Tuesday, December 06, 2005

More soccer dopeyness

Ah, another day with World Cup news, another soccer idiocy. Today's stupidity: seeding for the World Cup.

The way the World Cup seeding is done, eight teams are guaranteed not to be in the same four-team group for the opening round of the World Cup. Thus, Brazil won't face Argentina until the playoffs (aka knockout rounds), thereby ensuring that the eight teams with the allegedly best chance to win will not get dumped in the group stage and will increase the drama in the knockout rounds. Naturally, this doesn't always work out perfectly (two words: France 2002), but FIFA is trying to protect the best teams in a way.

In addition, no two teams from the same region (UEFA, Conmebol, ConCaCaf, AFC, Asia, etc.) can be in the same group, other than European teams (because there are 14 World Cup teams from Europe). To numb your mind with the minutiae, click here.

Today, the seedings were determined for the top eight and the US, the world's #8 in the FIFA rankings, was left out. Why? Rankings are done based on the current FIFA rankings and the nation's performance in the past two World Cups. Previously, the seedings were based on the previous THREE World Cup performances, meaning teams were seeded based on what they did 11 years ago -- or almost a full generation in terms of the players who obtained that result for their country three cups earlier. Why is this important? Because only the top two teams from each group progresses to the knockout rounds.

Past performance is not indicative of future results, especially now as soccer teams throughout the world improve to compete successfully against traditional powers such as Italy, Germany, Brazil and Argentina -- see 2002 WC with S. Korea and Turkey making the semis while defending champ France finished 29th overall; 1998 WC with first-time entrant Croatia smacking the Germans 3-0 en route to a third-place finish and France drilling defending champ Brazil 3-0 in the Final. Thus, counting the US's dismal 1998 performance against it means the US is dumped into a netherworld of back room dealing and shifty draw arrangements.

The rankings themselves are completely suspect: Mexico is ahead of the US even though the US embarrassed Mexico in the 2002 World Cup, won the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament (in which Mexico was dumped early) and won the CONCACAF region to qualify for the '06 Cup with Mexico coming in second; the US is ahead of England despite a sorry loss to the English second team by the US first team earlier this year; Spain is #6 even though it had to scrape by to obtain a World Cup berth and has a choking history as long as my arm.

Considering that FIFA's #2 and #3 (Czech Repub., Netherlands) are also unseeded under its peculiar system, I'm just hoping now that when the draw is revealed Friday, the US won't end up with some hideous grouping like Brazil, Czechs, Netherlands and US. I'd really like to get Saudi Arabia in our group -- after all, the Saudis deserve a smackdown from the US and their national soccer team has a recent history of stinking it up in the World Cup. Most of all, however, I'd like to see the US conquer Germany all over again.

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