Friday, December 04, 2009

Totally not screwed

The World Cup draw was held today. Normally, in these things, the USA is screwed, mostly because FIFA is really only concerned with distributing competition in geographic terms. (This is probably because of the heavy concentration of talent in Europe. Think of it as soccer's equivalent of the BCS: the current system strongly benefits Europe, and Europe has significant influence in FIFA, so it's not likely to change any time soon.)

What happens is that if you aren't the host country or a top team, you're grouped essentially by region, so you can't play anyone else in your region. Unfortunately, we end up grouped with other CONCACAF countries and usually the weaker Asian teams, so instead of being able to draw them, we draw a couple of European teams. In theory, this wouldn't matter for a top side: obviously to win the World Cup you have to beat a number of quality teams. In practice, we're not that good yet, so we could use a balanced draw rather than a geographic draw.

Well, this is what we got:
Pot 1) England. Well, it wasn't Brazil or Spain. Of course, given how we played Brazil and Spain in the Confederations Cup, maybe those would have been better draws. South Africa would have been the dream draw here. Instead, we get a difficult opponent.
Pot 2) USA. This is just to show where we came into play.
Pot 3) Algeria. Jackpot. Arguably the weakest team in Pot 3. They've not played in the World Cup in 24 years and were not a particularly strong qualifier from Africa. They do have some home-continent advantage, but I don't think it will be enough to threaten.
Pot 4) Slovenia. Another great draw, considering that France and Portugal were in this pot. Slovakia would have been a better draw, but Slovenia and Algeria should be enough to guarantee advancement for the US.

Will the US be strong and healthy enough to advance beyond the round of 16? There's no way to tell right now, but it should certainly be a consideration. This is a team that was a match from early elimination in South Africa this year, yet found itself at halftime of the championship match ahead 2-0 against Brazil.

On the flip side, we're strong enough that the Confederations Cup should be a disappointment rather than an accomplishment. In past World Cups, struggling with a draw like this would be unfortunate. Now, it would be a disaster.

The minimum expectation should be six points and a second-place finish. A reasonable expectation would be seven points and a tiebreaker for group finish (drawing with England, goal differential deciding the group winner). Winning the group? That would be good ... but not incredible. Incredible would be advancing to the semifinals.

I think we'll make the quarterfinals. In six months, we'll find out.

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