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Getting your head around the World Cup draw

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The draw for the FIFA World Cup is always a complicated affair. There are various stipulations about seedings and certain teams being drawn with teams from specific continents. Hence why last time, in late 2005, the draw needed 8 ex-footballing stars to carry it out, with each star taking car of 2 pots. So to try and understand it better in time for the next draw, which takes place next Friday in Cape Town, I’ve gone back and looked at the format of the last seeding system to try and predict which teams will be seeded.

The 2006 seeding system was based on 2 variables – performances in the last 2 World Cups, and FIFA Rankings over the past 3 years, with each contributing towards half of the seeding points:

– The World Cup performances in 1998 and 2002 were averaged to the ratio of 1:2. The teams that got to the knockout stages were ranked in terms of their record, i.e. which round they got to, the number of wins, and then goal difference. This dictated the order, with the top team (i.e. the winner) getting 32 points, the runner-up getting 31, and so on down to 17 points for the team that is ranked 16th. All the teams that finished 3rd in their group were automatically given 9 points, and all the teams that finished 4th were given 8 points. All the teams that didn’t qualify were given no points.

– The rankings were taken from December 1999, December 2000 and November 2001. All the teams that qualified were sorted by ranking and the top team would be given 32 points, the 2nd-placed team would given 31, and so on down to the lowest ranked qualified team which would be awarded 1 point. These would then be averaged out.

The 2 averages were added together to produce the final score, with the team with the highest score ranked 1st as you would expect. The top 8 teams were seeded, as hosts Germany were a seeded team – for this year, it would just be the top 7 as South Africa would not be automatically in. The full seedings ranking can be found here.

The seeded teams were thus put into Pot A for the draw. Pot B contained the African and South American teams and Australia from Oceania, Pot C contained the European teams, Pot D contained the Asian and North/Central American teams and there was a separate pot for Serbia & Montenegro, the European team with the lowest FIFA ranking, in order to avoid 3 European teams being drawn into the same group – this will not be needed for 2010 due to South Africa being hosts. There were (and still are) restrictions on having more than 1 team from any of the other confederations (important to refer to them as confederations rather than continents) in each group.

So, using this system, I have worked out the seedings for 2010 – of course this is not the guaranteed system, as changes are often made (for instance, last time it was changed from being the last 3 World Cups included to the last 2), but only FIFA know what the system will be – this will be announced on the 2nd December, 2 days before the draw. In any case, it’s useful as a rough guide to what shape the draw will take:

World Cup Performance Average
1. Germany – 30.3 pts
2. Brazil – 29.3
3. Italy – 27.3
4. England – 26.3
5. Spain – 25.3
6. France – 23.3
7. Portugal – 22.3
8. Argentina – 21.0
9. Mexico – 19.3
10. South Korea – 15.7
11. Switzerland – 15.3
12. Netherlands – 14.7
13. USA – 13.7
14. Ghana – 13.3
14. Japan – 13.3
16. Paraguay – 11.7
17. Australia – 11.3
18. Denmark – 7.7
19. Cote d’Ivoire – 6.0
20. Serbia – 5.3
21. Cameroon – 3
21. South Africa – 3
23. Nigeria – 2.7
23. Uruguay – 2.7
23. Slovenia – 2.7

FIFA Rankings Average
1. Spain – 30.7
2. Brazil – 30.3
3. Italy – 29.3
4. Germany – 29.0
5. Argentina – 28.7
6. Netherlands – 28.3
7. France – 25.7
8. England – 25.0
9. Portugal – 24.7
10. Greece – 21.3
11. USA – 21.0
12. Cameroon – 20.7
13. Paraguay – 18.7
14. Mexico – 18.3
15. Nigeria – 17.0
16. Switzerland – 16.3
17. Uruguay – 15.7
18. Serbia – 15.0
19. Cote d’Ivoire – 14.3
20. Chile – 13.0
21. Australia – 12.0
22. Denmark – 12.0
23. Ghana – 11.3
24. Japan – 10.0
25. South Korea – 8.0
26. Honduras – 7.7
27. Slovakia – 7.0
28. Algeria – 6.3
29. Slovenia – 4.0
30. South Africa – 3.3
31. New Zealand – 2.3
32. North Korea – 1.0
(take from December 2007, December 2008 and October 2009 FIFA World Rankings)

