World Cup Draw: Who do we want?
Besides the World Cup tournament itself, perhaps the most exciting day in international soccer is the draw. Finally, teams will learn their opponents, and fans will have six months to argue over the possibilities. It's more than that though; it's the first real sign that the tournament is just around the corner. Three and a half years have gone by, and six months is nothing by comparison.
This year's draw is scheduled for December 9th in Leipzig, Germany, and it's actually on English television this time (espn2). It seems pretty obvious that there will be fewer upsets this time. In 2002, the tournament was played earlier than usual to avoid the rainy season, and those who plied their trade in Europe had little recovery time. Also, the European teams will feel much more comfortable in Germany. And when you look at two fields of 32, this time the teams from the "lesser" confederations are much weaker as a whole. The problem with that is, it probably won't benefit the USA. That's because CONCACAF is usually grouped with CAF (Africa) in the pots for the draw, and we (likely) won't be able to feast on a weakling like Togo or Angola. Or Trinidad.
Nevertheless, there are still teams that you to face and teams you want to avoid. I'm going to take a look at the "pots" and see what would be the most favorable draw from our perspective.
Pot 1 (seeded teams)
I am not going to even get in a discussion about FIFA possibly changing the formula for seeding. This is what it should be. I doubt they'll change the pots, but we have no way of knowing until right before the draw.
Mexico is the obvious weakest link, but we can't face another CONCACAF team. You never want to face the hosts either. Out of these teams, I would prefer to face Spain. They struggled in qualifying, and have a history of World Cup disappointment. I guess my second choice would be England, followed by France/Italy. No easy games here.
There's also the school of thought that maybe you want the best team in your group, so that they can defeat the other two teams. Brazil would be that team, and then you would have to only worry about two games. But I think that only works if you get to play them last, when (presumably) they have already sealed a place in the knockout rounds. I'll still take Spain, though.
Pot 2 (UEFA)
Serbia & Montenegro
There is a slight chance of facing two of these teams, which would involve us also drawing Brazil or Argentina. Only one group will get two from this pot, and only three groups (ARG, BRA, MEX) are eligible. That's the nightmare scenario. Our odds of getting that are a little less because we can't face Mexico.
It's easier to determine the teams you don't want to face, and the Czech Republic, Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden are at the top of everyone's list. The rest are at least manageable. Of the remaining five teams, I would not want to face Serbia. They have a good history at this event, and played very well in qualifying. I would pick Switzerland. They are always decent, but don't seem very threatening. They only beat Cyprus and the Faroe Islands from their group. That's definitely my preferred choice here.
The other three teams would be considered a good draw as well. Croatia is always solid, but they lost to Mexico last time and aren't an elite team. Poland is one of the lesser Euros as well, and I know we lost to them last time, but I don't think it would happen again. We're familiar with them, and we beat them in Poland in a friendly. I know the Ukraine have Shevchenko. But they never impressed until now, and they remind me a lot of Poland last time: An Eastern European team who breezes through qualifying on the back of a great striker. But they are not a great offensive team, as they have struggled to put the ball in the back of the net against good teams. I really do not think they will advance from their group, and I wouldn't mind facing them. But I still like Switzerland
Pot 3 (CAF/CONCACAF)
Trinidad & Tobago
We can't face any of these teams, but it should be nice too. Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire should be decent, and maybe Tunisia too. Angola and Togo will be in for some big hurt. Actually, I think Ghana has the best chance, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them advance. But none of them will be favored to do that. So if the pots were changed, it would really help us.
Pot 4 (AFC/CONMEBOL/OFC)
I don't want to face Australia. I just think Gus Hiddink is capable of virtually anything, and Australia have a lot of decent guys playing in Europe. They're my darkhorse pick to make a big impact. It's also preferable to face an Asian team instead of a South American one. Not that the two CONMEBOL reps here are super tough, but they are more capable of doing well than the Asians.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are our best bets. The latter can't be worse than last time, but they're still not very good. Iran was lucky to beat us in 1998, and we're much better now. I'll take Saudi Arabia.
Best Case Scenario
Well, here it is:
There are no easy games in the World Cup, because every team is decent. But some teams are better than others, and I feel this would give us a great chance of making the next round. Of course, the worst case scenario is Brazil/Netherlands/Portugal (or Czech Republic) as has been pointed on the boards over and over. The draw can break your team. I would say make, but it doesn't do that very much. Either way, I can't wait. Only two more weeks.