Tough draws and Groups of [Pain]: The math says we should just calm down


Earlier today, PST’s main man Joe Prince-Wright noted the potentially tough road the U.S. will have to travel next summer. But look at it this way:

Belgium just qualified for their first major tournament since 2002. Colombia hasn’t been to a World Cup since 1998. Uruguay needed a playoff to qualify for Brazil 2014, and a Switzerland, while possessing some enviable young team, is one of the most curious seeded teams in recent memory. Come Dec. 6 in Bahia, there’s a 50-50 chance the United States will be drawn with one of these teams.

All four of those teams are quality sides (particularly the Belgians), but where you’re talking about a Group of Death, you’re usually talking about a quartet with a seeded superpower. A Germany. A Spain. A Brazil or Argentina. Can you have a true Group of Pain without a superpower? No, because one of the other groups will have one.

(Note: I just decided to start calling it Group of Pain. Group of Death is morbid, unimaginative, and played out, though I’m sure we’ll get there with Group of Pain.)

 Keep this in mind when you see people talking about the U.S.’s upcoming draw. As the best team in CONCACAF, the U.S. have a better chance than most at being drawn into a perceived Group of Pain, but part of that is due to their quality, part of that is due to the fact that France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal are floating around among the unseeded Europeans.

But if you accept these stipulations for a Group of Pain …

  •  It will require one of the four “big” seeds (Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Spain), as well as
  • One of the four big non-seeded Europeans (France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal), and
  • (something we haven’t discussed yet) a team like Chile, Ghana, Ivory Coast, or Nigeria coming out of the last pot (assuming South America and Africa are bundled), then …

… you can do the math: Fifty percent chance of being drawn with a big seed; Fifty percent chance of being drawn with a big non-seeded European; Fifty percent chance of being drawn with a name out of the last pot. You’re talking about a one-in-eight chance of being in a/the Group of … Pain.

That said, the United States is almost destined to be put in a tough group. But guess what: It’s the World Cup. Most groups are tough, particularly for a team from CONCACAF, who have better odds than most of being drawn with two Europeans.

But tough groups aren’t Groups of Pain. Although there are exceptions, having three tough group stage games is just part of the competition.

Incidentally, I just did eight draws on that oh-so-popular draw simulator, here’s what I got:

  • US with … Uruguay, Cameroon, Italy
  • US with … Uruguay, Nigeria, Russia
  • US with … Brazil, Cameroon, Netherlands
  • US with … Belgium, Algeria, England
  • US with … Uruguay, Cote d’Ivoire, Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • US with … Uruguay, Cote d’Ivoire, Italy
  • US with … Germany, Ecuador, Russia
  • US with … Spain, Ecuador, Portugal

They’re all tough, but where I was expecting one “Argentina, Chile, Netherlands” combination, I got none, largely because there was always a 50-50 chance the U.S. would miss a big seeded team. With every simulation, there was always a more difficult group (though looking at other people’s draws, that’s not always the case). While that doesn’t guarantee anything on Dec. 6, the math tells us to keep calm and carry on.

Then again, your mileage may differ as to what constitutes a Group of …

Mexico has to solve 2 major questions before the World Cup

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Eighty-seven days before taking on Germany in its first match of Russia 2018, Mexico appears to have only two major lingering questions for the final 23-man roster that will try to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in a tournament away from home. Is veteran defender Rafael Marquez going to be called? And if Giovani Dos Santos’ lackluster performances put his spot in jeopardy?

Manager Juan Carlos Osorio said recently that he already knows who are going to join him in the quest to play in the fifth game of a World Cup, something that Mexicans achieved only as hosts in Mexico 1970 and in 1986.

Currently, 20 of the 28 players that were called to play friendly matches against Iceland and Croatia appear to have their ticket booked for Russia, leaving a handful of players fighting for three roster spots.


With over two decades playing for the national team, Marquez might not play in a fifth World Cup for two reasons, the major one off the field.

Each week, the 39-year old Marquez shows signs of his demise. His team Atlas is the worst in the league and has a defense that has allowed 22 goals in 12 matches.

In Mexico there’s a big debate on whether it’s worth calling a player whose best moments are behind him.

Marquez is worshipped in the locker room because most of his teammates grew up watching him when he won the Champions League playing for Barcelona (2005-06 and 2008-09).

Besides that, Osorio has to weigh in that Marquez was sanctioned last August by the U.S. Treasury for allegedly acting as a front person for a Mexican drug lord.

Marquez stopped playing for three months to take care of the issue and returned to action in Mexico but the Treasury has not lifted the sanctions yet and Marquez is unable to play in the United States and that’s why he was not called for the friendly matches.


A 28 year-old player as talented as Giovani Dos Santos should be a lock to be on the final roster for Mexico but that’s not the case. Dos Santos, who played in South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, has not performed well for Mexico under Osorio, who loved the player and has given him opportunities to return to form, but that has not happen.

