Saturday, November 26, 2005

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)

Argentina
Brazil
England
France
Germany
Italy
Mexico
Spain

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)

Croatia
Czech Republic
Netherlands
Poland
Portugal
Serbia & Montenegro
Sweden
Switzerland
Ukraine

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)

Angola
Costa Rica
Cote d'Ivoire
Ghana
Togo
Trinidad & Tobago
Tunisia
United States

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)

Australia
Ecuador
Iran
Japan
Paraguay
Saudi Arabia
South Korea

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:

Spain
Switzerland
United States
Saudi Arabia

Less specifically:

Spain/England
Switzerland/Poland/Ukraine/Croatia
United States
Saudi Arabia/Iran

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.

Comments on "World Cup Draw: Who do we want?"

 

Blogger Jarrett said ... (7:47 AM, November 26, 2005) : 

In general I agree with your assessment. I wonder if FIFA would allow a first round matchup between USA and Iran. With the political climate like it is, and only looking to get worse by summer 2006, they may steer the draw to avoid that matchup if possible by putting Iran and USA in the same pot.

 

Blogger scaryice said ... (3:43 PM, November 26, 2005) : 

Of course they'd allow it, they did in 1998. They're not going to be "steering" the draw. I love how people always think there's a conspiracy.

 

Anonymous jamesey said ... (5:17 PM, November 27, 2005) : 

From Pot 1, Spain and Italy traditionally sleep through the first round. We want one of those them.

From Pot 2, I'd rather not play the Netherlands, Czech Rep, Serbia or Sweden. I think we'd be ok facing Portugal again. They are in a transition phase and they'd be under a lot of pressure to get revenge.

I agree with you on Pot 4. Anyone but Australia would be fine, but playing SA or Iran would be best.

 

Anonymous DJNaco said ... (1:26 PM, December 02, 2005) : 

Good job, scaryice.

Except I think you're overestimating Australia. I would rather face the Aussies than Ecuador, Paraguay or Korea.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (5:54 AM, December 05, 2005) : 

The draw was on English language television in 2002, just delayed. Univision did the same. It was also shown live in 1998.

 

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