Nervousness and stress are bound to take over the senses for most American soccer fans on Friday when FIFA draws 32 nations into eight groups for this summer's World Cup in Brazil from Salvador de Bahia.
The U.S, who have qualified for their seventh straight World Cup, look like statistical victims of FIFA's newest drawing system which favors recent, rather than historical, international powerhouses.
FIFA decided that the top seven teams from the October 2013 World Ranking would be the the seeded teams, along with the hosts, Brazil, rather than teams who are both currently strong and have a history of high finishes at the World Cup. That means that former winners England, Italy, France, 2010 runners-up Holland, and a slew of other teams could be drawn into what will likely already be a group of death for the U.S.
The U.S. will be drawn from Pot 3, along with their continental co-qualifiers Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, and Asian qualifiers Australia, Japan, Korea Republic, and Iran. The seeded teams, which are all in Pot 1, are Brazil, Germany, Colombia, Argentina, Switzerland, Uruguay, Spain, and Belgium.
Pot 2 consists of South American qualifiers Chile and Ecuador, plus African qualifiers Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. Nine European nations, including the aforementioned former world champions, make up the fourth and final pot.
On Friday, the drawing will start with Pot 1 and finish sequentially with Pot 4. There will be no continental clashes within the groups, save for the possibility of having two European teams.
There won't be an easy group for any team, especially the U.S. There are, however, some scenarios that are more desirable than others. The U.S. will hope to get drawn into a group with either Switzerland or Uruguay since neither of those teams has star players and would be a close match-up for the Yanks.
The U.S. will want to avoid Brazil at all costs. As hosts, they have the home field advantage no matter where they play. They also haven't lost a World Cup group match since 1998 and are unbeaten in competitive matches at home since 1975.
Spain, Germany, and Argentina would be difficult draws as well. Spain is currently ranked number one in the world, are defending champions, and won the last two European Championships. Germany reached every World Cup knockout round since 1930, are three-time champions, and have finished in the top three of the last three World Cups. Argentina are two-time champions and haven't missed the knockout round since they failed to qualify in 1970. The U.S. boasts a bleak 6-15-2 record against this trio of teams.
African, Asian, and South American teams generally provide the U.S. with a stiff challenge. But the U.S.' group will be fairly straightforward, no matter which Pot 2 team they draw, if they can stay clear from most of the seeded teams and a majority of the European nations in Pot 4. Nevertheless, this is all easier said than done.
The worse case scenario, according to the recent FIFA rankings, would be the U.S. getting drawn into a group with Spain, Chile, and Italy. Their record against that trio is 5-12-3.
The best case scenario is getting drawn with Switzerland, Cameroon, and Russia. Ironically, the U.S,' record against that trio is 0-6-7. But there is no question that this hypothetical group would be more navigable than the absolute worst case scenario.
The U.S. have only qualified for the knockout round in four of the nine World Cups they've attended. They have an even 3-3-0 record in World Cups in South America, though they haven't competed in one since Brazil 1950.
Odds do not play in the U.S.' favor for this draw. There is only a 25 percent chance that they draw either Switzerland or Uruguay as their seeded team. There is also a 62.5 percent chance that they end up with a non-seeded European team that isn't either Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Croatia.
U.S. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmman has been one of many voices who has lashed out at FIFA for their new drawing scheme. But FIFA appears to be looking for more exciting, competitive matches.
In the past, most groups would feature two teams that were expected to reach the knockout round. The draw would only produce one or two groups that were dubbed "the group of death" because of the parity of their teams.
This summer could feature eight groups of death and a knockout round that is dominated completely by European and South American teams. Imagine a group that includes Brazil, Ghana, Japan, and Italy. Or Germany, Ivory Coast, USA, and Netherlands. Or Spain, Chile, Korea Republic, and Portugal.
With tension set to sweep Salvador de Bahia as all 32 nations await their summertime fates, this World Cup could be the most difficult to call in history.
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