Peter Goldstein

Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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The Draw: Curiosities

    We've hit the worst time of the whole four-year World Cup cycle. The draw is done, we've gathered voluminous information on our teams' opponents, we've gone online to taunt rival supporters, we've considered every last formation and lineup possible (and several impossible), and there are still five months until Germany-Costa Rica. How the heck are we going to last that long?

    Beats me. But when the big thing isn't happening, the best place to take refuge is trivia. So herewith is a collection of interesting and not-so-interesting facts and stats about the draw, worth a hey-did-you-know-that moment or two, or maybe a bet with your friends.

    We'll start with Group A: Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador. Note that it's the only one of the groups in which all four teams also made the tournament last time out. This is par for the course. Before the tournament expanded, it was rare for a group to contain four repeaters: in fact, it happened only once, in 1966, when Group 2, West Germany, Argentina, Spain, and Switzerland, were all repeaters from 1962. But since we went from 16 to 24 teams, and then 32, repeater groups have been a steady feature. In every tournament from 1986 through 1998 there was exactly one group of repeaters; for some reason there was no repeater group in 2002, but Group A has us on course again.

    If you look closer at Group A, though, you find a more unusual feature: three teams, Poland, Ecuador, and Costa Rica, participated in the previous tournament but failed to qualify for the second round. This has only happened twice before: in 1966, Group 2, with Argentina, Spain and Switzerland, and in 2002, Group H, with Japan, Tunisia, and Belgium. With eight groups per tournament now, meaning sixteen teams missing out on the second round, expect to see it more often.

    Ecuador's only been to the World Cup twice, and you can forgive them for thinking you get the same draw every time. As in 2002, they got a Spanish-speaking CONCACAF country and two European countries. No fewer than 17 countries have faced this combination of opponents since the modern group stage began in 1958, but besides Ecuador, the only country to do so twice is Brazil (1962, 1990), and they qualify every year.

    Incidentally, when Germany plays Ecuador, they'll become the first country to have met all nine nations that have qualified from South America. For their part, Costa Rica is particularly glad to get Ecuador; in their first two appearances they drew Brazil.

    One last note on Group A: of the four teams in the group, the only ones that have previously met in group play were Germany and Poland, back in 1978. It was the opening game of the tournament, a dire 0:0 draw. Let's hope Germany and Costa Rica do better this time.

    Now on to group B, with England, Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago, and Sweden. First we note this is the fourth time England has been drawn with a fellow English-speaking nation: in 1950 the USA, in 1990 Ireland, and in 2002 Nigeria. (Group E also has two English- speaking teams, USA and Ghana, the first time a tournament has had two such groups.) Oddly enough, England has yet to beat a fellow English-speaking nation at the World Cup, which bodes well for big underdog T&T. On the other hand, England's game against T&T will be their first against a CONCACAF team since Mexico in 1966, and you know what happened that year.

    Although England and Paraguay have never met in group play, Sweden has met both: Paraguay in 1950, England in 2002. They drew both games. More interesting, though, is that Sweden and England finished 1-2 in their group and got matched up again in the next cycle. That's the fourth time this has happened: in 1982/6 it was Northern Ireland and Spain; in 1994/8, Nigeria and Bulgaria; in 1998/2002, France and Denmark. But in none of those three previous instances did the teams that finished 1-2 repeat the feat. Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, and France failed to qualify for the second round. So if England and Sweden advance, as many expect, that'll be a first.

    To conclude this group with a matter of sheer bonzo irrelevance, let's note that the teams in this group begin with the letters E, P, T, S. As you no doubt have noticed, we can make several 4-letter words out of these: STEP, PETS, SEPT, PEST. If at the end of the group stage, we read down the standings, first through fourth, and get a full English word, that'll be only the second time ever. The first time came four years ago, when Group G obligingly spelled out MICE. (Oh, and Group F spelled out a nice Irish name, SEAN.) And if we get really really lucky, Group C this year can spell out SCAN. Aren't English professors pathetic?

    Group C (which can spell out SCAN, remember), with Argentina, Cote D'Ivoire, Serbia & Montenegro and the Netherlands, is rich in history. If we consider Serbia & Montenegro as a descendant of Yugoslavia (as we usually do with Russia and the USSR, for example), then, with Argentina and the Netherlands, we have three teams that are long-time regulars at the tournament. But remarkably, none of the three have ever met in the group stage before. It shouldn't surprise you, though, that all have met each other at some point in the knockout rounds. Argentina played the Netherlands in the 1978 Final and in the quarterfinals in 1998; Yugoslavia played the Netherlands in the second round in 1998; Argentina played Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals in 1990.