Overall Seeding Rankings
1. Brazil – 59.7
2. Germany – 59.3
3. Italy – 56.7
4. Spain – 56.0
5. England – 51.3
6. Argentina – 49.7
7. France – 49.0
8. Portugal – 47.0
9. Netherlands – 43.0
10. Mexico – 37.7
11. USA – 34.7
12. Switzerland – 31.7
13. Paraguay – 30.3
14. Ghana – 24.7
15. Cameroon – 23.7
15. South Korea – 23.7
17. Australia – 23.3
17. Australia – 23.3
19. Greece – 21.3
20. Cote d’Ivoire – 20.3
20. Serbia – 20.3
22. Nigeria – 19.7
22. Denmark – 19.7
24. Uruguay – 18.3
25. Chile – 13.0
26. Honduras – 7.7
27. Slovakia – 7.0
28. Slovenia – 6.7
29. South Africa – 6.3
29. Algeria – 6.3
31. New Zealand – 2.3
32. North Korea – 1.0

This is a quite comprehensive of ranking the teams, as it takes the most important aspects of what is needed to succeed – form, and performances on the big stage. But that said, it’s not totally reliable – FIFA rankings are quite suspect and there are plenty of holes to pick. Look at Slovakia who caused an upset by topping their qualifying group, Slovenia who beat Russia in the play-offs, and Portugal and France being ranked highly despite struggling in their qualifying campaigns. The World Cup wouldn’t be the World Cup without the shocks, drama, fairytales and nightmares – anything can happen.

Moving onto the draw, these are the likely groupings (or pots) for the draw:

Seeded Pot (Pot A)
Argentina (CONMEBOL)
Brazil (CONMEBOL)
England (UEFA)
France (UEFA)
Germany (UEFA)
Italy (Holders – UEFA)
South Africa (Hosts – CAF)
Spain (UEFA)

UEFA (European) Pot
Denmark
Greece
Netherlands
Portugal
Serbia
Slovakia
Slovenia
Switzerland

CAF/CONMEBOL (African/South American) Pot
Algeria (CAF)
Cameroon (CAF)
Chile (CONMEBOL)
Cote d’Ivoire (CAF)
Ghana (CAF)
Nigeria (CAF)
Paraguay (CONMEBOL)
Uruguay (CONMEBOL)

AFC/CONCACAF/OFC (Asian/North American/Oceanic) Pot
Australia (AFC*)
Honduras (CONCACAF)
Japan (AFC)
Mexico (CONCACAF)
New Zealand (OFC)
North Korea (AFC)
South Korea (AFC)
USA (CONCACAF)

(* – Australia was part of the OFC but have now switched to the AFC, hence why I said it is important to refer to them as confederations. Other good examples include Israel and Kazakhstan playing in UEFA)

This was the format for the draw for 2006 – the groupings of confederations could alter. For 2002, the AFC teams were grouped with the CONMEBOL teams, and CONCACAF with CAF. If these combinations were to be used instead, New Zealand would remain with the AFC teams – they are likely to remain together as the All Whites got to the finals via a play-off with Bahrain, an AFC team. So there is no chance of a mouthwatering match-up between the Antipodean neighbours.

The draw is likely to kick off by drawing the seeded teams into each group, where they will each take up slot 1. As hosts, South Africa will automatically be assigned Group A. Holders Italy may also be assigned a group – 2002 winners Brazil were given Group F in 2006.

