Saturday, December 5, 2009

World Cup Draw - no Group of Death for US!

England, Algeria, Slovenia.  That's our group.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.  Well, actually, its freakin awesome!

There are 4 "pots" that the 32 teams were separated into.  The first group are the top ranked teams in the world, such as Brazil or Italy, plus host country, South Africa.  The second pot are the North and Central American teams plus Asia/Oceania.  This is clearly the worst group since that eliminates our chance to play a weak Asian or Oceanic team.  We would much rather be grouped with African teams so we could avoid them.  The 3rd group are the South American countries plus the aforementinoed African contingent.  The last group are the leftover European teams.  You cannot play another team from your own Confederation or 2 teams from the same Confederation, except from Europe since there are too many teams from there (13).

Side note: I think its ridiculous that FIFA waits until a couple days before the actual draw to announce how the pots would be comprised.  Why would they need to wait to decide if Concacaf gets paired with Asia or Africa?  Its also ridiculous that FIFA waited until the end of European qualifying to announce how the home and away playoffs would be seeded.  Why could this not be set in stone years ago?  Its incredibly corrupt and there should be a bigger outcry at these obvious moves to put the top teams in the best position to qualify for the World Cup.  American journalists would never allow this kind of corruption.  Then again, we do have the sham that is MLB...

Anyway, so obviously the USA wanted the weakest of the teams from Pot 1, which is South Africa.  Then we'd clearly want one of the weaker African teams or Chile from Pot 3.  And from Pot 4, we'd like to avoid France or Portugal.

Absolute worst case scenario: Brazil, Ivory Coast, France.

Best case scenario: South Africa, Chile, Slovenia.

I know most Americans couldn't care less about the draw but I personally wished I could be in a soccer bar celebrating or groaning with the US fans.  It is one of the most anticipated events in the world and Fifa estimates that 200 million from 200 countries would watch.  Here, the results of the draw didn't even lead off Sportscenter that night.

So the evening included a lot of rhetoric by Fifa representatives, Nelson Mandela, and others about how far Africa has come and how its time for them to emerge on the world stage.  I'm not entirely buying what they're selling but it is about time that the World Cup goes to a new continent.  Okay okay, I guess I will rent Invictus when it comes out.

Charlize Theron was the logical choice head up the actual drawings but I did think the female host who MC'd the event did an excellent job of representing South Africa.  Theron clearly was not a longtime soccer fan however, and her attempts at humor didn't mesh well with the overall serious nature of these proceedings showed.  I didn't mind her so much but she honestly seemed very American, actually.  I do remember seeing her with a throwback Chelsea shirt at the Chelsea-Inter exhibition game this summer in Pasadena so maybe she is somewhat a football fan.  And yes, that's what the Adidas WC 2010 ball looks like.  I prefer the 2006 Deutschland edition.

Anyway, the draw began with all 24 non top tier teams praying that they could be in South Africa's group.  I knew I was.  Who from Pot 2 got chosen?  Freakin Mexico.  I almost started throwing things in my office.  I can accept that we never have much luck with our draw but why did it have to be Mexico?  It could not have started any worse.

We were put into England's group.  I'm not convinced right now that we can beat them.  Its almost like we play a similar style except that they're technically a lot better than we are.  Memories of getting destroyed in Wembley flooded my mind.  Alexi Lalas, on the other hand, seemed very excited about this during the ESPN telecast.  I couldn't tell if it was just false bravado since he was sitting next to Steve McManaman, who played for Real Madrid and ended up being the most decorated English player who played abroad.  Anyway, its coincidental that the recently leaked Nike 2010 US jerseys are a nod to the 1950 jerseys (with a diagonal blue sash) that was worn by Gaetjens and the other Americans who pulled off the biggest upset in World Cup history with that 1-0 victory over England.

