The World Cup 2006 draw is in and once again the US has been placed in a group with two European sides, just as happened in 1994, '98 and '02. This draw, however, is the worst of the bunch because the US doesn't have two decent Euro teams (see '94: Switzerland, Romania; '02: Portugal, Poland); instead it has a quadrennial superpower, Italy, and the #2 team in the world (Czech Republic)! There is no way that a four-team group for the World Cup should have not only one of the eight "seeded" teams that are given preference as most likely to win the Cup, but also TWO of the top TEN in the World.
Here's the overall draw, which demonstrates how an undeserving Mexico benefitted from its seeding, while both the US and the Czechs were screwed; my comments are beneath each group:
Not a complete cakewalk for the Germans, but only because Poland should give them some trouble. Nonetheless, Germany and Poland should advance; Ecuador has a chance.
Trinidad & Tobago
Easy pickings for the English and the Swedes, two of Europe's better teams. Justice means that the two will face each other first, not last, to add drama because each Euro squad will likely drub the other two.
Serbia & Montenegro
One of the two "group of death" groups: CONMEBOL runner-up and powerhouse Argentina plus two UEFA group winners in S&M (which topped a group that included Spain) and World #3 Netherlands. Poor Ivory Coast, in its first ever Cup.
This is why Mexico's seeding is preposterous -- the US credentials are better and the blasted Mexicans get this candy-a** draw. Portugal may be Mexico's equal, but who cares b/c the top two go through and the other teams cannot compete.
The other group of death: Italy is #13 in the world and its history landed it a "seed" more than recent results; nonetheless, the Azzurri always do enough to get to the playoff rounds, then put on a run. The Czechs have no World Cup pedigree, but they are #2 in the World (even though Netherlands beat the Czechs twice in UEFA qualifying and won that group). The US won CONCACAF. The Ghanaians are fresh meat. The US needs to whip Ghana and either pull off two draws (ties) or beat the Czechs. This is rough going for the US.
A stroll in the park for Brazil, whose second-team could win most groups. Croatia is tough but Australia is the dark horse -- all of its players have European professional experience and the Aussies knocked off South American contender Uruguay to get this far.
If the SoKors can play as tough as they did at home in '02, this becomes interesting because France is solid, but far down from 1998 and the Swiss are good, but not great. This is a similar group to the one the SoKors won in '02. Togo is lost at sea.
This could be a full-on dogfight because Tunisia is typically one of the better African sides, Spain has a penchant for choking and Ukraine is very good, led by 2004 European Footballer of the Year Andrei Shevchenko. Everyone but Saudi getting two wins and a loss (with the Saudis losing all three matches) is plausible. Ukraine was the first Euro team to qualify, and it'd be a surprise if it didn't advance.
There you have it: the US screwed, the Czechs and Dutch screwed, Spain slotted in a group that should challenge it, while Mexico, Germany, England and Sweden can punch their tickets to the knockout rounds before kicking off.