Friday, December 04, 2009

My thoughts on the World Cup Draw

I admit I am no expert here, and there will be plenty of teams in the World Cup that I do not possess much knowledge about. Nor did I even watch the draw: I went to lunch with some co-workers just after it began, and besides, I watched the draw in 2005 only to see the USA get placed in what ended up being the Group of Death (toughest group to advance out of, the top two of four go onto to the knockout, or single game elimination, rounds). I often joke that my teams do better when I don't watch, so I used this to justify my not using my lunch hour to watch the draw.

Here's who the World Cup Draw worked, there were eight seeded teams, seven of which can be said to be the strongest teams in the world. The eighth, South Africa, is a seeded because they are the host nation. But they are said to be in bad form right now, so I really wanted the US to be drawn in their group instead of with the other powerhouse seeds. Borrowed from The Guardian, here are the details:

The 32 teams are split into eight groups of four, but - unsurprisingly - it won't be as simple as Ms Charlize Theron drawing a team from each pot. Some groups may need to be skipped in order to avoid confederation clashes within them. This will be achieved specifically by placing the first two African teams drawn from pot three into the groups containing Brazil and Argentina.

Pot 1: South Africa, Brazil, Spain, Holland, Italy, Germany, Argentina, England.
Pot 2: Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Mexico, Honduras.
Pot 3: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay.
Pot 4: France, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland, Greece, Serbia, Denmark, Slovakia.

I feared the worst, remembering my initial reaction after the '05 draw which was essentially "We're f****d, I hope no one has tickets past the first round." But, the reverse psychology by not watching worked because here are the Groups!

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
Group C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Holland, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, Korea DPR, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

In my mind, the Group of Death is G. Brazil is my pick to win it all. Portugal is a very talented squad, but historically have been their own worst enemy, losing their form and discipline at the worst possible times. If the "good Portugal" shows up, they're very formidable, and reached the semi-finals in '06. Ivory Coast, or Cote d'Ivorie, is an inspiring story. A nation that has had more than its share of turmoil fields a very talented team that many feel can go deep into this tournament. A deep run would be truly moving and healing, as anyone who remembers the commercials with "City of Blinding Lights" playing in the background will attest. The fourth team, let's just say I hope Kim Jong Il is on meds tonight. I would love to see one of the three opponents drop double digits on North Korea in June.

Group of Death Jr. is either D or E. Germany is a football machine, you know they are a contender. Ghana is strong, and Australia will look to prove that '06's run where they almost beat Italy before they could get rolling, was no fluke. See ya, Serbia. E is tough too, it wouldn't surprise me to see any combination of two teams advance, save for Holland not going through.

USA's Group, they got a gift from someone. Soccer Gods, whatever. England (June 12) will be very difficult but I like the idea of having the toughest (on paper) match first. Worked in '02, no time for nerves or "we'll warm up as things move forward." Slovenia (June 18) impressed by beating Russia in the two-leg playoff last month but are hardly contenders to get close to the Jules Rimet Trophy. Algeria (June 23) are a good candidate to pull a US '98 France and finish DFL should North Korea be able to bunk its way into 2 1-0 and 1 2-0 loss. (32nd after various tiebreakers for teams with zero points are figured in).

Bottom Line: The USA should advance to the knockout round, and I think they will, barring any more nasty injuries between now and then. How much further into the knockout rounds will they get? I project a second place finish in Group C, then ahard-fought second round defeat against Germany, the Group D first place team. An upset there could see the US play Argentina or Mexico (my projected first place team in Group B and second place team in A) in the quarterfinals. But first things first. Not advancing out of the group stages would be big-time FAIL. But I think Bradley's Boys are up to the challenge. Thoughts? Post 'em.

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