A recent injury left Dos Santos out of the squad that will play against Iceland and Croatia and that opened the doors for Rodolfo Pizarro, who has been playing great for Chivas and has a good chance of taking the spot if the L.A. Galaxy striker continues with his lackluster performance.


Taking the qualifiers and the Confederations Cup as a reference, Osorio pretty much has his roster set for the World Cup. Guillermo Ochoa and Jesus Corona will be two of the goalkeepers and Alfredo Talavera is probably the third. The defenders Nestor Araujo, Jesus Gallardo, Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo are also favorites of the Colombian manager, as well as the midfielders Jonathan Dos Santos, Marco Fabian, Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera and Javier Aquino. On the attack, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, Javier Hernandez, Raul Jim�nez, Hirving Lozano, Oribe Peralta and Carlos Vela appear to have their spots secured leaving only three spaces.

Fighting for that chance are: Hugo Ayala, who’s been stellar for a Tigres team that has won two of the last three titles in Mexico; Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas), who played in last year’s Confederations Cup and Edson Alvarez (America), who’s not playing much for his club but Osorio loves his style of play and the fact that he can also play as a midfielder.

Midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez is also on the mix after declining to play for the U.S. and Omar Govea, who plays for Royal Excel in the Belgium league, has gathered interest from Osorio.

All five players will have a chance to present their cases in the upcoming friendly matches.

Battle-tested United could turn attention to Neymar this summer

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Last summer’s drama surrounding Neymar could be nothing compared to what is in store for the Brazilian in 2018.

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Diario Gol is reporting that Manchester United is exploring the possibility of making a bid for Neymar this summer, which would come at a record fee for the Premier League side.

The report suggests United would be willing to pay over $367 million for the Paris Saint-Germain star, while possibly sending Paul Pogba to the French giants in the swap.

Neymar, who joined PSG in 2017 after a messy ending at Barcelona, has been heavily linked to his former’s side bitter rival Real Madrid

Man United boss Jose Mourinho is reportedly keen on the move for Neymar after the club’s signing of Alexis Sanchez didn’t live up to the billing.

The Chilean international has scored just once in 10 appearances for the Red Devils, and Mourinho has let it be known that he wasn’t pleased with the player after United crashed out of the UEFA Champions League against Sevilla.

Meanwhile, Pogba’s relationship with the Portuguese manager has been anything but steady in their time together at Old Trafford, making the reality of the French midfielder leaving Manchester a strong one.

Nothing has been indicated for certain that Neymar will leave PSG following the World Cup in Russia, but all signs are pointing to the currently-injured attacker moving from the Parc des Princes.

Report: Conte, Pirlo could spearhead Italy managerial team

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Various nations are still mourning their failure of missing out on the 2018 World Cup, but arguably none bigger than powerhouse Italy.

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The Azzurri, who lost to Sweden in a UEFA playoff series in 2017, will not take part in soccer’s most-prestigious competition in Russia for the first time since 1958.

Former manager Gian Piero Ventura has received heavy criticism for the nation’s failure, and stepped down from his role as head coach immediately after Italy’s dismissal from World Cup qualifying.

A familiar face could now be in line to replace Ventura though, as Football Italia reports that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte could make a return to the Azzurri.

Conte remains under contract at Stamford Bridge, however, Chelsea’s dip in form this season after winning the title in 2016/17 has many speculating that the Italian won’t survive to coach the Blues next year.

Meanwhile, Italian legend Andrea Pirlo has also expressed his interest in joining the technical staff if Conte is appointed.

The two have a close history together from their days with the national team and at Juventus.

In addition to Conte, Carlo Ancelotti is reportedly being considered for the job as well, and Pirlo is believed to be willing to join the managerial staff is the former Bayern Munich coach is hired.

Former Sevilla player Diego Capel training with Sounders

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A former Sevilla star is training in MLS, as the veteran midfielder looks to continue his career stateside.

Diego Capel was spotted training with the Seattle Sounders on Thursday, despite club manager Brian Schmetzer initially playing coy on who the player was.

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“We have a player that’s in camp,” Schmetzer said. “He’s a good player. He’s probably worn the number 10 in his career. Maybe as a youth player. Maybe it’s just a player borrowing Nico’s jersey.”

The Sounders have suffered several major injuries in their attack to start the 2018 MLS season, which also contributed to the team’s derailment in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

While Capel traditionally has played on the wing throughout his career, the Sounders could use all the help they can get in the attacking third.

Jordan Morris has already been ruled out for the season with an ACL tear, while Nicolas Lodeiro and Will Bruin are currently sidelined for the club with respective injuries.

Capel came up through the ranks of Sevilla, while also playing for notable European sides such as Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht.

The 30-year-old last played for the Belgian side in 2017, but has been a free agent since.