December 5, 2009

Drawing the World’s interest

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited over the drawing of random ping-pong balls as I was yesterday afternoon. With teams being drawn into groups for next summer’s World Cup, how could you not be excited? It really marked the kickoff to the excitement of the biggest tournament in all of sports — a tournament that started with over 200 nations and has now boiled down to the 32 best.

So how did things work out? Well here’s the draw. As for what I think…

— OK, Charlize Theron is hot and from South Africa, the host nation. But I have no idea was she was even allowed to talk while on stage. Her interactions with FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke were robotic. There was no chemistry and no humour when they attempted it and the event might have run more smoothly if she had simply been drawing from a pot.

— Talk about a Group of Death; Brazil leads Group G which also features the best team to not get its’ own group, Portugal and the Ivory Coast, perhaps the biggest threat out of the African nations. Having one of those three teams be dismissed along with the hopeless North Koreans will be a sad story.

— The United States seem quite content to be drawn into a group with England, Slovenia and Algeria, but I wouldn’t get those hopes up yet. Assuming the Algerians are simple fodder, should the U.S. fall in their first game to England and then defeat Slovenia, they could need the already clinched Brits to defeat Slovenia with a resting squad. This scenario isn’t exactly a cinch for the States.

— For a team that was a handball goal away from elimination to Ireland, the French sure got lucky again with their draw. They shouldn’t have any trouble in a group with Mexico, the hosts and Uruguay. The Irish should be even more incensed now.

— Also with some easy rides, Italy and Spain should have no trouble advancing to the round of 16. Spain’s real problems would start there though, being put into a quarterfinal with one of the Group G teams, most likely Portugal.

— If there was one team I didn’t want my Germans to face, it was the Australians. There’s no more likable team in my eyes than the Socceroos, who declined to take the easy path in qualifications by leaving Oceania to ply their trade on the much tougher Asian route.

After looking at the odds to win it all, there are some decent plays to be made.

— France, at 14-1, shouldn’t have a tough game until a possible match with England in the quarters.
— Argentina, at 9-1, is a stay away. They’ve done little to show the world they’re ready for the big stage and stumbled during qualifying.
— Denmark, at 80-1 is a decent longshot bet. The Danes surprised in qualifying and have a relatively easy group if they can contend with the Dutch.
— Nigeria, at 100-1, could be the best play of all the African nations. One of the teams from the dark continent will surprise, but the problem is picking that one out.

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