Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The World Cup Draw

Well, if you read my last post and you followed the draw, you know that I think the USA got one the best possible draws -- as good as we could have reasonably expected. Overall, however, it was kind of a predictable draw, with few surprises and few really compelling story-lines in the group stage.

The USA's Group C is comprised of England, Algeria and Slovenia. England are a very strong side, but they have exploitable weaknesses at striker (other than Rooney, they are looking at the lumbering Heskey, the unpredictable Crouch or the untested Defoe) and certainly at goalkeeper (vis. "Calamity James"). And, England always struggle outside, well, England, but certainly outside Europe. They haven't made it past the World Cup quarter-finals in two decades.

Second and third match opponents Algeria and Slovenia are, at least by FIFA rankings, among the weaker teams in the tournament. Not that the US team couldn't blow it against either of them -- you'll hear a million times between now and June that there are no weak teams in the World Cup -- but believe me, Sunil Gulati and Bob Bradley were doing cartwheels in the aisles when they heard that we avoided both Ivory Coast/Ghana out of Africa, and France/Portugal out of Europe. And ESPN is going to market the fuck out of the England/USA opener, with Beckham and Donovan, the ghost of 1950, and the rise of the colonies to challenge the inventors of the beautiful game.

Mexico looked at first to have secured a dream draw in Group A against the pathetic hosts, South Africa. But Pot #3 produced the very good Uruguay, and Pot #4 cursed them with France. Heh. They still have a shot at advancing, but having to open against the hosts is never a great result. I think they could just squeak through, but I wouldn't be surprised if they finish last in the group.

Argentina, Holland, Italy and Spain received major gifts from the draw, particularly Italy. I'd be shocked if any of these four don't finish first in their respective groups. The English were feeling pretty good about their group, too, with only the game against the USA presenting a difficult match-up.

There isn't a clear Group of Death, but the best candidates are probably Group G with Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast and doormats North Korea; and Group D with Germany, Australia, Serbia and Ghana. You have to like Germany and Brazil to finish at least second in their respective group, but there could be some very big surprises. Mexico's Group A may not be Group of Death, but it's clearly a "Group of Grievous Injury."

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