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.