***Note: I am writing this immediately BEFORE the World Cup draw***
FIFA is a patently corrupt organization. What other organization would make a habit of announcing the rules for a competition DURING that competition, which is exactly what FIFA does by determining the rules for the World Cup draw AFTER the qualified teams have been determined.
The draw happens in about an hour, and US fans are patiently awaiting our quadrennial screwing. But US fans should know: the screwing has already begun! And I can prove it with statistics! Here’s my logic…
It not only matters which names get drawn out of the pot – it matters into which pot you are placed. A quick primer for the uninitiated:
- There are eight groups in the World Cup, each with four teams. Those four teams are determined by drawing one ball each from four “pots”. Long story short: you will play one team from each of the other three pots, and you will play none of the teams from your own pot.
The first pot contains what FIFA determines (after the fact…sorry, France!) to be the best eight teams in the tournament. The US isn’t in that pot, and we don’t deserve to be. The fourth pot is the rest of the European teams. That leaves two pots for North America, South America (minus Brazil and Argentina), Africa (minus South Africa), Asia, and New Zealand.
Let’s use FIFA’s October rankings (which are notoriously weird, but are frankly as good as any other ranking system out there) to determine the relative strength of each federation. Please note: these are the same rankings that FIFA used to determine the seeded teams. It turns out that North America, South America, and Africa are virtually equally good:
North American teams’ average ranking: 22.3
South American teams’ average ranking (minus Brazil and Argentina, who are seeded): 22.0
African teams’ average ranking (minus South Africa, who are seeded): 22.8
The weak sister in the group is clearly Asia: the average ranking of the Asian teams is 50. New Zealand is ranked #77, and after watching the Confederations Cup and the playoff with Bahrain, I can’t believe that they’re ranked that high.
So, whichever team gets thrown in the same pot with the weaker Asian teams is at a huge disadvantage. It could have been any of the three equally strong federations, but it was us. Why is this a screw job? Because it was us last time, too.
Yes, CONCACAF (minus Mexico, who were seeded even though the US had a higher FIFA ranking) was also in the Asian pot in 2006. I’d say that it’s somebody else’s turn.
But wait! The screwing’s not quite over! FIFA also made out pot Pot 2. Why is this a screw job? Because it means that we will play the seeded team in our group first. You always want to play the seeded team in your group third: there is a good chance that the seeded team will have already qualified by the third game, at which point they will be playing second-stringers, and those second-stringers will be playing half-assed (mathematically, that’s one-fourth of the strength of the original squad). Being in Pot 2, we won’t have that opportunity. Shennanigans, I say!
Enough whining – I’m off to watch the draw. For the record, here’s how I rank each Pot:
1 – Brazil
2 – Spain
3 – Germany
4 – England
5 – Netherlands
6 – Italy
7 – Argentina
8 – South Africa
1 – US
2 – Mexico
3 – Australia
4 – South Korea
5 – Japan
6 – Honduras
7 – North Korea
8 – New Zealand
1 – Ivory Coast
2 – Paraguay
3 – Chile
4 – Ghana
5 – Cameroon
6 – Nigeria
7 – Uruguay
8 – Nigeria
1 – France
2 – Portugal
3 – Serbia
4 – Denmark
5 – Greece
6 – Switzerland
7 – Slovakia
8 – Slovenia
After the draw, I’m going to add up the rankings of each team. An average draw for the US would be a total of 13.5 (impossible, but you get the idea). Anything higher than that is a good draw; anything lower than that is a bad draw. Frankly, as long as we avoid France, Portugal, and Ivory Coast, I’ll be pretty happy.