Which Seed Would be Best For the USA to Draw?


Live World Cup Draw

The United States will have one of the seeded sides in their group, and it is likely this side will be their first opponent, if Team 1 in the shadow schedule in fact equals the team from Pot 1 in that group. With FIFA however, nothing can be too relied on in advance obviously.

Those sides are hosts South Africa, Germany, Italy, England, Spain, Netherlands, Brazil and Argentina. So which would give the notoriously slow starting Americans the best chance of a point or three.

Hosts South Africa are nominally the weakest team but have home advantage. No home side has ever been eliminated at this stage and there is much debate about whether this would be a good draw or a bad one. Everton’s Steven Pienaar and Blackburn’s Benny McCarthy are the best known players, and MacBeth Sibaya plays for Russian champions Rubin Kazan. That apart, there is little track record to go on, and it may be that a well organised side can surprise the hosts in the opening game if that’s the way the chips fall.

Brazil are many people’s favourites, but then again they usually are. They qualified reasonably comfortably and look to be as well balanced a side as they have ever been at this stage. They topped the CONMEBOL 18 game marathon with nine wins and seven draws. Dani Alves, Kaka and Luis Fabiano play in the Spanish League, Lucas and Robinho in England, and the bulk of their defence plus forwards Alexandre Pato and Amauri in Italy. This one, along with Spain, may be the best seeds to avoid, especially if you are charged with playing them first, as the USA will probably have to.

In Europe, Italy, England, Spain and the Netherlands qualified at a canter. Germany were made to battle a little further by the Russians, and certainly their class of player seems to trail below those available to Domenech or Maradona. Other than Chelsea’s Michael Ballack, almost the entire squad plays its football in the German Bundesliga. You can take that as a sign they aren’t all that good, not good enough for the wealthier leagues like England and Italy, but you could also read into it that they will blend well, knowing each other’s games just that little bit better. Bayern’s Bastian Schweinsteiger is probably the next best known player along with his team mate Phillip Lahm.

The side to avoid may well be current European Champions Spain. Spain were the only European side to win all ten games in qualifying and outscored their opponents 28-5. Other than that defeat to the USA in the Confederations Cup, they have been practically unbeatable for four years. Before that, their last competitive loss was a 1-3 defeat to France in Hannover in the 2006 World Cup. Selecting the best of their squad is difficult as it exudes quality throughout. Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has over 100 caps and captains the side. And just running through the names may prompt you to head to the bookmakers, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta play their football in Spain’s La Liga. Fernando Torres and Cesc Fàbregas represent the EPL contingent in a very strong squad.

The Netherlands also won all their games but only had eight, due to being in the smaller group. It was also a very easy group and they haven’t really been challenged recently. This may serve them well as there will be a certain freshness about their play, although the Dutch have the occasional tendency to implode. Inter’s Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart of Real Madrid make up their better known qualities, although Milan’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar seems to be enjoying life in Serie A. Dirk Kuyt, Robin van Persie (fitness permitting) and Ryan Babbel will be familiar to EPL fans. They were fairly impressive too in Euro 2006 until confronted with an on form Russian side. Dressing room harmony has been a bigger issue for them in big tournaments but that usually only explodes in the latter rounds. This wouldn’t be the worst seed for the US to pull.

England will be the most familiar squad to American viewers due to the blanket coverage of the EPL here. Many US based fans have attached themselves to an English team. With Italian coach Fabio Capello in charge, they appear to have discovered a new maturity. An early 1-4 win in Croatia made their qualification a canter and they haven’t really been challenged since. The English media has declared this to be their best chance ever of winning the world cup, but it is to be borne in mind they do so every four years. Comparing their players to those of say Spain may highlight quite how tall an order that is. Steve Gerrard, Frank Lampard and David Beckham are veterans in the midfield but they may need the creativity of Joe Cole to change games when things aren’t going their way. Up front, they have Wayne Rooney who, if he has solved his disciplinary issues, may be their likeliest source of goals. But England’s downfall may be that too much of their strength is located in midfield, and they are nothing special up front or at the back. Given the strength of the rest, England would not be too bad a seed to draw.

The US met Italy in the Confederations Cup. Italy have a habit of qualifying poorly and being much better when they get there. Not so this time. They won seven and drew three of their ten games. Like Spain, they have a goalkeeper with a century of caps in Gianluigi Buffon. Defender Fabio Cannavaro also has a century of caps and Gianluca Zambrotta is only eight short. The theme of Milan and Juventus continues in midfield where Andrea Pirlo and Mauro Camoranesi represent an experienced heart. Up front, Fiorentina’s Alberto Gilardino has 16 goals in just 39 appearances, but coach Marcello Lippi is short of anyone else with international goals in double figures. Italy used to have a habit of starting slowly in these tournaments but have won their opening game in the last two World Cups. Of course the USA met them in 2006 in Kaiserslautern with three men being red carded in a 1-1 draw, Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope being the US transgressors.

If you take qualification form as a guide, Argentina and France qualified the poorest. Argentina crawled into fourth place in the massive ten team South American group. A last day 0-1 win in Uruguay secured a place but will not erode the memory of being hammered 6-1 in Bolivia. After the game, manager Diego Maradona launched an expletive ridden out burst at the Argentinean press, for which he has been fined by FIFA. They have some great players, like Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Atletico Madrid’s Maxi Rodríguez, Inter’s Javier Zanetti and Boca’s Martin Palermo and it remains to be seen whether Maradona can make a silk purse out of adequate silk purse components. Argentina could be either a train wreck or a magical mystery tour this world cup.

Other Dangers Lie in Pot 4

Argentina at least avoided a play-off. Not so unseeded France who finished runners up to Serbia in Group 7. They won six and drew three of their ten games, conceding only nine goals. In the play-off, they won 0-1 in Dublin, but were forced to go to extra time to avoid a penalty shoot out. Like Maradona, Coach Raymond Domenech has been accused of making an average side out of great players. Arsenal have the contingent of Mikaël Silvestre, William Gallas, and Abou Diaby, Patrice Evra plays for Manchester united and there is the Chelsea duo of Florient Malouda and Nicolas Anelka. Lassana Diarra and Karim Benzema play for Real Madrid and of course there is Barcelona’s Thierry Henry. Sebastien Le Toux’s former team mate Yoann Gourcuff will also likely be there, as will his Bordeaux colleague Alou Diarra. Slovenia conceded only four goals in their ten games and should also be avoided from Pot 4, as should Portugal although the Americans have beaten them before, famously 3-2 in Suwon in 2002.

Also see:

Bobby McMahon Podcast Interview: USA Will Go Through


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