Yesterday, I watched the live results online of the World Cup final draw for June of next year in Germany. It’s one month of the highest level of soccer/football, so I’m pretty excited about it. I’m already planning to find an English flag. It’s strange how soccer is the only sport where the games and politics mix together so easily (more on that later). Here’s my draw analysis (for what it’s worth).
Group A: Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador
The hosts get a really, really easy ride here. The first match is Germany against Costa Rica, and while you should never underestimate anyone at the World Cup (getting to this stage is hard enough), the Germans have home-field advantage and a really easy schedule in the round-robin round. The really interesting match-up is Germany against Poland – no shortage of history there, both soccer-wise and political.
Group B: England, Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago, Sweden
Man! Again, an easy ride for England, as they’ve got Paraguay and T & T on the run already. Sweden, however, could be cause for alarm. England hasn’t beat Sweden in 37 years, and England’s coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has to face his home country yet again. The English will probably get out of this division, but not unscathed.
Group C: Argentina, The Netherlands, Cote d’Ivoire, Serbia & Montenegro
The Group of Death, arguably the most competitive and difficult group. Here’s why: Argentina and the Dutch are two of the best teams in the world. The Dutch – inexplicably left out of the elite draw, which keeps the best teams like Germany and Brazil from facing each other in the round-robin – are ranked third in the world and generally feared by most countries on the soccer field. They have a ridiculously amazing offense. Argentina is one of the two South American soccer powers. Serbia & Montenegro have a crazy good defense, and Cote d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, is lightning fast. Whomever is going to get out of this division is going to be beaten and battered. Absolutely brutal.
Group D: Mexico, Iran, Angola, Portugal
Mexico’s clearly the class of this division. Portugal was the Euro 2004 finalist and host, but that means little in this tournament (Greece, the Euro 2004 champs, didn’t even make it to this final). This being said, Portugal is still really strong and has an excellent chance. Angola and Iran are the underdogs and will probably not put up a huge fight, but that means the second qualifying spot for the playoffs is completely up for grabs.
Group E: Italy, Ghana, the United States, the Czech Republic
Another really tough division. First off, Italy – the Montreal Canadiens of the international soccer tournament. Why? Italy, like the Habs, always seems to have some kind of institutional advantage towards success. They’re a soccer-mad nation and have the talent to back it up, but they have a tendency to choke sometimes. The Czechs are also really strong, as is the U.S.A. (Yes, the Americans have a really good chance to move on in this division). This won’t be easy for anyone.
Group F: Brazil, Australia, Croatia, Japan
Brazil. Five-time champs, insanely powerful, almost impossible to beat when on their game. Virtually assured to move on, although don’t tell the Australians that. Japan, the last World Cup co-hosts, have gotten even better since 2002 and won’t go quietly. This division won’t be easy either.
Group G: France, South Korea, Togo, Switzerland
France has a lot to prove this time around. They were awful in 2002 with injuries galore and didn’t even make it out of the round-robin. Why this was just a big deal is pretty obvious: it doesn’t happen all that often a team wins the World Cup as the French did in 1998 and then collapse next time. They’re still really strong, but South Korea, the other co-hosts of World Cup ’02, are dangerous and will provide the French with some serious opposition.
Group H: Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
Spain’s clearly the favourite here. This division isn’t crazy hard, so Spain had better move beyond the round-robin here (there are too many expectations otherwise, as Spain’s supposed to be one of the world’s elite teams). Ukraine’s emerged as a team to beat (they defeated Turkey, Greece and Denmark to get here, no easy feat), so expect some opposition here.