The World Cup draw is set and man, it’s a tough one for the US men’s national team. And for England and Italy and Uruguay. And for Spain and Netherlands and Chile. Like we expected, the draw produced several very difficult groups.
Who is happy after the draw? Certainly France, who ended up in the very soft Group E, with Switzerland (the weakest seed), Honduras and Ecuador. Probably Colombia, who have a very favorable path through to the Round of 16 through Greece, Cote d’Ivoire and Japan. Mexico, who despite drawing the Brazilians at home have relatively weak competition for the second spot in Group A. Argentina and Belgium would have to like their chances, but also perhaps will Russia, South Korea, Bosnia, and Nigeria.
The three “death” groups should be a joy to watch as a neutral. In Group B, you have a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final (Spain vs. Netherlands), plus the very good Chile playing on familiar ground in South America, and the hapless Aussies, who will be lucky to score a goal, let alone get a point. I wouldn’t be surprised if this group is still up for grabs in the last minutes of injury time of the third set of matches.
Group D is sick, too, featuring three former World Cup champions. Uruguay (two-time cup winners; 4th place in 2010), led by Liverpool’s red-hot Louis Suarez and PSG’s Edinson Cavani, join England (winner in 1966) and Italy (winners in 1934, 1938, 1982, & 2006). Costa Rica is no push-over, although they look overmatched in this group. This feels like the strongest group for me.
And then there is Group G. Germany (three-time Cup winners, four-time runners up), Portugal (4th place in 2006), USA and Ghana. All Round of 16 teams in 2010. Featuring arguably the best player in the world, Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo. Add to that the layers of psycho-drama: USA’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann facing his protege Jogi Low and the German national team on which he earned over 100 caps; USA facing World Cup nemesis Ghana, who eliminated the Yanks from the tournament in both 2006 and 2010.
The draw puts Germany and Brazil on the same side of the elimination brackets (assuming they both win their groups) and hands them both a relatively easy path to a potentially epic semi-final. On the other side of the bracket, assuming the higher-ranked teams progress, Spain and Argentina would be the favorites for the second semi-final, but with tougher paths to get there: Spain would probably get Mexico and then Uruguay; Argentina would get France or Switzerland and then Belgium.
On paper you’d have to put money on a Brazil-Spain final. But I’m not so sure. While I over-estimated Argentina in 2010, they will benefit from geography and better coaching in 2014, as well as a really easy group stage. Germany may also be better than Brazil, although Brazil at home is a frightening concept. Defending champion Spain may not even get out of Group B. And while everyone is assuming that Belgium will fade in the elimination round, man for man, they may be one of the most stacked sides in the tournament.
Can the USA advance from Group G? They would probably need 3 points against Ghana and a point from Portugal (in the Amazon jungle) to have a chance. USA lost to Ghana 2-1 in 2006 group play and 2-1 in an extra-time thriller in the 2010 Round of 16. USA beat Portugal 3-2 in the 2002 group stage. Portugal is not up to their historical standards — arguably they are a one-man team. So it’s not unimaginable. But considering that we were one ball away — 50/50 — from ending up in the group with Belgium, Algeria and Russia, the draw was a gut-punch for Klinsmann and Team USA.