Wednesday, December 02, 2009

World Cup 2010 Draw Preview

The seeding formula and pots have been released by FIFA. They've decided to use only the October 2009 FIFA ranking and nothing else to determine the seven seeded teams. I'm a bit disappointed, if only because the work of people like Edgar and myself has been for nothing this cycle.

The big news is that the change means that the Netherlands will be seeded instead of France. You have to wonder exactly when this decision was made. It's convenient from a PR standpoint that France is left out after the Thierry Henry handball. I'm sure if they had any doubts about changing it, that made the decision clearer.

Looking back, it's obvious that FIFA was a lot higher on using FIFA rankings since the formula for them was changed after the 2006 World Cup. They've been used heavily for seeding in World Cup qualifying. However, even if they were going to only use one month's ranking, it wasn't announced that they would the October rankings instead of November until November 20th, when the November ranking came out. That's also two days after World Cup qualifying (and France vs Ireland) ended. If they had used the November ranking instead of the October one, then France would have been seeded with England missing out.

The reason given for using October over November was that "...using the November 2009 edition would create an uneven situation, specifically for the European Zone, where the play-offs involving the eight best runners-up led to an imbalance in the number of qualification matches played between the teams."

Fair enough, but four years ago (as part of the more complex formula) they used the November rankings which did take into account the playoffs. Just like the seeding of the UEFA playoffs, it looks shady. Why not decide these things before the competition starts? Even if there's no conspiracy, FIFA's behavior gives people reason to believe that there might be. Because unlike the small changes to the formula in 2002 and 2006, this time the makeup of the seeded teams is affected by them.

EDIT: Apparently the seeds were chosen by "feeling." What a joke. In other words, they decided which teams they wanted to seed and then picked a format based on that.

The other big announcement is that just like four years ago, Africa and South America will be grouped together in one pot, with Asia and North America in the other (plus New Zealand). It would've been much better for the USA's chances to have been grouped with Africa rather than Asia. In that scenario, there was a 33% chance of drawing South Africa and a good chance of an easy Asia/Oceania team from the fourth pot. Now, we're guaranteed to draw an African or South American team, and the chance of drawing the hosts is only 1/8.

As an American fan, here's what I would most and least like to see happen in Friday's draw. Oh, and if you decide to watch it live (noon Eastern, ESPN), remember that they have a ton of ceremonial stuff before they actually get down to business.

Pot 1 - Seeded Teams

South Africa

We want South Africa, it's as simple as that. They're the weakest team by far, even with the advantage of hosting. Besides, we already beat them in South Africa in a friendly this cycle, and we also got a point against South Korea in 2002.

As for the others, I don't think it matters too much. We have gotten results against Spain and Italy in competitive games in the past four years, but I'm not sure I have a preference here other than avoiding Brazil. On paper, the Netherlands are probably the second worst team.

So the chance of a good draw from this pot is 12.5%, while the other 87.5% is an average draw.

Pot 3 - African/South American Teams

Cote d’Ivoire

Algeria has to be the best choice, with Cote d'Ivoire and the South American teams the ones to avoid. Though I didn't look at it before writing that, Voros' national team rankings agree, placing Algeria way below the others.

I'm not sure though, the African teams may be stronger due to the home continent advantage. So maybe the CONMEBOL trio are more desirable. Unfortunately, as mentioned above we can't draw an Asian team. Due to that grouping, this pot is pretty even in strength. The team we get here should matter the least when it comes to the odds of advancing.

Pot 4 - European Teams


This is what it all comes down to. The USMNT's chances of advancing are greatly determined by what happens here. This matters more than anything else that's happened since the 2006 World Cup ended. A draw of France or Portugal would certainly make things very, very difficult and would be a nightmare. There's a 25% chance of that happening.

The main goal is to avoid those two teams (75% chance). However, if at all possible it'd be nice to draw Slovakia or Slovenia (25%) chance. We should be favored over either of them regardless of what happens in friendlies. Of the other four teams, I would prefer Greece or Switzerland over Denmark or Serbia. However, they don't stand out like the others as good or bad draws.

Goals & Possible Outcomes

Our goals should be in this order:

1. Draw South Africa.
2. Avoid France/Portugal.
3. Draw Slovakia/Slovenia.

You could also hope to draw Algeria and not say, Chile or Ivory Coast. But that's not as important.

Possible Outcomes:

3.1% - Dream draw - South Africa, ???, Slovakia/Slovenia
6.2% - Very good - South Africa, ???, Denmark/Greece/Serbia/Switzerland
21.9% - Good - Other seeded team, ???, Slovakia/Slovenia
3.1% - Decent - South Africa, ???, France/Portugal
43.8% - Average - Other seeded team, ???, Denmark/Greece/Serbia/Switzerland
21.9% - Nightmare - Other seeded team, ???, France/Portugal

An average draw is the most likely by far. As you can see, the odds of a really great draw are slim. I'm not expecting that, I just want to avoid the worst.

