I got up too early on Saturday morning, with our five year old, to watch the draw for the Football World Cup. (Let me re-phrase that: he was up anyway, so I was the only reluctant one in the equation).
Thanks to the magic of MySky we skipped through the 30+ minutes of pre-match faffing around, and caught up with the live action just in time for the draw itself.
We both booed when Mexico and USA got our preferred places in South Africa’s and England’s pools respectively. And cheered too loudly (there were others still enjoying a sleep in) when New Zealand was finally drawn – despite the mathematical certainty of that happening eventually.
Perhaps it was just relief at avoiding Brazil and Spain, the two remaining seeded teams still to come in the draw, the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the world, and obvious picks for eventual finalists (provided Portugal don’t stuff it up by winning their pool which would force them to play each other in the second round).
1. I think we “won” the draw.
Sure, beforehand there were an almost infinite number of permutations, some of which were much more attractive than what we got, but also very unlikely to actually eventuate.
If we just look at the other teams that were in our pot (aka the “bunny bucket”), it’s hard to argue that we’d be better off in any other pool:
We wouldn’t want to be in…
- North Korea’s pool with Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast (ranked #2, #5 and #16 in the world).
- Japan’s pool, with Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark (#3, #11 and #26).
- Honduras’ pool with Spain and Chile (#1 and #17).
- Australia’s pool with Germany and Serbia (#6 and #20).
- Mexico’s pool, with France and Uruguay (#7 and #19).
- South Korea’s pool with Argentina and Nigeria (#8 and #22).
The best alternative we could hope for would be USA’s pool with England and Algeria (#9 and #28).
The reason for this is simple. There was nobody in the draw that we would play and be confident of beating. The only other team to have qualified for the tournament with a lower world ranking is North Korea (and since they were in our pot they were never going to be in our pool).
2. Expect to be soundly beaten by both Paraguay and Slovakia.
Italy are ranked #4 in the world and are defending champions. Expectations will correctly be low when we play them.
But, I fear, by the time the matches actually start there will be a number of people who will expect to see the All Whites compete against the other two teams in our pool.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see it happen.
But to expect it would be misguided.
Paraguay are ranked #30 in the world. Slovakia are ranked #34. We are ranked #77, just ahead of Uganda and a place behind Uzbekistan.
To draw a comparison with rugby, the #77 ranked team is Solomon Islands. However, that’s misleading since there are only 95 teams in the IRB rankings, compared to 207 in the FIFA rankings (there are five teams tied in 203rd= place, including American Samoa and Papua New Guinea – giving a good guide to the quality of opposition that we needed to beat out to be Oceania champs!)
So, the equivalent match ups in rugby would be Hong Kong (#34) vs Japan (#13) and Tonga (#15).
Spare a thought for the 46 countries ranked higher than us who didn’t even qualify for the finals. Imagine if Hong Kong qualified for the rugby world cup but France didn’t – Croatia, ranked 10th in the football world will not be in South Africa, but we will.
We should consider ourselves lucky to score nil.
3. France 1, FIFA 0.
I know that Frace played poorly in the qualifying tournament, and were lucky (pronounced “cheat-y” in Irish) to be there at all.
However, having qualified they should have been a seeded team. They are ranked #7 in the world, ahead of Argentina (who hardly strolled through qualifying themselves), England and South Africa who were all seeded.
I can understand that the organisers wanted to ensure that South Africa played at pre-determined venues and in pre-determined matches, but there are lots of other ways they could have orchestrated that – for example, simply by mandating that whichever pool South Africa was drawn in would be considered Pool A, swapping place with whatever pool they were naturally drawn in.
France got screwed by the FIFA seedings, so the fact that they ended up as the strong favourite to win their pool anyway can only be put down to karma.
4. England, optimistic as ever.
Here is my favourite quote from coverage of the draw, from The Guardian:
“In the last two decades England have limped home from Italy (1990), traipsed back from France (1998), stumbled west from Japan (2002) and sounded the retreat from Germany (2006), where Wayne Rooney as sent off in a quarter-final defeat to Portugal. Next summer’s competition therefore presents a fresh opportunity: to be knocked-out on a whole new continent, in winter time, rather than the clammy temperatures that help redden faces, along with the tears.”
I know we like to think that the All Blacks are the rugby equivalent of Brazil, but you have to admit, when it comes to the supporters’ expectations especially there are a lot of similarities with England too.
According to the TAB, England are now third favourites, behind only Spain and Brazil. Yes, they have a relatively easy pool, which they should top. And, provided that Germany finish top in Australia’s pool they will have a second round match they will expect to win too – most likely against Serbia. But, from there it gets a lot tougher. Their quarter final opponent would probably be one of France, Nigeria or Argentina (the ol’ nemesis). Two other teams on their side of the draw, and likely semi final opponents, if they get that far, are Netherlands and Brazil.
I think that either Netherlands, currently paying $13, is a better bet than England at $7, but wouldn’t it be good to see them prove me wrong!
If results go according to rankings, the later knock out stages will be:
France v England
Netherlands v Brazil
Argentina v Germany
Italy v Spain
France v Brazil
Germany v Spain
Brazil v Spain
I guess I shouldn’t plan on too much sleep during July next year then?
Here’s a question for you: next year, if you could attend one of a) Winter Olympics, b) Commonwealth Games, or c) World Cup, what would it be?