Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup: so what now?

We're in first and you're not. Uh, not "we" we, "they" we. You know, them.
Well, now that the first set of Group C matches is complete, we know ... well, very little. With Slovenia's 1-0 victory over Algeria, the US find themselves tied for second in Group C. Not a bad position to be in, but it could be better. (Ask Slovenia.)

What do we need to do?
End up with 5 points or more. Yes, you can get through with 4, but you can also fall short with 4, and we don't want that, do we? Get 5 points, and you're advancing. You might even win your group.

So that means we need a win and a draw in our last two matches. Two wins, of course, would be better: with 7 points, we're through automatically. (The most you can have and not advance is 6, and that would require a three-way tie and a bad tiebreaker. That hasn't happened since the World Cup went to eight groups and sixteen teams advancing in 1998.)

Everyone, beat these guys, or else.
Right. So we advance with 5?
Pretty much, unless a) everyone beats Algeria and b) everybody draws with everyone else. Then it comes down to goal differential, which is basically how badly we beat Algeria, and then after that, goals scored (which is why you root for low-scoring matches in your group).

But that probably won't happen, as we can expect England to beat Algeria and Slovenia to advance. So 5 gets us through.

And if we lose one?
Well, that makes it tough. If we lose to Slovenia, then they have 6 points and are through (because we could get no more than 4 and either Algeria or England would also be limited). If we beat Slovenia, then we enter the final day (when both matches are played simultaneously) with 4, England has 4, Slovenia has 3, and Algeria has 0.

Now it gets fun. We would only need a draw with Algeria (a draw between England and Slovenia puts England through with us, a win puts the winner through with us) ... but England would also need only a draw and could be playing accordingly. If Slovenia upset them and we lost to Algeria, it would be that tiebreaker thing again. In general, tiebreakers are bad, because it means you have to win by a certain number of goals to stay out of trouble, and you won't know for sure because it may change if the other match changes. (Yes, it worked for us in the 2009 Confederations Cup, but that took a lot of help.)

So who do we root for on Friday?
Besides someone who can help with grammar? (For whom do we root?) Root for the US and don't worry about England v Algeria ... rooting for a low score isn't bad, or a one-goal win for England (in case we do finish tied with them), but just let it happen. Again, if we win both matches, we advance.

Do we want this man testing Tim Howard? No.
To play the Germans?
Most likely, yes. England is still favored to win the group (check the updated stats on the right side of the page), so we'd likely face the winner of Group D if we advance, and if that's someone other than Germany, we'll all be shocked. (Also note that we are basically in a dead heat with Slovenia in terms of advancement probability. What does that mean? We need that win on Friday.)

What if we don't make it?
Then we spend the next four years hearing about how we suck in the World Cup because we don't care enough. The US has a couple of recent Cups where we fared pretty well and several where we pooped the bed. A top-16 side needs to advance to the knockout stage; nothing less should be acceptable.

So let's not talk about it. Beat Slovenia, move back into a tie for first, and put the tiebreakers to bed.

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