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Comments on "World Cup 2010 Draw Preview"


Anonymous Eric in Baltimore said ... (11:48 AM, December 02, 2009) : 

I disagree that we should hope for Slovenia/Slovakia. Greece should be the team for whom we pine.


Blogger Straight Red said ... (12:56 PM, December 02, 2009) : 

It actually is important which of the 7 tops seeded the US draws if it doesn't draw South Africa. You may think that the 7 teams are equal but remember the Brazil and Argentina MUST draw an African team. So if the US gets Brazil/Argentina + another European team + an African team, they're as good as dead.

The dream would be to get SA but avoid Brazil and Argentina as all costs.

Even a group like Holland, USA, Paraguay, Denmark would be pretty manageable.


Anonymous Howdy said ... (12:57 PM, December 02, 2009) : 

Very interesting analysis, and I'd agree on most points except one key: I think who the US draws out of Pot 3 is one of the MOST important factors when it comes to advancing. Assuming we don't draw S. Africa -- and the chances aren't good -- we're very likely to need at least a result, if not a win, from the Pot 3 match to advance; Algeria or Uruguay certainly gives the us a better chance of that than, say, Chile or Ivory Coast.

I'd prefer Greece to Slovakia from Pot 4, but agree that Slovenia's definitely the worst team there.

Pot 1, aside from South Africa I'd like to see Netherlands (again agree - they're second-weakest, esp. with van Persie not looking promising) or Italy (who we always seem to play fairly tight, and have gotten results against in the past).


Anonymous Seth said ... (5:26 PM, December 02, 2009) : 

Anyone notice that based on this seeding methodology, the US would have gotten a seed in 2006?

On the other hand the seeded team in our group was the only one we were able to get a point from, so may not have mattered much anyway.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (6:55 PM, December 02, 2009) : 


Serbia would destroy us and for me with Ivory Coast is the darkhorse in this World Cup. I would rather face a dysfunctional France or Portugal over them.


Blogger hemanth said ... (7:04 PM, December 02, 2009) : 

With 32 names in the bag (regardless of how they got there) thoughts can now turn to the subject of the draw for the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa. The draw takes place on Friday 4th December 2009.


Blogger Dorian said ... (10:48 PM, December 02, 2009) : 


I think your comment about the US getting a seed in 2006 is great evidence that FIFA really needed to overhaul their Rankings (as they did in July 2006). Some would say that FIFA has further to go, but at least FIFA now feels that their Ranking (or at least the October 2009 Ranking) is reliable "enough" to use on its own (i.e. without the inclusion of prior World Cup performance).

My stats show a better than 88% rank correlation between FIFA Rankings for the 32 WC teams and their ranking by a few other ranking systems (including Elo Ratings, Voros's two rankings, and the new ESPN SPI).

That all said, I would have liked to see FIFA use their Rankings not only for Pot 1, but for at least Pot 2, and ideally all four Pots (using a computer to ensure geographical diversity like they do in the Champions League group stage draw). Oh well. Maybe 2014!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:07 AM, December 03, 2009) : 

Good stuff, scaryice. The BS thread seems to have gone of the rails, so will repost this here:

I would suggest a simpler way to categorize the draw outcomes:

1. Nirvana - USA is favored to win the group - happens if USA draws RSA and avoids FRA, POR, URU, CIV, and SRB. (probability = 2.4%)

2. Good - USA is favored to finish 2nd in the group - happens if USA draws RSA and one of FRA, POR, URU, CIV, and SRB, or does not draw RSA, but avoids FRA, POR, URU, CIV, and SRB. (probability = 47.4%)

3. Bad - USA is favored to finish 3rd in the group - happens if USA draws RSA and two of FRA, POR, URU, CIV, and SRB, or does not draw RSA, but draws one of FRA, POR, URU, CIV, and SRB. (probability = 41.7%)

4. Disaster - USA is favored to finish last in the group - happens if USA does not draw RSA, and does draw 2 of FRA, POR, URU, CIV, and SRB. (probability = 8.5%)

So overall, a 49.8% chance of a draw where on paper the USA should advance, and a 50.2% chance of a draw where they shouldn't. The classic coin toss!

Cheers, NoSix


Blogger deborahharry86 said ... (12:31 PM, December 04, 2009) : 

as an englishman... bring it on!!

you must be pretty pleased with that draw though right?


Blogger scaryice said ... (6:49 PM, December 04, 2009) : 

Yeah, very happy. It's weird to have the USA actually be favored to advance, though.

On the other hand, this means even more Beckham hype (gag).


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