Once this is completed, the same will be done for Pots B, C and D (whichever they may be). Each team will be drawn out, followed by another draw to see which slot they will take up in each group – this is important for establishing the fixtures (i.e. the team in slot 2 will play the team in slot 1 first, and so on). As with the teams in Pot A, the order will dictate which group, although if a South American or African team is drawn into a group where there is already a team from that confederation in, the group will be automatically skipped and the team drawn out will be placed into the next available group – sounds a bit confusing, I know, but such are complex draws like this where clashes are to be avoided. It all works out, trust me.

This format, with the seeded teams taking prominence, does eliminate most possibilities of ‘groups of death’ – a mix of top quality teams. However, some combinations are possible – last time saw Argentina, the Netherlands, Cote d’Ivoire and Serbia & Montenegro drawn together, although it failed to live up to expectations with the former 2 breezing through. The Netherlands are again likely to be involved in a group of death – definitely a team to watch when the draw is done. It is the same for Portugal, who last time were drawn into a group with Mexico, former colony Angola and Iran. A potential group of death this time around could be England, Portugal, Cote d’Ivoire and Australia, or France, Netherlands, Ghana and Mexico.

To show it can be done without loads of expensive stage productions and the like, I’ve done a full draw myself, using this random number generator. And it came up with a fantastic draw:

Group A
South Africa
Denmark
South Korea
Chile

Group B
England
Greece
Algeria
Australia

Group C
Spain
Portugal
Cote d’Ivoire
New Zealand

Group D
Germany
North Korea
Slovakia
Paraguay

Group E
Argentina
Nigeria
Honduras
Serbia

Group F
Italy
Mexico
Slovenia
Uruguay

Group G
Brazil
Netherlands
Japan
Cameroon

Group H
France
USA
Switzerland
Ghana

That doesn’t contain just 1 group of death. I’d say at least 3 there, and plenty of tasty encounters and rivalries

The World Cup draw, despite its complexities, is a very exciting and fascinating affair. I have been looking forward to it for a while. I watched the 2006 WC draw live at the time and watching it back again tonight was a great reminder of what happened – England being the first seeded team drawn out, and then getting drawn with Trinidad & Tobago, whilst Argentina and the Netherlands were drawn together and Brazil were destined to meet the Aussies, Croatia and Japan.

Little did I know at that time the drama that lay ahead. It was one of those tournaments where you never really knew what was going to happen next – a number of teams started well, including Spain, Argentina and the Dutch, but were then dumped out in the early knockout stages, whilst Italy and France came from seemingly nowhere to end up in the final together. The standard of the teams wasn’t that high, as proven by the fact that those teams made the final – France had limped through the first round whilst Italy had progressed without looking convincing, including scraping past Australia with a heartbreaking dodgy penalty in round 2. But the tournament itself was fantastic, partly for this reason. This time around, the standard is set to be lower again. There is no real standout team right now, with the teams that look to be the best of what is a mediocre bunch all having flaws – it is surely inconceivable that England and Spain should have the bottle to get all the way to the final however good their players are, for instance. This is why I am looking forward to the draw – it can make or break a team’s tournament, as Italy found out in 2006, and will make things a lot clearer.

Oh, and I almost forgot one of the most important things. This tournament is being held in South Africa, and in what is essentially South Africa’s winter, so this will benefit the European teams that play in colder climates, including England. The stadiums are top notch and are likely to be completed on time. any have been either built from scratch or, such as the venue for the final, the brilliantly-named Soccer City in Johannesburg, heavily revised. The atmospheres are likely to be electric – the South Africans are very passionate about their football, as shown by the noise they generated with their vuvuzelas (a type of horn) in the recent Confederations Cup held in a number of the World Cup stadia. It is a great country to hold the World Cup in – FIFA picked the right nation to become the first African host of the tournament, and they will prove the critics wrong by being ready and to welcome the world to the country.

British coverage of the draw begins at 5:15 pm on BBC Two – expect lots of fanfare and unnecessary musical interludes.

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Written by James Bennett

November 29, 2009 at 02:07

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