Dec 4, 2009, 3:30 PM EDT
As one Out of Bounds reader put it so gently and diplomatically the other day, “You know nothing about soccer!” Truer words were never typed in the comments section of a blog, actually. But here’s one man who does know soccer — Michael Bertin, one of the writers on the intrepid site Unprofessional Foul. I’ve asked Michael to break down this morning’s 2010 World Cup draw TV extravaganza, and his words are below. World Cup draw co-hosts Charlize Theron and David Beckham are to your right. Now that you’re situated, enjoy.
By Michael Bertin
If you’re a U.S. Soccer fan — all 74 of us — it was a pretty good day. Or at least it could have been much worse. You could be North Korean, which would now mean a short summer vacation to add to your diet heavy in tree bark.
FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, held the draw for the 2010 World Cup today in Cape Town, South Africa (the tournament’s host nation). It’s one of the few times where an entire nation’s fate is held, quite literally, by the balls — tiny plastic balls with slips of paper in them.
Credit the host South Africans for not torturing the rest of the world. They basically had a monopoly on six billion people’s attention and they wisely chose not to abuse it too badly. You’d think that suffering minority white rule for generations would have made them hateful, vindictive people, but the worst they did was unleash Johnny Clegg — sort of a South African Richard Marx — to kick off the proceedings. For an event that was scheduled for three hours, they had pretty much wrapped up the important part — the draw itself — inside of 90 minutes. They might make good hosts after all.
What we know: The U.S. has a somewhat manageable group, the South Africans are merciful people, and Alexi Lalas is an idiot. Still.
The Americans drew into Group B with England, Algeria, and Slovenia, If you’re eyeballing it, that’s a loss, and two matches that could go either way. That doesn’t sound particularly encouraging but it could have been so much worse.
Basically, if we can’t get results against maybe the weakest African team to qualify and a Slovenian team that is beatable off their home continent, then we don’t deserve to advance to the knockout rounds. When you’re not exactly a world power in the sport — which, despite all the propaganda the 4-letter will bludgeon you with between now and June, we’re not — that’s about the best you can hope for. Still, both teams are dangerous and the U.S. has a recent bad habit of playing poorly against beatable competition in the World Cup (see Poland ’02 and Ghana ’06).
As for the group’s marquee match-up, the English probably want to get some payback both for 1783 — and this time we’ll get no help from France as they are in Group A, not to mention pretty useless under their current manager Raymond Domenech — and 1950. For the uninitiated, the latter was the date of one of the two or three greatest upsets in World Cup history when the U.S. beat England 1-0. It was almost the totality of this county’s soccer history until we hosted the Cup in 1994 (Fun aside: Walter Bahr, who was a player on that U.S. team, claims that until the 1970s nobody in the U.S. had ever even asked him about that game. For almost 20 years, nobody here knew or cared).
Anyway, expect this England squad to drop three or four goals on us, and expect us to score less than that. And as long as zero is still less than three and four come summertime, that’s an easy loss for the U.S. Player-for-player, England are just better at every position except goal keeper (Timmay!). For some reason Alexi Lalas was cheering this part of the draw. Ergo, moron.
The “Group of Death” distinction this time belongs to Group G: Brazil, Ivory Coast, North Korea, and Portugal. The North Koreans’ Cup is pretty much over before they even step off the plane, assuming they can afford air travel. More importantly, one of Brazil, Ivory Coast, and Portugal isn’t going through. If you don’t know much about the sport, that’s basically three semifinal-quality teams in the same group (also if you don’t know anything about soccer, avoid watching Greece in Group B at all costs; that team could suck the life out of Mardi Gras). For whoever finishes second in the Group of Death, their likely reward is playing current world No. 1 Spain in the first knockout round, which probably equates to more death.
Michael Bertin thinks the US can still fire Bob Bradley and hire Guus Hiddink before South Africa this summer. He also contributes regularly to Unprofessional Foul.
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