Seven days and counting before the draw in Cape Town: let’s take a closer look at the structure of the draw to see if any easy to spot but almost certainly ill-judged conclusions emerge.
First things first; there will be eight groups comprised of one team from each of the four pots. The pots will probably follow the pattern set out here on November 19th.
So the top seven teams and South Africa will be seeded in Pot 1. Pot 2 will consist of the remaining UEFA qualifiers. Pots 3 and 4 will include the Asian, South American and North, Central American and Caribbean qualifiers. No pot can contain more than two teams from the same geographical area.
Next, tradition dictates that the host nation kicks off the tournament. Since the first game is the Group A clash on June 11th between teams A1 and A2, and the No 1 team in each group is the seed, it is fair to assume South Africa are A1. That’s the probable bare facts out of the way. Now for the speculation.
We don’t yet know whether the other seeds will be placed in alphabetical order. If they are this is what will happen:
Group B: Argentina
Group C: Brazil
Group D: England
Group E: French 2012 Olympic Handball Team / The Netherlands
Group F: Germany
Group G: Italy
Group H: Spain
Obviously this may not be how the seeds are drawn at all. But an intriguing scenario awaits us if I am proved wrong – and it has to do with the two sides of the draw. Whoever qualifies from the group stage, only teams from groups A – D can play each other in the last 16. This obviously means only teams from groups E – H can meet in the last 16. The pattern repeats itself in the quarter finals, when teams can once again only play sides from their half of the draw. The semis are the first opportunity for the fancied teams from either half of the draw to meet.
An example: England are Group D seeds. They win the group and take on the second placed team from Group C in the last 16. England prevail and then face the winners of the match between the winners of Group B and the second placed Group A side in the quarters. Let’s say this is Argentina and no-one fancies them to go through. England win and take on the top seed from either Group F (Germany) or Group H (Spain). Then it’s the final... (well, I can dream, can’t I?).
And what’s the upshot of all this hypothesising? If all goes to plan, Brazil and Spain, sorry, Brazil and England, will meet in the final. This can only happen if the seeds are drawn in alphabetical order or a random draw puts Brazil and Spain on a converging route to the final. Such a random draw could obviously throw up all kinds of other alternative possibilities which FIFA may not appreciate, such as Brazil meeting Spain in the quarter finals. I will watch this anytime but you have to wonder whether FIFA would be quite so enthusiastic.
Let’s wait and see if the extraordinary FIFA meeting on December 2nd offers any clues ahead of the actual draw two days later.
Everyone in England “thinks they know it already and that it’s their job to set the author right”. So says Simon Kuper, author of Soccernomics, in a Q&A session with the New York Times. Kuper has lots to say about football in France, Lyon especially, the methods Guss Hiddink uses to coach difficult players, and the belief that “England will now fulfill its destiny to win [in South Africa]. It is ludicrous,” says Kuper.
A little known legal challenge which threatened Chile’s place at the World Cup has been resolved. The problem began when Rangers disputed their relegation from the Clausura championship. It seems they fielded one too many foreign players under the Clausura's 6+5 rule and were docked three points. The move consigned Rangers to automatic relegation, a prospect they weren’t exactly thrilled by. So they mounted a desperate legal challenge which forced the play-offs for relegation and promotion, plus the championship's semi-finals, to be put on hold.
The conflict seemed set to drag on indefinitely until FIFA sent a letter to the ANFP, Chile's football association. The matter would go before FIFA’s Executive Committee next week, which had the power to suspend Chile for the World Cup, unless Rangers backed down. They did, and now we can all look forward to seeing ex-Liverpool winger Mark Gonzalez repeatedly falling over and losing the ball before being substituted. Hooray.
This at least means we won’t see the array of endorsements on Gonzalez’s shirt, which is more than can be said for the sturdy figure of John Terry. According to a report in today’s Independent, if Terry gets his way he could be wearing the footballing equivalent of a Boy Scout’s jumper next summer. The England captain’s new marketing company sent out a mass e-mail with the words “Want John Terry to endorse your brand?” in the email subject field. I’m already thinking of the fun we’ll have next summer waiting for Terry to namedrop his sponsors in interviews after games: “That was tough. Honduras are a good side and we really had to work hard. I’m gagging for a Smoothie.” It will happen.