    Going back to the beginning of that last sentence, we see that this group has two teams that have previously met in a Final. That's happened quite a bit, actually:

Year Teams Final 1970 Brazil and Czechoslovakia 1962 1978 Italy and Hungary 1938 1990 Italy and Czechoslovakia 1934 1990 Brazil and Sweden 1958 1994 Brazil and Sweden 1958
    It's not even the only such matchup this year: if you count Czech Republic as a descendant of Czechoslovakia, we've got another Italy-Czech matchup in Group E.

    Group C isn't only a Group of Death, it has outstanding pedigree. Each of the three veteran teams enters the tournament having reached the semifinals or better at least twice. This has happened four times before:

1970: Italy, Sweden, Uruguay
1978: Austria, Brazil, Sweden
1990: Italy, Czechoslovakia, Austria
2002: Argentina, Sweden, England

    Let's get Côte D'Ivoire involved. Of the five African teams, they're the only one that landed in a group where the other three members have all been drawn with Africa before. In fact, CIV play Argentina in the opening round, which is the third time Argentina has opened with an African team (Cameroon 1990, Nigeria 2002), a record. Peru and France have done it twice, no other team more than once.

    On to Group D, with Mexico, Iran, Angola, and Portugal. The first thing to notice is that four different continents are represented. Naturally, with the expansion of the tournament and the geographical draw, this has become more common. In 1998 and 2002 we had one four-continent group apiece, and this year we have two: this group and Group F. Surprisingly, we had a four-continent group all the way back in 1986, with Mexico, Belgium, Paraguay, and Iraq. How it came about I'm not sure, especially since Group E that year had three European teams, West Germany, Denmark, and Scotland. (Incidentally, the last 3-Euro group came in 1994, with Norway, Italy, and Ireland all in Group E.)

    Still, four continents is pretty good. But it's not the theoretical maximum--and no, I haven't lost my calculator. Remember fifth-grade geography? Turkey and Russia are countries on two continents, Europe and Asia. According to my Encyclopaedia Britannica, Egypt is also on two continents, Africa and Asia. So theoretically you can have a five-continent group. Four years ago we got so close: Group C had Brazil, Turkey, Costa Rica, and China, and if you replace China with an African team, you hit the jackpot. All the more reason to root for Turkey, Russia, and Egypt to qualify in future years. (And by those standards, by the way, several of the USSR/Russia's groups in the past were four-continent groups too.)

    Anyway, back to Group D. You'll note that Mexico is matched up with an African team, Angola. Before this year, Mexico was the only CONCACAF team ever to meet an African team at the World Cup, losing to Tunisia 1:3 in 1978. This year, with the draw restructured, the USA will have the privilege as well.

    A lot of comment has gone round about Angola's matchup with Portugal, another of the recent round of colonial derbies (France-Senegal last time, England-T&T, France-Togo this time). Although this is the first time we have three Portuguese-speaking nations in the tournament, it's the second time we've had two in the same group. Back in 1966 Portugal and Brazil were drawn together; that was Eusebio's year, and it was, incidentally, the only time Brazil didn't make it out of the group stage, unless you count 1930.

    Group E, with Italy, Ghana, USA, and Czech Republic, is distinctive because three of the four teams also appeared in Group A in 1990 (again assuming we equate Czech Republic with Czechoslovakia). Has there ever been a complete 4-team group repeating? No, and that's not surprising. But what is surprising is that Group A in 1990 and Group E in 2006 are the very first groups even to have three teams repeating, at least since the modern group stage began in 1958. (This took me about two hours of manual cross-checking, and I'm pretty sure I got it right, but if I missed something, let me know.)

    Incidentally, before the modern group stage era, there was actually a 3-team repeat in consecutive years, with Brazil, Yugoslavia, and Mexico all matched up in both 1950 and 1954. But in 1950 there were only 13 teams, and in 1954 the groups weren't a complete round robin. And if you distinguish between Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia, then we still haven't had a post-1958 three-team repeat.

    Here's another oddity involving the Italy-USA-Czech trio. This will be the third time Italy has met the USA, but only the first time away from home. They met in the group stage in 1990, and in the first round back in 1934, when Italy first hosted. It'll also be the third time Italy has met the Czechs--and also the first time away from home. Again the group stage in 1990, and also the Final in 1934. Not surprisingly, Italy won all four of those games.

    Unfortunately, I can't seem to find anything remarkable about Ghana here. It's the USA's first game against an African team, and the Czechs' too, but unfortunately Italy has faced Cameroon twice in the group stage, and Nigeria once in the knockouts. Semi-interesting at best.

