For the first time in four years,
I updated this blog millions of viewers across the globe will tune in to watch Friday’s group-placement draw for next summer’s World Cup. While this may be the best US Men’s National Team ever assembled, the fighting Klinsmanns will be placed into what is arguably the toughest World Cup field in history. More than any tournament in recent memory, the USMNT’s fate precariously hangs in the balance — failure or fortune may simply come down to the laws of physics and chance as they apply to the ping pong ball with the “United States of America” written on it.
A fortuitous draw — though there will be fewer than ever this go-round — and the US will enter the World Cup for the first time ever as the odds-on favorite to win its group.
A draw into the Group(s) of Death and the US will be the odds-on favorite to finish 32nd in the 32-team tournament. Should the United States be drawn into a group with Brazil, the Netherlands and Italy for example, then the successes under Jurgen Klinsmann will simply have earned them the right to be publicly executed in front of a global audience next July. Fun!
But in order to gauge the prospective fortunes of the US, let’s take a look at exactly what Friday’s draw entails and how we got here with a little Q&A.
So, wait, what’s happening on Friday?
Picture it as the Selection Sunday of the World Cup if the NCAA tournament committee was comprised of lunatics, children, bookies and circus animals and if the morale of entire nations rested upon their selections.
How does it work?
The 32 teams have been divided into four pots, and each of the eight World Cup groups will have one team from each pot (except for one, we’ll get to that shortly).
Is it fair?
Of course it’s not fair. Are you kidding? This is FIFA we’re talking about, the same organization that decided Qatar should host the 2024 World Cup (tentative slogan- “Qatar: If you think our heat is oppressive, wait til you see our government!”).
Like the NBA draft lottery, each team has a ping pong ball that is chosen at random to determine its placement. Also like the NBA draft, there is a fairly good chance that it is somehow rigged. But that’s not even the unfair part.
Instead of ranking all 32 teams and seeding them accordingly like the NCAA selection committee does, FIFA seeds only the top eight teams and puts them in one pot so they won’t end up being placed in the same group. The other 24 teams are then divided based on geography.
Yes, that’s why the United States is in the same pot as neighboring countries like Japan, Australia and Iran.
Basically, one pot is Europe, one pot is Africa, and one pot is the United States and everybody else. When I said geography, I meant, first-grade geography. This ultimately hurts the US because they’re lumped into the same pot as many of the worst teams in the tournament, which means they won’t get to play them. Which also means we won’t get the highly anticipated Winner Gets Nuclear Capability match with Iran in the group stage.
Okay, so who else is the United States’ group?
Japan, Australia, Iran, Costa Rica, South Korea, Honduras and Mexico.
Wait. Mexico? Didn’t they only win like half of their games in the Hexagonal qualifier? And didn’t they fire their coach?
No, they won one-fifth of their games, and they fired THREE coaches. The United States saved them by beating Panama on the last day of qualifying, which earned Mexico a home-and-home playoff against New Zealand, who they beat because New Zealand’s team is comprised of hobbits and wombats. Meanwhile, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and and Sweden will not be playing in the World Cup. Again, this is FIFA. Nothing is fair.
So who are the seeded teams?
Argentina, Brazil, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Uruguay. As you can see, FIFA’s formula for ranking teams is Wins x Domestic Chocolate Production.
Switzerland is one of the eight-best teams in the world? I thought the Swiss were snow people who despised international competition.
According to the FIFA rankings, they are the eighth best team, but like all things FIFA, these rankings are flawed. In reality, the Swiss are not nearly that good, that’s why the teams who get drawn into their group will be in great shape to advance. The Swiss are the gatekeepers to the Group of Life.
What are the other pots then?
So, Pot 1 is the seeded teams.
Pot 2 is Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Chile and Ecuador.
Pot 3 is the USMNT’s group.
Pot 4 is Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Russia.
Is it wrong that I giggle a little every time you say “pot”?
No. Homophones can be hilarious sometimes.
Hold up. There 7 teams in Pot 2 and 9 teams in Pot 4.
One team from the European pot will be drawn into Pot 2. It was expected that the lowest-ranked Euro team (France) would be added to Pot 2 ahead of time, but FIFA decided to instead choose from all of the Pot 4 teams at random.
This means that the Group of Death has the potential to be much more, uh, deathier. No more than two teams from Europe can be placed into the same group, so (stay with me here) the European team that gets put into Pot 2 will have to be drawn with one of the seeded teams from South America (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia) plus another Euro team from Pot 4, and that produces some absurd permutations.
Prior to that wrinkle, the most difficult potential group for the US (who are in Pot 3) was Brazil (Pot 1), the Netherlands (Pot 4) and either France or Ghana (Pot 2). Now, it’s Brazil, the Netherlands and Italy, aka the prohibitive favorite to win the World Cup, the 2010 World Cup runner up, and the 2006 World Cup champs, respectively.
So what are the chances that the US ends up in the Group(s) of Death?
Very high. It’s bad — hey I’m just trying to manage expectations. See, because the US is the best team in the worst pot, their group will automatically be one of the toughest, since there will likely be no weak team in it. Add to it the stupid regional set up, the bizarre top-8 seedings, and the lack of Cinderella (i.e. bad) teams that qualified, and you’re looking at some worrisome possibilities. There will likely be multiple groups of death this World Cup, so prepare yourselves for some disappointment on Friday.
Oh thanks now I hate the World Cup and it hasn’t even started yet. What’s the best case scenario?
A group with Switzerland, Algeria and Greece. By all rights the United States should own* those three teams (*Note: Greece is a registered asset of the European Union and cannot be bought, sold or owned by any other entity, they’ve tried.).
For a closer look at the three pots: Switzerland is far and away the preferred team from Pot 1, followed by Belgium and Colombia, though they aren’t pushovers by any means.
Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon, in that order, are probably the teams you want from Pot 2, and Ghana, Ivory Coast, Chile and the Euro-team are the ones to avoid.
Pot 4 contains the beatable teams of Greece, Croatia and Russia, plus the perennial favorites to self-destruct, England and France, so either of them would probably be okay too. Holland and Italy would be bad news.
Well if the draw is probably going to suck, is there any other reason to tune in?
That depends. Do you enjoy bizarre celebrity cameos, globally themed musical performances and interminably delayed announcements?
Then the World Cup draw is for you. It’s Selection Sunday if the unveiling of the brackets was preceded by 90 minutes of speeches and samba. Also, at the 2010 draw, Sepp Blatter enlisted a confused Charlize Theron to speak and do things for no reason.
Wait, who’s Sepp Blatter again?
The overtly corrupt head of FIFA. Imagine the creepy old guy at your public library if he had the resources and intentions of Lex Luthor.
I’d rather not. So how do I watch?
ESPN2, 11:30am on Friday.
Thanks, this was sort of helpful. Hey why don’t you ever blog anymore?
I have a extremely demanding job that requires-
Blah blah blah. Joe Biden has a blog. Is your job more demanding than his?
For the first time in four years,