I largely agree with everything that Paul has written, and the comments thread off of that one is excellent. Having had my daughter for the last three days, I’ve not had an opportunity to do much of, well, anything beyond pay her attention and acquiesce to her three-year old demands, so now that I have a moment, I’ll offer some comments.
Some very preliminary thoughts:
Great draw for both the U.S. and England. Algeria is clearly the weakest African team and Slovenia might be the softest Euro side. Right now it looks like it would be a monumental upset for the Mother Country not to make it through group play, while the U.S. will be a very solid favorite to do so. And of course this sets up a replay of the famous 1950 game — quite arguably the biggest upset in the history of major international sports. Another big break for the U.S. is that the world’s four top-ranked teams (Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Italy) are all on the other side of the draw, which means the Americans can reach the semis without facing any of them.
France: Unbelievable. After FIFA did what it could to punish the Gallic hand of God, they draw not only South Africa, but the weakest South American team (Uruguay) as well. Mexico is the other fortunate recipient in this group so two-thirds of NAFTA should be in the knockout round.
Most unlucky team: Probably Portugal. The European power is stuck in a monster group with Brazil and the best African team (Cote d’ Ivoire), and as an extra special bonus will almost surely have to play world #1 Spain in the round of 16 if they manage to get through group play.
Relatedly, Spain probably has the easiest route to group play, but then is bracketed opposite the Group of Death, and will probably have to knock off a very good team in the round of 16 and then Brazil just to reach the semis.
Most certain to go home early: North Korea
Most likely #1 seed not to make it through other than South Africa (no host team has ever failed to get through group play but it seems unlikely they will): It’s tempting to say Brazil, but Brazil is Brazil. I’ll say Italy, which draws tough South American and European sides (Paraguay and Slovakia) to go along with sacrificial lamb New Zealand.
There were some fairly significant changes from past practice. For the past three, four, or five? World Cups, a combination of past performances in the World Cup (either two or more often three tournaments back) with an index based on current, one year, and two years past FIFA rankings. For 2010, it’s the October FIFA ranking (only) combined with geography. The hosts, as is practice, are also seeded.
Teams are divided into four “pots”; each group will be populated with one team from each pot. Here they are:
Pot 1 (seeds): South Africa, Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina, England
Pot 2 (Asia, Oceania and North/Central America): Representing Asia: Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Australia; Oceania: New Zealand; CONCACAF: United States, Mexico, Honduras
Pot 3 (Africa and South America): Africa: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria; S. America: Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay
Pot 4 (Unseeded Europe): France, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland, Greece, Serbia, Denmark, Slovakia
The logic is the “best” eight sides are kept apart in the group stage, and no two teams from the same confederation will meet in the group stage (thus making my dream match of South v North Korea highly unlikely) except for Europe — there will be five groups with two European teams.
Hence, by selecting what FIFA believe to be the top eight sides, even though those top eight sides are not directly related to their own sketchy monthly rankings, and ensuring that those eight sides are placed in eight different group, the odds are significantly enhanced that those eight will make it through to the knock-out stages.
This doesn’t always happen of course; France finishing last in its group in 2002 is a clear memory, but all eight seeded sides did progress in 2006, but it does sharply reduce the odds of, say, an Algeria v North Korea quarter final (but imagine the TV ratings back in Pyongyang).
There are, as usual when it comes to FIFA, some idiosyncrasies. Neither France nor Portugal are seeded, even though they both are (currently) ranked higher than England. I don’t think France are all that any longer, but Portugal did knock England out at the quarter finals of both the 2006 WC and the 2004 European Championships. BBC Radio 5 Live suggested this morning that the French are being punished for the Ireland tie. What has not gone reported is that the seeds were based on the October, not November, rankings, in order to mitigate any built in advantage that teams involved in playoffs (as opposed to friendlies) during the month of November might have enjoyed.
Which is a different way of saying “FIFA sleight of hand”. The only two teams in the top seven in November are Portugal (5th) and France (7th). Neither Argentina nor England would have been seeded.
What does this mean for the USA tomorrow? It’s going to be grim, regardless; put the Confederations Cup performance away (which was uneven in any event). There are several best / worst case scenarios out there in blogosphere, but before we get too depressed, The Times has this worst case scenario for England:
a worst-case scenario would still involve them being drawn in the same group as France, Ivory Coast and the United States.
How sweet of the English media to suggest that the USA are in their own personal group of death. For the US, placing the CONCACAF and Asian and Oceania teams in the same pot means that we can not draw any of them — this screws us as it’s the weakest of the four pots; while ruling out the North v South Korea match, this also rules out the USA v North Korea match (remember France 1998 against Iran? I’d rather I didn’t as well).
Prost Amerika suggests these best / worst cases:
Best Case Scenario: Argentina, USA, Algeria, Switzerland.