Of course, I'd rather play England than Brazil since the Seleccao are too good, or Italy since we played them in 2006, or Spain since they're freakin Spain, or the Netherlands since I have doubts that we can handle their style, or Germany cause they always win their group.  So I guess, playing England might be pretty good draw.  Argentina might've been nice too since who knows how they'll do with Maradona at the helm.  That said, it'll be fun to play such a premier squad with world class names such as Terry, Lampard, Rooney and Gerrard.  At the very least it will raise our visibility even more in the world.  Hopefully England starts off with their typical slow start and we can steal a draw.

When Pot 3 was getting placed, I was bracing for Ivory Coast or Ghana, but it ended up being Algeria.  Algeria?  You mean the team that barely edged out Egypt to clinch the last African spot?  Looking at the other options, it couldn't have been better.  Mexico ended up with Uruguay and that seems like a dangerous matchup.  Things are improving.

At the outset of Pot 4, I was just hoping Mexico would end up with France.  That's all I really wanted.  If not France, then at least Portugal.  But France would be phenomenal.  They still have some of the best players in the world in Henry, Ribery, and Anelka.  I couldn't care less that France would essentially get rewarded after qualifying in such embarrassing fashion.  Anyway, Fifa punished them by not letting them be a top seed.  I just wanted them to get Mexico.

YES!  pump your fists.  shake your booty.  I did.  Mexico's group ain't that easy for them after all.

So now, US fans are just holding their breath that they wouldn't get Portugal.  Not only was it not CRonaldo's squad that was placed in our group, it wasn't the formidable Serbia team or Denmark/Slovakia -teams that we just lost to in the last month.  It was Slovenia, possibly the weakest European team in the entire tournament.  Now I really wish I was in a soccer bar somewhere.

The only drama that was left was where Portugal would go.  Of course it would be with Brazil, the favorite, and Ivory Coast, Africa's best.  Clearly the Group of Death this time.

As Lalas said, if we can't beat Algeria and Slovenia, we don't deserve to get out of the group.  Then again, we were supposed to beat Ghana in 2006, weren't we?  We would've played Brazil in the next round! exhale.

Group Predictions in Dec 2009

Why not?

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France.
I think Uruguay and France will emerge, in that order.  Its about time Mexico misses the knockout rounds and I expect France to lose a shocker to finish 2nd.  Their coach is still an idiot.

Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
South Korea and Argentina.  South Korea has the cohesion and work ethic while Argentina has the class players.

Group C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia
England and the US.  Under Capello, I don't think England will start slowly this time.  Algeria and Slovenia may be the underdogs but I don't think Bradley will let the US be unprepared.  I think we lose to England and beat both Algeria and Slovenia.

Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Germany and Serbia.  I like Australia's gusto and Ghana's stars but Serbia has the overall team quality.

Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Netherlands and Cameroon.  Eto'o leads his squad to glory on the shoulders of their fans.

Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Paraguay and Slovakia.  There has to be a shocker somewhere, right?  Italy's age catches up to them and they see an early exit.

Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Ivory Coast and Brazil will emerge from the Group of Death fairly comfortably after both beating an overrated Portugal squad.

Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile
Spain has the easiest draw of any top squad and will be racking up the goals.  Switzerland barely emerges from the scrum as well after beating a talented Honduras side.

Knockout Stages Predictions

Round of 16

Uruguay vs Argentina - 2-2 Argentina in PKs

France vs South Korea - France 3-1

England vs Serbia - England 2-1

Germany vs USA - USA 1-0

Netherlands vs Slovakia - Netherlands 3-0

Paraguay vs Cameroon - Cameroon 2-1

Ivory Coast vs Switzerland - Ivory Coast 2-0

Spain vs Brazil - Brazil 3-2


Argentina vs France - Argentina 2-1

England vs USA - 0-0 England in PKs

Netherlands vs Cameroon - Dutch 4-0

Ivory Coast vs Brazil - Brazil 4-2


Argentina vs England - England 2-0

Netherlands vs Brazil - 2-2 Brazil in PKs


England vs Brazil - England 2-1

The golden generation finally break through in their last hurrah.  Beckham wins it on a 84th minute signature swerving free kick.

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