Four years ago, this cover (right) from The Sun got under the skin protecting U.S. soccer’s rumored chipped shoulder, the English press’s “Phew” describing a draw that placed the Three Lions with Algeria, Slovenia, and the United States for South Africa 2010. Joke was on them: England would go on to finish second in a group that was always likely to be weak. After all, the packet’s seeded team was one of the least threatening in the tournament.
We’ve talked about it before, but you just can’t have a Group of
Death Pain if it’s seeded team doesn’t inspire fear, and with four of Brazil 2014’s teams either questionable (Switzerland), promising but unproven (Belgium, Colombia) or unconvincing in 2013 (Uruguay), there are a lot of ways to avoid an particularly difficult group. Especially since a good-but-not-great teams like Bosnia, Croatia, Greece and Russia could be pulled from the European bucket to take up new residence in Pot Two for the draw, there’s a good chance the United States will avoid one of the worst case scenarios.
But say the U.S. gets unlucky and that roughly 1-in-8 chance of an eye-bulger comes good on Friday. Say the U.S. will have to navigate Spain, Chile, and Italy to get to another knock out round. The odds would certainly be against the team advancing out of their group, but in light of what happened in 2010, it would hardly be cause to rue the unfair nature of World Cup draws. The U.S.’s group for South Africa was one of the easiest draws any team could have hoped for. Should a team expect to get those kinds of breaks every time they qualify for a World Cup?
It would be nice if we could find a way to make these groups as even as possible. FIFA should keep working toward that, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Until then, some teams will get easy draws, while others will get hard ones. It would be nice if the same teams didn’t always get primrose paths, just like we don’t want the same nations always being undone by overly tough opposition. Ideally, things would even out.
Regardless, it’s curious that so much more attention is paid to the Group of Pain, though it seems like human nature to do so. I alluded to that mythical shoulder chip U.S. soccer is supposed to carry around, but elsewhere in the soccer world there’s also more attention paid to nightmare draws than easy roads. This isn’t just stateside paranoia. When it comes to draw scenarios, everybody fixates on the bad to the exclusion of the good.
And although those other places tend to have an undo disregard for U.S. Soccer, it’s worth noting: Many parts of the world would have a hard time considering a draw with the United States as a Group of Death. Reputation being what it is, many are going to look at Pot Three and see Mexico and Asia’s champions (Japan) as the danger teams, with the U.S. as a plucky yet limited side. What we in the U.S. see as a Group of Death might be a regular draw to the rest of the soccer world.
But if you’re U.S. focused and wary of that Group of Pain, Friday will start to get interesting when Pot Two is drawn. If there’s a strong European team (Italy, Netherlands, or Portugal), they’ll join Chile, Ivory Coast, Ghana and (to a lesser extent) Nigeria as the danger squads. Whichever are drawn with Brazil, Spain, Germany, or Argentina will quickly form the groups to avoid. When final pot is drawn, U.S. fans should hope to miss those same strong European sides. At least two will still be Pot Four.
You could also elect to spend the next two-plus days thinking about the best case scenarios, though. While all the seeded teams will be tough, being drawn with Switzerland, Colombia or Uruguay would be considered a minor victory, especially if Pot Two has already revealed Algeria, Cameroon, or Ecuador. While there’s no particular reason to believe that’s how the draw will play out, it could prove a nice alternative to this week’s inevitable Group of D—- talk.
Teams to “want” on Friday:
- Group A: Switzerland, Colombia, Uruguay
- Group B: Algeria, Cameroon, Ecuador, lesser European team, Nigeria
- Group D: Greece, England, Croatia, Bosnia, Russia