Friday, December 6, 2013

World Cup Draw

Well, today's World Cup draw went about as bad as it could have for the U.S.  The worst possible draw for the Yanks from Pots 1 and 4 (based on FIFA ranking) would have been Spain and Portugal, the draw was Germany and Portugal.  Germany was the second worst choice in Pot 1.  To round out the group the Americans got their recent nemesis, Ghana, essentially the 3rd worst choice in a tie with Ecuador from Pot 2.  The U.S. was the highest ranked team in its Pot, leaving a group of the 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 4th top teams from the pots.  Added to that is that the U.S. was drawn into the 4th spot in the group, tying them with Italy for the worst travel schedule in the Cup.

That's the bad news.  The good news is the order of the games and that the travel isn't as bad as it first appears if the USSF makes an important move.  The U.S. starts off facing Ghana in Natal, then takes the long trip into the jungle to face Portugal in Manaus, before finishing the group stage against Germany in Recife.  This is probably the best order we could hope for.  Ghana is a must win game and we get it first while Germany hopefully gets 3 points off Portugal.  Assuming we get the 3 points we need we can fly to Manaus and try to take Ronaldo out of the game and get a draw while Germany probably beats Ghana.  That leaves the U.S. in a spot where the worst case scenario is a loss to Germany while Portugal beats Ghana, with goal differential being the tiebreaker between the Yanks and the Portuguese, and the best case being a Germany squad that's already qualified resting up a bit and the U.S. stealing a point and 2nd place.

Natal and Recife are 175 miles apart, essentially the same as Seattle to Portland.  Manaus to Recife is 1760 miles, about the same as Denver to Boston.  So essentially this travel schedule is the same as a MLS team playing a Sunday game at home, flying to play a road game against the other conference on Friday night, and then playing back at home on the following Wednesday.  A rough schedule but one MLS teams regularly face.  The key for the U.S. is their training base in Brazil.  Currently the U.S. has arranged facilities outside Sao Paolo, which is in the southern part of Brazil, 1300 miles from Recife and almost 1700 miles from Manaus.  Adding that additional travel will hurt the Yanks.  What the USSF should do is find a new training camp on the northeast coast around Natal or Recife.  It should be relatively easy to find another team interested in the Sao Paolo training camp as there are a number of stadiums nearby that other teams are playing at but even if its not it would be wroth paying for two training camps just to cut down on the travel.

Here's a quick recap of the rest of the draw.  Bold are the teams I expect to go through, italics are the teams I want to go through.  Don't hold me to these predictions though, 6 months is a long time and player form could change a lot in that time.  I'll do antoher set of predictions in early June before the Cups starts.

Group A:

Clearly the hosts will get out of this group, and who wouldn't want to see that.  If I have a 2nd team in this competition its Cameroon, but they're not on form right now.  Despite struggling the last year Mexico will get it together and get out of this group, unfortunately.

Group B:

The group starts with a rematch of the 2010 final, but both teams will get out of the group.  I like Chile and they'll probably be favored to get out, but I see an upset here.  I'm tired of Spain.  Australia is going to be road kill.

Group C:
Ivory Coast

Japan could be a spoiler in this group, especially since they'll have good fan support (the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan is in Brazil), but I think the Colombians and the Elephants will take it.  I'm excited to see the Colombians play and I've enjoyed the Ivory Coast's play for a while.

Group D:
Costa Rica

With the exception of Costa Rica this is a tough group.  Being on their home continent Uruguay should win the group and England and Italy will battle it out for 2nd.  I think England under performs again and Italy takes it but I don't particularly care for either team so I'll root for the Ticos in a lost cause.

Group E:

Everyone sees the Swiss as the easy draw, which is probably true.  France and Ecuador seem likely to make it out of the group but I'll root for the dis-respected Swiss and our CONCACAF brethren.

Group F:

Argentina won't break a sweat getting out of the group and will almost have home games being in southern Brazil.  Nigeria will take second against the Bosnian newcomers, despite being an underdog to them, and a weak Iranian team.  Works for me.

Group G:
United States

Ah, the moment of truth.  Clearly Germany should win this group but which team finishes 2nd.  My heart is going with the U.S. but my brain is telling me I'm showing my bias.  I can't root for a second team in this group as the 2nd team will be whatever result will be best for the U.S.

Group H:
South Korea

Belgium and Russia are notably better than the other two teams in the group.  I've got to root for South Korea after 2002 though, and I'll pick Belgium over Russia to root for.  Algeria isn't really going to factor in.

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