U.S., Italy Get the Luck of the Draw in South Africa for 2010


December 4, 2009

U.S., Italy Get the Luck of the Draw in South Africa for 2010 Yes, the United States got a fortuitous draw. And yes, Charlize Theron was there in all of her glamour and resplendence. But there was much more to take from Friday's World Cup 2010 draw in Cape Town, South Africa.

What follows is a preliminary, group-by-group, team-by-team breakdown of next summer's action, beginning with the group stage. Each nation's latest FIFA rankings are listed in parentheses. Next week, we'll tackle the knockout stage and beyond.

Group A: South Africa (86), Mexico (15), Uruguay (19), France (7)
After its highly questionable qualification at the hand of Ireland in the UEFA playoff round, France will be aiming to prove itself worthy of its spot in South Africa. With talent up and down the field, they should have no trouble making it through this group to the knockout stage.

South Africa, by far the weakest of the seeded teams, runs a serious risk of not making it through despite the talents of midfielder Steven Pienaar and the emotion of playing in front of its home fans.

Mexico has been knocked out of the last four World Cups in the round of 16, a spot for which they'll be fortunate to qualify again. El Tri wasn't its normal powerhouse in CONCACAF qualifying, but stepped up its game at the right time under new coach Javier Aguirre.

Uruguay is a sleeper squad with a good amount of skill that qualified by topping Costa Rica in a playoff after finishing fifth in South America.

Predicted order of finish: France, Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay

Group B: Argentina (8), Nigeria (22), South Korea (52), Greece (12)
Though they weren't exactly dominant in South American qualifying, finishing fourth in the region, Argentina is the clear class of this group. And with young superstar Lionel Messi ready to make his mark on the World Cup stage and the legendary Diego Maradona manning the sidelines, La Albiceleste will have no shortage of motivation.

Greece's best-ever FIFA result came back at Euro 2004, winning it all in surprising fashion. But they'll be looking to improve on their only previous World Cup appearance, when they went out in the group stages at USA 1994, losing, ironically, to both Argentina and Nigeria.

Nigeria is a strong, athletic and exciting side that's capable of scoring plenty of goals and surprising some solid sides, especially playing on their home continent.

South Korea is a tactically sound team that doesn't have a ton of scoring punch, but will likely play it close to the vest looking for scoring chances in transition.

Predicted order of finish: Argentina, Nigeria, Greece, South Korea

Group C: England (9), United States (14), Algeria (28), Slovenia (33)
Everyone is saying, quite rightfully, that the U.S. got a great draw. But that's far from a guarantee that the Red, White and Blue will advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. The Americans would be ecstatic getting a point out of the opener against England.

They?ll then face a Slovenia team — making just its second World Cup appearance — that didn't allow a single goal at home during qualifying and knocked out a tough Russian side during the European playoff round.

Finally, they'll take on an energetic, amped up Algerian side looking to turn heads in its first Cup appearance in 24 years. The U.S. should make it out, but it won't be easy.

Predicted order of finish: England, United States, Slovenia, Algeria

Group D: Germany (6), Australia (21), Ghana (37), Serbia (20)
The Germans seem to always fare well in these sorts of tourneys — they finished second in 2002, third in 2006 and second at Euro 2008 — and should be well prepared to do so yet again. The Michael Ballack-captained squad went 8-0-2 in qualifying and shouldn't have that much trouble thanks to names like Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski.

The Aussies are a gritty group that's technically pretty solid as many of the team's top players ply their club trade in Europe.

Ghana is a young, up-and-coming, fantastically exciting squad that has grown up a bit since surprising everyone in Germany 2006 by topping the USA and Czech Republic to advance to the knockout stage. The Black Stars will also show some influence from their nation's U-20 World Cup winning side that topped Brazil in October.

A nation that has plenty of World Cup experience under the flag of the former Yugoslavia, Serbia outplaced France in European group play to book its spot in South Africa.

Predicted order of finish: Germany, Ghana, Australia, Serbia

Group E: Netherlands (3), Japan (43), Cameroon (11), Denmark (26)
Unlike the Germans, who always seem to show up for big tournaments, the Dutch regularly field a phenomenally talented side that regularly seems to disappoint and underachieve on the World Cup stage. But this version of the Oranje went 8-0-0 in qualifying and outscored its unfortunate foes by a combined 17-2.

Cameroon, the top-ranked African side that's making its African-best fifth appearance in the World Cup, may have the continent's best shot at contending for the title. With world class striker Samuel Eto'o and a tough, talented midfield, the Indomitable Lions have a legitimate shot at going a long way.

Having reached the round of 16 twice and the quarterfinals in their last three World Cup appearances, the Danes are hoping for a similar fate in South Africa. And having topped both Portugal and Sweden in their qualifying group, they could surprise their orange-clad neighbors from the south.

Japan is a solid, well-orchestrated team with international experience — this is their fourth World Cup. This is a tough group for them, though, and they could well be sent home quickly despite coach Takeshi Okada's goal of making the semifinals.

Predicted order of finish: Cameroon, Denmark, Netherlands, Japan

Group F: Italy (4), New Zealand (77), Paraguay (30), Slovakia (34)
It almost seems fitting that the reigning World Cup champs have what appears to be the easiest first-round draw. They should move on with relative ease.

Slovakia and Paraguay are two second-tier sides that should fight it out for the second spot. Slovakia won its tough UEFA qualifying group, besting its neighbors from the Czech Republic in the process. Paraguay made it through the tough South American qualifying in third place, beating both Brazil and Argentina in matches along the way.

New Zealand is making its first World Cup trip in 28 years. That positive fact will likely be repeated a lot in South Africa since the Kiwis don't have much of a shot against their first-round foes.

Predicted order of finish: Italy, Paraguay, Slovakia, New Zealand

Group G: Brazil (2), North Korea (84), Ivory Coast (16), Portugal (5)
Brazil remains among the cream of the international soccer crop. Though it remains to be seen whether or not Ronaldo will be back for another title run, the Seleção have plenty of capable players ready to shine: Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano are among the names to follow. Expect the five-time champs to advance, even from this group, which is widely seen as the toughest in the tournament.

Many of the experts are contending that North Korea could be a surprise team come next summer. But in a group as tough as this, I don?t care if no one's seen you play, you're going to struggle talent-wise.

The Ivory Coast is best known for magnificent Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, but with names like Salomon Kalou, Didier Zokora, Yaya Toure and Kolo Toure familiar to European soccer fans, this is a well-rounded team with the depth to go a long way.

Portugal, too, would be fun to watch even if they only had the incomparable Cristiano Ronaldo. But with ridiculously talented midfielders like Deco and Simao, experience in the back in Ricardo Carvalho and some scoring punch up front, they're guaranteed to put up a solid fight.

Predicted order of finish: Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal, North Korea

Group H: Spain (1), Honduras (38), Chile (17), Switzerland (18)
Even with their recent loss to the Americans at the Confederations Cup, the Spaniards are the clear favorites to advance out of Group H. They went 10-0-0 in their European qualifying group — outscoring their opponents by a margin of 28-5 — and should just be hitting their stride come next summer.

Honduras is a rough-and-tumble squad with some talent that always gives the U.S. trouble in CONCACAF. Still, they are likely to be overmatched even by the middling squads in this group.

The match between Chile and Switzerland will likely decide who moves on to the slaughter of playing Brazil in the round of 16. Good luck with that.

Predicted order of finish: Spain, Chile, Switzerland, Honduras

Check back next week for more analysis and predictions for the knockout stages of South Africa 2010.

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