World Cup Draw Preview
|After tomorrow's events in South Africa (to me the single most exciting day in qualifying), we'll know who the USA will likely be playing as well as the full slate of games worldwide. First let me direct you to this article on FIFA's site, which has links to PDFs that fully lay out the specifics for each confederation. Now let's take a look at the CONCACAF draw.|
The USA will join qualifying once CONCACAF's first round is complete, and the number of teams remaining is reduced from 35 to 24. If all the seeded teams win in that first round, then our possible opponents will be one of the following teams:
El Salvador is obviously the team to avoid here. Why are they not in the top 12, and Guyana somehow is? That's due to seeding teams based on FIFA rankings, which really hasn't made anything better. See my thoughts on the seeding and Guyana here.
While we should beat all of these teams easily, there are some that would be harder than others. The best draw we could get here would be the Bahamas or St. Lucia, with Antigua and D.R. right behind.
A win there brings us to the semifinal stage, which is also being drawn on Sunday. Here are the pots:
A-Costa Rica, Mexico, USA
B-Honduras, Panama, Trinidad
C-Canada, Cuba, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica
We'll get one team from pot B and two from pot C. Honduras is the team to avoid in pot B, and probably the draw in general. Given the current turmoil, I'd take Trinidad over Panama. For pot C, due to the hostile environment I'd prefer to avoid Guatemala. Canada and Jamaica are more talented than the other three teams, so I think our best draw would be two from Cuba, Guyana, and Haiti. Given the political situation, let's hope for the last two there. I also think that Canada would be harder than Jamaica because of the rivalry between the teams stemming from the Gold Cup.
So here's my picks for the hardest and easiest draws for the United States:
Round of 24: El Salvador
Semifinals: Canada, Guatemala, Honduras
Round of 24: Bahamas
Semifinals: Guyana, Haiti, Trinidad
Now, what about the other confederations? Well, the most important regions to watch in qualifying from our perspective are Europe and South America. There are only about ten superpowers in this sport, and they all hail from those two continents. Every one of those great teams that doesn't qualify gives us a better shot at winning the 2010 World Cup. The other confederations don't really matter as there aren't great differences in quality among the top teams.
Despite the huge odds against winning it all, we still want to do as well as possible and that's why this draw is so important. South America's qualifying system is the fairest one possible, and Argentina/Brazil will always qualify so there's little drama. So that leaves us with UEFA, where there's a decent chance of one or more very good teams missing out. England just was eliminated from Euro 2008, and the Netherlands missed out in 2002. It can happen, especially thanks to their qualifying system. That's why American fans should be especially interested in what happens there.
The European draw can results in groups that vary greatly in difficulty. England is now in the second pot which is key. We should want them to be grouped with France, Germany, or Italy, and not just for the great games that will result. Only one team from each group can qualify directly, so if two of the top teams are in one group, you're guaranteed at the least that one of them will have to go through the playoffs, and anything can happen over two games. Even better this time, one second place team won't advance at all.
We also should want the worst seeded teams (Croatia, Greece) to get the easiest teams in the other pots, so the best teams have it as tough as possible. While the USA has only the longest shot to be a top seed in 2010, a good performance there (quarterfinals) would help us for 2014. Not having those top teams in the final tournament would help us build towards winning a future World Cup.
For the full list of UEFA pots, see here.