The draw for the 2010 World Cup has just been completed. It populated the eight groups of four teams that will compete to make the Round of 16. Two teams from each of the eight groups will make it to that round.
The two teams I will be rooting for — the U.S. and England — ended up in the same Group. Moreover, both caught what looks like a big break when the other two teams for their Group came up as Algeria and Slovenia.
It’s always dicey to comment on the strength of these groups at this early stage. The World Cup is half a year off and most of the teams have yet to take on a definite shape. Moreover, how much do any of us really know about the strengths and weaknesses of, say, the Algerian national team?
Nonetheless, it is more than mere speculation to be happy with the draw. The two slots taken by Slovenia and Algeria were, by rule, allocated to a European team and a team from either Africa or South America. Slovenia just barely qualified for the World Cup and, since the break-up of Yugoslavia, has not won in six matches at this level (World Cup or European Championship). At a minimum, moreover, the U.S. and England have avoided giants France and Portugal.
As to the Africa-South America pool, my view is that the black African teams — Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Cameroon — are the ones to avoid. I don’t expect all of them to excel in Sourth Africa, but I think at least two of them will be strong. Algeria might be strong too. They squeaked past Egypt to qualify, and Egypt has been a major force in Africa recently. However, historically it has been the black African teams who have made a mark at the World Cup. North African teams traditionally go out quietly (though way back in 1982 Algeria appeared to go out as the result of collusion between West Germany and Austria — the “non-aggression pact of Gijon”).
As a bonus, the U.S. and England avoided Paraguay. During South American qualifying, Paraguay was clearly the best of the three teams that were eligble to be drawn with England (Brazil and Argentina were not eligible, since all were among the eight seeds; however Paraguay finished ahead of Argentina in qualifying).
Finally, the U.S. can probably consider itself particularly lucky because England looks to be among the weaker of the eight top seeds. England seems less lucky; the U.S. is a solid team within the pot — North American, Asia, and Oceania — from which it was drawn
Here are the eight groups:
Group A — South Africa, Mexico, Uruquay, France
Group B — Argentina, South Korea, Nigeria, Greece
Group C — England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D — Germany, Australia, Ghana, Serbia
Group E — Holland, Japan, Cameroon, Denmark
Group F — Italy, New Zealand, Paraguay, Slovakia
Group G — Brazil, South Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H — Spain, Honduras, Chile, Switzerland
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