I scrambled to get that post about the draw out earlier, so I thought I’d come back after sitting on it for a while and offer a few more post-draw thoughts.
-I don’t think the US could have asked for a much better draw than the one they got. And yes, I am including the possibility of drawing South Africa. Just look what happened to Mexico. They drew South Africa, followed by the best possible draw from Pot 3, Uruguay (since Algeria was now out of the picture). In their last draw, they got France–concensus “please God no” team from Pot 4. So even though they got what was regarded as the best possible seeded opponent and the best possible draw from South America, they are still left with a group that could give them trouble. France are…well, they’re France. Uruguay are a decent team that won in Costa Rica during their playoff. South Africa are the hosts. I hate to say it, but I would not be that surprised if Mexico failed to make it out of their group. We, on the other hand, have a difficult opener against England, followed by two very winnable games. I like our chances better than those of El Tri.
-I’d hate to jinx the team, but it’s only natural to look at who we might play in round two (if we were to make it through, of course). Unfortunately, it looks like we’d end up meeting one of the winners from Group D. This group contains Germany, Australia, Serbia, and Ghana. None of those teams are a nightmare, but there is also no chance of lucking out and getting an easy matchup with a return to the quarter-finals on the line.
-I’d like to retract my earlier statement that Group D–the one mentioned above–is this year’s Group of Death. I stand by the assertion that it is the most talented, top-to-bottom, but the fire-power of Group G is unparalleled. Brazil are arguably the best team in the world. The Ivory Coast are the best team out of Pot 3. Portugal are the highest ranked team not to be seeded. Korea DPR are the team most likely to walk away from this tournament with zero points and a double-digit goal differential in the red.
-This must be the first time we’ve ever been favored to make it out of our group. Surpising as that may sound, we’ve always had at least two teams in our group that were supposedly better than us. That said, we shouldn’t take advancing for granted. A word of advice to our team: Let’s be careful out there.
-Finally, we came across this brief article in the Times (London). It states:
The first opponent to emerge was one we hoped to avoid, the United States. Still, their high ranking is more about that they play the Leeward Islands more often than they play Brazil.
The first sentence is a little flattering. We were actually one of the strongest–if not the strongest–teams in our pot. The second sentence, on the other hand, is not only disrespectful, but factually incorrect. First of all, playing the minnows of CONCACAF is more risk than it’s worth. There is this misconception that “a win’s a win” in the FIFA rankings. It’s not. If that were the case, New Zealand would be (and Australia would have been) on top of the world with its constant abuse of the Oceanic countries. Because of the system’s weighting, beating St. Kitts would do absolutely nothing for us. Falling asleep and losing, however, would be devastating. Secondly–and more importantly–I reviewed our match results back to 1998 (as far back as the USMNT website goes) and we have not played any of the Leeward Islands during this time. We have, however, played Brazil seven times. I understand the spirit of the comment–we play a lot of “weaker” countries from CONCACAF–but it’s not as bad as most outsiders seem to think. The last time we played a truly horrible team–Andorra or Faroe Islands bad, in UEFA terms–was Barbados in June of ’08. This year, outside of World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup, we have played Sweden, two UEFA qualifying group winners, the two-time reigning African champions, the reigning world champions, the reigning European champions, and Brazil twice. I can admit that our climb up the rankings prior to World Cup ’06 was ridiculous, but we are currently 14th in the world. Is that really such a stretch? How many teams could there possibly be sitting behind us that are “definitely better”. What bugs me most is you never hear this argument directed towards Mexico. Despite the fact that we consistently beat them and won CONCACAF’s qualifying hexagonal over them, their ranking is deserved and ours is an unwanted byproduct of the FIFA ranking system. Why can’t the rest of the world wrap their heads around the fact that we’re just not that bad anymore?