Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Worldwide Look at World Cup Qualifying

What are the formats for qualification to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and how might they affect the United States of America? It's too easy and boring to just focus on our qualifying in CONCACAF. As a soccer fan, I care about all the games which will determine the 31 qualifiers for South Africa. I care because I love the sport, but also because it determines who the USA's opposition will be. I definitely want the USA to face the easiest possible opposition.

Let's take a look at each confederation's system for 2010 and how things may play out.

OFC description: (11 teams, 0.5 places)

"The OFC will get the global qualification race under way with a tournament at the Pacific Games in August 2007. The top three will then join New Zealand in a series of two-legged ties to decide who goes on to the play-off against the fifth-placed team from the AFC."

Did you know that World Cup qualifying will begin in exactly ten days? That's right. The South Pacific Games will double as qualifiers with the four matches kicking off on August 25, the first two being Fiji vs Tuvalu and Solomon Islands vs American Samoa. Tuvalu is not a FIFA member, which has to be a first for qualifying (although it could happen again this time around, see CAF). They could advance, however, because the six game final round is doubling as the OFC Nations Cup which qualifies a team to the 2009 Confederations Cup.

Given the budgets of these teams, this doubling up is necessary. Not to mention the almost certain end result. Fiji and the Solomons should advance easily, with the third team likely being Vanuatu. New Zealand should easily win the region. With six games, including three at home, there's a much greater margin for error. So unlike last time one bad result won't eliminate them.

AFC description: (43 teams, 4.5 places)

"Laos, Philippines and Brunei Darussalam are the only Asian sides not to have entered the qualifying competition for South Africa 2010. Four teams will go through directly with another Asian representative going into a play-off against the winner of the Oceania section."

The new, slightly confusing format has just been revealed. The seeding is based solely on the 2002 qualifying results, so the five qualifiers from last time go directly to the group stage. There are still two group stages, but now there are fewer teams in the first one (20 vs 32 ) and also two teams will advance from each. So there should be less chance to have a repeat of the China early exit this time, although the groups themselves will be tougher. The second group stage has been expanded to ten teams which will mean more games and hopefully more competition.

Let's take a look at how things might turn out.

1) First round. Guam has already reportedly dropped out, again. Among the lower seeded teams, only four seem to have a decent chance to advance: India, Kyrgyzstan, Singapore and Vietnam. I'll predict that Singapore upsets Palestine, while all the others go as planned.

2) Second round. For some reason, the lowest eight seeded teams must now play another two-legged knockout round. It seems like it would've been a much better option to have them play before the first round, or to give more teams byes so this round isn't necessary. I guess it's hard to expect a lot from a confederation that boggles things up worse than CONCACAF.

If Singapore and all the other top seeds advance, these will be the pairings:

Hong Kong vs Turkmenistan
Indonesia vs Syria
Singapore vs Tajikistan
Yemen vs Thailand

Hong Kong, Syria, Singapore and Thailand are likely winners here.

3) Third round and first group stage. The top five enter here, and a mock draw gives us this (BTW, is a great site for doing mock draws):

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4 Group 5

South Korea Saudi Arabia Iran Australia Japan
Uzbekistan China Kuwait North Korea Bahrain
Lebanon UAE Iraq Oman Jordan
Thailand Hong Kong Syria Qatar Singapore

Iraq needs a good draw here, i.e. Kuwait or North Korea. In this mock draw they would be favored to advance. Oman and Qatar are at the level of North Korea who benefit from their 2002 form. I would pick Oman as the second team there. Other than that, no surprises.

4) Fourth round, second group stage. I dunno how the draw will be done here, but I assume it will still use the same seeds from the beginning.

Group 1 Group 2

South Korea Australia
Saudi Arabia Japan
Bahrain Iran
China Uzbekistan
Oman Iraq

Some good soccer should be played here. Hard to see anything really changing at this point in Asia. If pressed, I'll pick the same teams as in 2006, with Iran advancing to the OFC playoff by defeating China.

CAF description: (53 teams, 5 places)

"A two-leg preliminary round will be held in October 2007 to reduce the field to 48 entrants. The teams will then be drawn into qualifying groups at a ceremony to be held in Durban on 23 November."

The worst eight (?) teams appear to be playing in October, including Sierra Leone. Other than that no details have been released. I've yet to figure out how 48 teams will work either.

I still have no idea how they could even do this. Let's remember that they have to qualify for the 2010 Nations Cup (hosted by Angola) as well. Things are complicated because South Africa qualifies automatically to the World Cup but not to the Nations Cup, while it's the opposite for Angola.

6 groups of 8 = 48
8 groups of 6 = 48
12 groups of 4 = 48
16 groups of 3 = 48

One of those? But they couldn't have too many games, so the 6 or 8 team groups would be out. And they couldn't have 16 groups, because what if Angola didn't win theirs? I guess what's going to happen is a two-stage system like in Asia. Unlike the AFC however, this seems to be step down.

I bet they do something like what was posted here. Except I dunno if they'll get it down to 24, because why only cut it down to 48 in the beginning if you're going to eliminate more teams before a group stage? Two knockout rounds are unnecessary.

If there were 12 groups of 4, I would expect the 12 winners advancing to a second group stage, and the 4 best runners up qualifying for the Nations Cup but not advancing. If South Africa won their group then the runner up would advance, and if Ghana won theirs the runner up would qualify to the ANC. That would take care of the Nations Cup qualifying, as well as the Angola/South Africa problems.

That's 16-18 games for each team though, a bit too much. Maybe 3 groups of 4 in the second group stage instead? Let's not discount the possibility of the top teams not participating in a first group stage as well.