Worst Case Scenario: Spain, USA, Ivory Coast, France.
I’d rather draw South Africa from the first pot, but that would rule out Algeria from the third. It’s a worthy trade off I think, so this is my best / worst case scenario:
Best: South Africa, USA, Paraguay, Greece (or Slovenia, or Switzerland . . . )
Worst: Brazil, USA, Ivory Coast, Portugal.
When it comes to drawing from the first pot, outside of the hosts they are all scary; when it comes to drawing the least dangerous of the European pot, there are several that are equally preferable to Portugal, France, or Denmark.
I will be discussing the resulting draw at some point this weekend, possibly even tomorrow evening (UK time).
(UPDATE: I originally included a clip from youtube, but Sportsfive, who own the rights to the broadcast from the match, have been busy scouring the intertubes for copyright infringements. Or something like that. Did I mention that they are French? Anyway, check out the comments for an active clip).
Granted, it’s not a World Cup quarter final, but it was the final few minutes of qualification, and the match looked to be heading ineluctably towards penalties. It also was not the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1999, either.
UPDATE: The Irish Justice Minister is calling for a replay. I heard rumblings about this on both BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live last night and this morning, which is why I cited the Sheffield United – Arsenal FA Cup Fifth Round tie in the above.
It’s not going to happen. How would it? Any such match has to happen soon, but the next international window is months away, so the players would have to be coaxed from their clubs. While FIFA and UEFA can pry players from their clubs during international breaks, to the best of my knowledge they have no leverage outside of international windows. The current French squad play for such clubs as Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester United, Lyon . . . when these clubs say no, and they would within a second of receiving the request, the French players have no incentive to challenge the club position: they’ve already been handed their trip to South Africa (sorry for the dreadful pun, but about half the newspaper headlines today make the obvious easy play).
Apparently, Landon and Becks have kissed and made up.
While there’s doubt on this here island on which I live, if Beckham plays as well for Milan during his loan spell this season as he did last season, he should get a spot on the England team for the World Cup (not so, however, Michael Owen). He won’t be playing in the center of midfield, where Arena has been playing him with Los Angeles, obviously, but he is still in possession of a couple skills that warrants inclusion.
Of course, Beckham is still only the second best player on the Galaxy (if that — I’m sure others will disagree), to Landon Donovan. To wit:
There were other factors in the Galaxy’s resurgence. Donovan has become routinely brilliant.
It would be nice for the routinely brilliant Donovan to move to a league where he can be consistently above-average. There is still time for him to improve as a player, although at 27 (28 at the World Cup) that time is rapidly running short.
I will be discussing the UEFA playoff first leg matches within a day or two; I will be watching the Ireland – France match (not in person, shame) with an Irish colleague of mine.
Like Scott, I need to apologize for my inactivity over the past six days. Travel interrupted: I missed my connection at ATL, and it was very much not my fault, but did enjoy 14 unplanned hours in said city, split between the airport and the hotel room that Delta grudgingly subsidized. I’m not a fan of ATL, and will attempt to stick with DTW, MSP, and EWR as my hubs of choice when flying from the UK / Europe to the West Coast. Following this unfortunate travel event, there was a conference.
It seems to me that whenever we hit on something good, which the Premier League undoubtedly is, those in charge can never seem to accept it for what it is and have to try and keep updating it . . . Back before football became a business the structure of the English football league simply went from Division One downwards until you reached the non-league Conference etc. And to be fair, there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. It worked, and everyone knew where they stood.
However, then some people with lots of money came into football and decided to spice things up a bit at the top of the scale, so they took Division One and called it the Premier League, because it was England’s… well, premier league. That was all well and good, and it’s fair to say that that venture went pretty well.
Of course, the driving force behind this idea seems in many ways to be related to the desire of many to introduce the Old Firm to the Premier League. This idea has been floated many, many times over the years despite little apparent enthusiasm from the fans of the Scottish clubs nor any compelling evidence that they would even belong in the Premier League in terms of quality or footballing ability.
I’ll be in the air during most if not all of the final round of qualifying for South Africa 2010, so I will miss a few mini dramas:
The NYT reviews The Damned United, which piques my interest. When I have time, which latterly has not been plentiful, I devour film reviews, perhaps because Plymouth is not exactly in any one’s cinematic top 20 (this is one of the things I miss the most about Seattle).
Wednesday, August 11. 13:00 PDT, and other times. Google isn’t new, and for the love of god, don’t rely on me.
Aged 76. Times obit here. While a fan of the sport since my (so-called) playing days, I didn’t really come into the English leagues / national team until after Robson left the England post. Indeed, he had just taken over what would be his last real job in football as manager of Newcastle United when I moved to Europe.