Saturday, December 5, 2009

World Cup Thoughts

As mentioned in the previous post, the World Cup draw was held on Friday. Here are the groups along with each team's FIFA ranking and the total rankings for the group:

Group A (127) Group B (94) Group C (84) Group D (84)
France 7 Argentina 8 England 9 Germany 6
Mexico 15 Greece 12 USA 14 Serbia 20
Uruguay 19 Nigeria 22 Algeria 28 Australia 21
South Africa 86 South Korea 52 Slovenia 33 Ghana 37

Group E (83) Group F (145) Group G (107) Group H (74)
Netherlands 3 Italy 4 Brazil 2 Spain 1
Cameroon 11 Paraguay 30 Portugal 5 Chile 17
Denmark 26 Slovakia 34 Côte d'Ivoire 16 Switzerland 18
Japan 43 New Zealand 77 North Korea 84 Honduras 38
First, the FIFA ranking is really not that meaningful as they change every month and one win can really propel you up the standings. Still, it's interesting to see that 3 groups are almost identically ranked, while Group H looks to be the strongest as a whole. But I think you have to ignore the lowest-ranked team, which shows that it's really Group G that is the toughest. North Korea is not likely to advance, but it's quite possible for the Ivory Coast to knock off one of the other giants. The Brazil-Portugal matchup should be very interesting as they close out group play on June 25th.

France got the lucky spot in Group A, which shows that the football gods still favor Les Bleus despite Henry's handball. Italy also has a relatively easy group. Of course, England and the US will be the most anticipated match although both teams should advance regardless.


That leads me to the next point which is trying to figure out how the playoffs shape up. Historically, most of the seeded teams make it past the group stage. In the 3 World Cups that featured 32 teams, only 3 out of the 24 seeds fell at the first hurdle (Spain in 1998, France and Argentina in 2002). Obviously South Africa is likely to be a team that fails to make it to the next round, and they've drawn two other high-altitude nations, so their natural home advantage is somewhat diminished. I can't imagine any of the other seeds dropping out, although Germany will have it tough with 3 good teams in group D.

The round of 16 sees the top team in Group A play the second-place finisher in Group B. Similarly C1 plays D2, E1 plays F2 and G1 plays H2. The other half of the bracket sees the reversals with B1 taking on A2, etc. This way, two teams from the same group cannot meet again until the final.

In 1998 and 2006, six of eight seeds made it to the quarter-finals (only 4 did so in 2002). I think there'll be at least one seed falling here, and it might be Spain or England who face stiff competition from the crossover group.

In these three recent tourneys, the semi-finals featured 3 seeds and one "outsider". It's interesting to note though that in 2002, South Korea was seeded due as a host nation and they made it to the final four along with unseeded Turkey. In 1998 it was Croatia, and in 2006 it was Portugal - both those Cups were hosted in Europe. So I think the trend will continue, and I look for Nigeria to make it to the final four.

I like Brazil and the Netherlands to meet in the final, with the Dutch taking their first World Cup. Hey, it's no fun predicting another victory for Brazil or Italy, so I'm going out on a limb (well, picking the #3 team really isn't much of a risk). The one thing you can bet on is that everything I wrote here will be entirely wrong. Whatever the case, it should be a great tournament staring 6 months from now. I can hardly wait!



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