    Now Group F, with Brazil, Croatia, Australia, and Japan. It's another four-continent group, and maybe even better than Group D, since none of the teams are even connected by land. (Thanks to Paul Marcuccitti for that detail.) Croatia, Australia, and Japan are all brand new opponents for Brazil, which brings their total number to 28 different opponents in the group stage. You'd think Brazil would lead the world in that category, but in one of the most surprising stats you'll ever see, they're not even in the top five. Here's the table, including opponents already set for 2006:

Team Group Stage Opponents Germany 34 Mexico 31 Argentina 29 England 29 Italy 29 Brazil 28 Spain 27
    Where Brazil naturally picks up the slack is in the later stages of the tournament; if we count all opponents from opener to Final, their 42 is second only to Germany's 45, and far ahead of Italy's 35. And one small note: with Croatia now accounted for, the only European country that has appeared in the tournament more than once and never played Brazil is Ireland.

    Croatia and Japan are each playing in only their third World Cup, so it's odd that they've already been drawn together twice. Croatia beat Japan 1:0 in 1998. Australia is in only their second tournament, so it's not at all surprising that they're facing three new teams--especially since Croatia didn't even exist back in 1974. In fact, Australia becomes the first team to have an opponent cease to exist (East Germany) and another come into being (Croatia) between two World Cup appearances.

    Group G has France, Switzerland, South Korea, and Togo. It's the first group ever to contain three French-speaking countries. Not bad, but how about this: it's the first group ever to contain any three countries with the same official language. You'd have thought Spanish or English would have managed three teams at some point, but no. The big question: will we ever get a group with all four? Given the geographical draw, English is the best possibility: say USA/Canada, two of the UK countries, and Nigeria/Ghana. French is a bit longer shot, with Canada/Haiti, two of France/Belgium/Switzerland, and a francophone African team.

    A small surprise about Group G is that none of the teams have ever played each other at the World Cup. That's true of Group D and Group H as well, but here you'd expect France and Switzerland to have crossed swords at some point. In fact, up until now they've only shared four World Cups, 1934, 1938, 1954, and 1966, and never managed to meet. France and South Korea have also shared four cups, 1954, 1986, 1998, and 2002, and drawn a blank. I suppose it's not all that surprising, given that Brazil and Germany didn't play each other until 2002. Here's one for you to work on, then: what two teams have participated in the most World Cups together and yet never played each other? I don't have the definitive answer. We can't include 2006 yet, since the knockouts could still produce a new matchup or two. So far the best I've come up with is Brazil and both Paraguay/South Korea with 6.

    That last fact reminds us that it's South Korea's seventh World Cup (how the time flies!), and when we look at the record we find that Togo will be their very first African opponent. This in itself is only mildly interesting, but hang on to the fact, because the payoff will come when we get to Group H. Incidentally, Switzerland has never played a team from Africa or Asia before, so they'll get a double baptism with Togo and South Korea.

    And so to Group H, which stands for Hapless. Indeed, Group H has had pretty bad luck in its three years of existence. In 1998, it was Argentina, Croatia, Jamaica, and Japan, a walkover for the top two teams. In 2002, it was the Group of Weakness, with Japan, Belgium, Russia, and Tunisia. This year, with Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia, it looks like a potential walkover again, and not exactly the strongest of groups either.

    But Group H in 2006 has its distinctions, foremost that it's the all-time latest-in-the-alphabet group in World Cup history. The first team alphabetically is Saudi Arabia, beating the old record of Paraguay (Group B, 2002) or, if we allow 3-team groups, Peru (Group 3, 1930). Aren't you thrilled?

    Spain, like Mexico and Brazil, is getting three new opponents, thus bumping them up the total-opponent table we discussed earlier. Saudi Arabia, in their fourth cup, has yet to repeat an opponent, and the same is true for Tunisia.

    But let's get down and dirty with Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, a fascinating matchup. For one thing, they're both Arab countries, the second time we've had two in a group. Back in 1994 we had Morocco and Saudi Arabia together, and it caused some controversy, with both countries suggesting FIFA had deliberately isolated the Arab nations in a single group. Times have changed; this time there was no outcry. But given the political situation...OK, best not to go there.

    But the Saudi Arabia-Tunisia matchup is part of my single favorite oddity of the draw. Remember we mentioned that South Korea, Asia's great veteran, was getting their first African opponent this year. It's not all that surprising, since AFC-CAF matchups have only shown up on the radar recently. But take a close look at Saudi Arabia. Here in 2006, they were drawn with Tunisia. Back in 2002, Cameroon. In 1998, guess what? South Africa. And all the way back in 1994, in their very first appearance, Morocco. So Saudi Arabia is getting their fourth straight group stage matchup with an African team. Only one other team from Asia, Japan in 2002, has faced an African team even once before now. Even after 2006, no other team from Asia will have been drawn with Africa more than once. And the Saudis are on number 4 and counting. Is that where the oil money goes?



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