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Friday, 09 December 2005

2561: World Cup 2006 Draw: Myths, fa


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by : Hugh Larkin

This Friday in Leipzig, all the competing nations find out who their opposition will be next summer. FIFA have moved in their usual murky way and only announced the seedings three days before the ceremony, which is par for the course. Certain other features of the draw will also be familiar.

The Hosts Get a Soft Draw

Germany can expect to find themselves in a group from which, despite ritual statements about not underestimating the opponents, it would be a disaster if the hosts didn’t progress.

It has always been thus. Witness England taking on France, Uruguay and Mexico in 1966; France battling past Denmark, South Africa and Saudi Arabia in 1998; or Italy playing Austria, Czechoslovakia and Cameroon in 1990. Although in 1990 of course, the best laid plans went a little astray because the ‘Indomitable Lions’ failed to read the script and gave the hosts a really hard time.

There Will be a Group of Death

‘Groups of Death’ are a relatively recent addition to the World Cup canon. The phrase really seems to have caught on when Scotland were jammed in with West Germany, Denmark and Uruguay at the 1986 Finals in Mexico. Scotland duly went out after playing some excellent stuff against the Germans and running into a Uruguayan side in ultra-cynical mode even by their standards.

Since 1986 journalists can’t wait to attach the title to at least one of the sections. It will include one of the unfortunate European sides that lost out on a seeding because of FIFA’s decision to make sure a side from outside Europe or South America has a seeded place. Teams like Holland and the Czech Republic lurking in Pot 3 are likely to be in a group of death.

The Proceedings Won’t Run to Time

Given the self-importance of the men who run FIFA and the overblown nature of the ceremony, expect it to take ages. Sepp Blatter will attempt a lot of complicated explanations and a lot of people wheeled on to draw those balls that look like Kinder Surprises, will look baffled.

It’s Never That Simple

So you get the teams divided into 4 pots and draw one from each pot. Simple? Well not that simple because FIFA doesn’t want a section with more than 2 European sides in it. So Serbia & Montenegro already know that they go into a group with a South American side as one of the seeds, which will involve a bit of the manipulation which FIFA love so much

And the teams in Pot 4 are all the eight lowest ranked teams? Well yes but because of their obsession with keeping sides from the same Continent apart the USA have been dumped there despite being ranked in the World’s top 10. No wonder groups of death emerge.

Grin and Bear it

Whatever desperately hard assignments are thrown up, the coaches of the main contenders will express themselves well satisfied with the draw. Whichever first timer ends up in Brazil’s group will be patronised to death about what a wonderful opportunity it must be for them and if it’s Trinidad and Tobago we can look forward to months of talk about ‘Samba meets Reggae’.

Hugh Larkin
7 December 2005

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