, Algeria, Slovenia
Group 8: England, South Korea, Paraguay, Serbia

Umm…damn…our absolute worst-case scenario. We’d have the world’s #1 team, arguably the best African team and arguably the best non-seeded UEFA team in our group. This would absolutely be a group of death, with this group having the current #1, #5, #11 and #16 teams in the world. No other group in this mock draw comes close to having this kind of firepower except for maybe Germany’s group, with Cameroon and France also in their group with Japan. Finally, our archrivals, Mexico, dodge a bullet and be in South Africa’s group.

Let’s hope FIFA gives us a better draw than I did. We shall see this Friday what group we will be in and what teams we will face.