Can anyone think of anything better/more logical?

Hopefully they won't seed the teams based on 2002 only like the AFC, or else Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire could end up in the same group, and Angola and Togo could have an easy time. On paper, the top five African teams would be Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigera, and Tunisia.

CONCACAF description: (35 teams, 3.5 places)

"All the confederation's member associations have entered the qualifying competition. Three sides will qualify by right for South Africa 2010, with a fourth team going into a play-off with the fifth-place finisher in the CONMEBOL Zone."

Reportedly it be the same as last time. Hopefully they'll change the first few rounds so teams like St. Vincent don't continue to unfairly get an advantage for something they did a decade ago.

1) Let's just skip to the semifinal draw. I've put Cuba and Haiti in place of St. Kitts and St. Vincent to show a best case scenario, although neither of those teams are that much of a threat. If things are the same, the top three (USA, MEX, CR) would be in one pot, the next three (GUA, PAN, TRI) would be in another, and the other six would be in the last one (CAN, CUB, ELS, HAI, HON, JAM). There's a chance for some extremly unbalanced groups like last time. A mock draw:

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3

United States Costa Rica Mexico
Panama Trinidad Guatemala
Canada El Salvador Honduras
Jamaica Haiti Cuba

I'd bet on Canada and Honduras advancing, plus the four World Cup teams.

2) The hex. Mexico and USA are givens to qualify. Given their quality and the new found support, Canada seems like a good bet to make it this time, with Costa Rica to the playoff.

CONMEBOL description: (10 teams, 4.5 places)

"The qualification format involves a league system with teams playing each other home and away. The top four go through by right, with the side finishing fifth going into a play-off with the fourth-placed side from the CONCACAF Zone."

We already know how this one works, as well as the schedule. Unfortunately the top teams are sure things here. Argentina and Brazil for sure, Paraguay likely. Ecuador seems due for a miss. Chile have just hired a good manager so I'll go with them, Uruguay to the playoff.

UEFA description: (52 teams, 13 places)

"The European qualifiers get under way next summer, after UEFA EURO 2008, with teams playing each other home and away in groups to be drawn at the November ceremony in Durban."

This is the fun one to speculate on, with so many good teams. There will now be nine groups, one more than last team, with the top eight second place teams playing off for four spots. So one second place team won't even make the playoff, which makes the draw absolutely huge. Having smaller groups of 6 teams (one with 5) makes it a lot easier for a good team to miss out, which is good for us.

1) The first thing to know is the coefficients. Similar to the Champions League seeding, the national team seeding takes into account matches from the last two qualifying tournaments. So World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008 qualifiers will determine the pots for 2010.

These are the most current coefficients. Italy is automatically seeded first. Given the remaining Euro 2008 qualifiers, the pots could still change, but that's a lot of work to figure out all the possible results and it likely won't change much. The pots for the draw, if you look at the link, are where there is a break in the ranking. The first nine teams would make up the first pot, and so on. Teams like Spain and the Czech Republic can expect a very hard draw due to currently being in the second pot. Here's a mock draw:

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4 Group 5

Netherlands England France Italy Germany
Serbia Ukraine Israel Turkey Russia
Denmark Finland Ireland Bosnia Switzerland
Latvia Belarus Hungary Lithuania Belgium
Liechtenstein Estonia Georgia Wales Armenia
Kazahkstan Faroe Islands Andorra Moldova San Marino

Group 6 Group 7 Group 8 Group 9

Sweden Portugal Croatia Poland
Czech Greece Romania Spain
Bulgaria Norway Slovakia Scotland
Albania N.Ireland Slovenia Austria
Cyprus Macedonia Iceland Azerbaijan
Montenegro Malta

With only 10 (or 8) games, one bad result could doom you. This draw will honestly be the number one moment of World Cup qualifying for me, and for the USA's chances in 2010. Every big team eliminated helps us, and if it's gonna happen then we need a bad draw here for somebody.

Assuming all the top seeds qualified except Poland (Spain instead), here's who I would predict as second place finishers:


Which team would miss out? Results against the last place team will apparently be dropped to make it fair for the five team group. Groups with more depth and a strong top team would suck here. I would guess Norway.

2) The playoffs. The eight remaining second place teams must go into a draw. Last time, the teams were separated by the FIFA rankings. That would give us two pots:

Pot A: Czech, Poland, Romania, Ukraine
Pot B: Denmark, Israel, Switzerland, Turkey

Here's a mock draw:

Czech vs Israel
Ukraine vs Turkey
Poland vs Denmark
Romania vs Switzerland

Let's go with Czech, Turkey, Denmark, and Switzerland.


That would give us the full 32 teams, assuming Uruguay and Iran win the playoffs. If the seeding formula stays the same, then there will be a hell of a fight for the final seed. Then it's off to the final tournament, with the pots as follows.

World Cup pots:

Pot 1: Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Spain
Pot 2: Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey
Pot 3: Australia, Canada, Iran, Japan, Korea Republic, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, USA
Pot 4: Cameroon, Chile, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Paraguay, Tunisia, Uruguay

Comments on "A Worldwide Look at World Cup Qualifying"


Blogger Edgar said ... (7:23 AM, August 21, 2007) : 

What, no faith in Romania? :) Hopefully, we'll prove you wrong. Nice round-up, by the way.


Blogger scaryice said ... (4:08 AM, August 22, 2007) : 

Romania's been doing pretty good as of late right? Both their clubs and in Euro 2008 qualifying. It's hard for me to really know how good they are, since they don't have a high profile team or league. Getting Croatia would be a good draw though.


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