Paul Marcuccitti


 
Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.

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Seeded teams and the Final Draw: FIFA decides



    Just when you thought it was safe, our beloved football governors produced some surprises. Friday’s Final Draw will be organised a little differently to the way I explained it in Looking ahead to Leipzig and there is a mixed bag of changes.

    When I say changes, I’m really referring to differences between the procedure for Friday’s extravaganza in Leipzig and the arrangements for Korea/Japan that were used 4 years ago.

Noteworthy matters include that:

  • Germany, Brazil, England, Spain, Mexico, France, Italy and Argentina will be seeded;
  • Germany will be in Group A and Brazil will be in Group F;
  • One pot will be Africa/CONMEBOL/Oceania and another will be Asia/CONCACAF (instead of Africa/CONCACAF and Asia/CONMEBOL);
  • Australia will not be in the same pot as the Asian teams; and
  • The UEFA pot will have 8 teams and Serbia & Montenegro, the lowest-ranked European team, will not be in it. Serbia & Montenegro will be on its own in the “Special Pot”.
The pots are as follows:

Pot 1 – Germany, Brazil, England, Spain, Mexico, France, Italy and Argentina.

Pot 2 – Australia, Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia, Ecuador and Paraguay.

Pot 3 – Croatia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Pot 4 – Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago and USA.

Special Pot – Serbia & Montenegro


    If you’ve been following my Who will be seeded columns, you’ll know that I first identified Germany, Brazil, England, Spain, Mexico, France, Italy and Argentina as the most likely seeds more than 3 years ago.

    However, FIFA did make a change to the method for determining who the seeds would be. For Korea/Japan, teams’ results at the last 3 World Cups were used in the calculations. This time, only the last 2 World Cups were included in the calculations. While it didn’t change the outcome, dropping a World Cup that was held over a decade ago is a step in the right direction.

    The decision to put Germany in Group A and Brazil in Group F means that those two nations can not meet before the tournament’s semi-finals. If both teams win their group, they stay in opposite halves of the draw and won’t play each other unless both reach the Final (or the match for 3rd place). This isn’t a bad thing either. Although the Germans have struggled in recent years, they are the hosts and World Cup runners-up from 2002.

    Incidentally, Germany will play in the first match. For the first time since 1970, the finals will kick off with the host nation – not the defending champion.

    The big news (well … I think it’s big) is the swap. Gone are the Africa/CONCACAF and Asia/CONMEBOL pots and they are replaced by Africa/CONMEBOL/Oceania and Asia/CONCACAF.

    I had speculated that this swap was possible but I didn’t expect it. Maybe FIFA made the change to ensure that USA was in the same pot as Iran and Saudi Arabia. With the Americans at war in the Middle East, this arrangement ensures that their team won’t play one of the Gulf nations in the first round.

    It’s also possible that the Asian and CONCACAF teams are together in a pot because, overall, those confederations outperformed Africa and CONMEBOL at the last World Cup. If that’s the case, it’s another step in the right direction.

    The draw might produce a handful of matches between a team from Africa and a team from CONCACAF – a rare treat given that there has only been one such match in the competition’s history.

    For my money, the main surprise is that Australia is not in the same pot as the Asian teams. Obviously Australia qualified from the Oceania confederation but, on 1 January 2006, Australia joins the Asian confederation and will start playing qualification matches for the next Asian Nations Cup before the World Cup finals begin in June.

    I certainly wouldn’t mind if the Socceroos were drawn in the same group as an Asian team. In fact, most Aussie fans would look forward to a match against either Iran or South Korea as Australia has played many crucial World Cup qualifiers against both those nations.

    But one of FIFA’s oft-stated goals is keeping teams from the same confederation apart, as far as possible, at the World Cup finals. Australia will be a member of Asia by then so you would have thought that putting Australia in the pot with the Asian teams was the logical step.

    Now we come to the slightly bizarre one-team pot – the “Special Pot” for Serbia & Montenegro. The finals have 9 UEFA teams that are not seeded and the optimum number of teams in a pot is 8. So FIFA decided to keep the lowest-ranked European team (Serbia & Montenegro) out of the UEFA pot.

    Effectively the Special Pot is an extension of Pot 4 (Asia/CONCACAF) because Pot 4 has just 7 teams.

    At Korea/Japan, the non-seeded UEFA teams were all in the same pot (and there were 11 of them then). That meant that a group could have a seed and two strong UEFA non-seeds. And it happened: Argentina/England/Sweden.

    By making sure that no group will have two of the better UEFA non-seeds, FIFA is, presumably, trying to maximise its chances of avoiding a “Group of Death”. In Looking ahead to Leipzig, I explained that, potentially, a group might include Brazil, Netherlands and Sweden. That won’t happen now.

    In theory that’s a good thing as the groups should be as balanced as possible. But is Serbia & Montenegro really the worst European team?

    The criterion for this decision was FIFA World Rankings and, yes, of the Germany-bound UEFA teams, Serbia & Montenegro is ranked lowest. But if you look at the table FIFA used to determine seeds, Serbia & Montenegro is ahead of both Switzerland and Ukraine. If it’s right to use that table to decide the seeds for Pot 1, why on earth isn’t it right to use it to decide which UEFA team goes into the Special Pot?

    Add to that Serbia & Montenegro winning its qualification group (ahead of Spain and Belgium) with no losses in 10 matches and the concession of just one goal. This is the weakest European team?

    There will be fewer permutations for Serbia & Montenegro when the balls are pulled out of their pots in Leipzig. If you’re a Serbia & Montenegro fan, you already know that you won’t be in a group with a seeded European team; the seed you’ll draw will be either Brazil, Argentina or Mexico.

    With Serbia & Montenegro also guaranteed to be in a group with another UEFA non-seed, it could end up with a tough draw.

    Overall, the outcomes of FIFA’s Organising Committee are satisfactory. The process for determining seeds is still flawed but it has been improved. And barring the odd decision not to treat Australia as an Asian team, and the selection of Serbia & Montenegro as the Special Pot team, there is relatively little to quibble about.

    Except that these decisions really shouldn’t be left to the last minute. It just makes us suspicious!



 

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