26/11/2007

World Cup Draw Review

This is the view of the draw for Africa, CONCACAF, and Asia.

Starting with the African groups, as these are the most difficult to comment on. Five of the original 53 teams were removed before the draw – two withdrew and three got knocked out in Preliminary Matches. The remaining 48 are placed into 12 groups of 4, with all 12 winners, and 8 second placed teams going into a second stage with 5 groups of four. The winners of the second stage groups all go through to the finals, but the competition doubles up as qualifying for CAN 2010 in Angola, and the top three in each group of four will go through to this.

The confusing part of this is that in the second stage, if Angola are in one of the groups, then all four teams will have a place in CAN automatically, while a group with South Africa in it will be a four team group for CAN, but a three team group for the World Cup. The draw shows current FIFA World rankings as an indication

In Africa, there always appears to be a strong home advantage, the affect of which is that if a nation that is assumed powerful slips up just once on home turf, they can be in trouble. With the eight ‘best’ second placed teams progressing, it is far from certain that these eight will really be best, but may have a lot to do with singular surprise results, and an uneven draw. Watch out to for the effects of almost inevitable withdrawals.

Group 1. Cameroon (24), Cape Verde (112), Tanzania (103), and Mauritius (161). Cameroon, ranked second on the continent are clear favourites, and are the only team involved in Ghana this winter.

Group 2. Guinea (33), Zimbabwe (87), Namibia (115), and Kenya (100) – again a clear favourite, Guinea are the third ranked team in Africa at the moment. Guinea will play Namibia in their third match in Ghana in CAN 2008.

Group 3. Angola (73), Benin (97), Uganda (94) and Niger (158). This is a difficult one to predict, with both Angola and Benin in Ghana in January. Only Niger can be easily (and safely) written off.

Group 4. Nigeria (20), South Africa (77), Equatorial Guinea (74) and Sierra Leone (155). The Nigerians are expected to win the group, leaving the South Africans in the finals by default, but struggling to warm up in the Angola tournament. South Africa and Nigeria are both playing in Ghana – Equatorial Guinea did not make it, despite a qualifying home win against Cameroon

Group 5. Ghana (43), Libya (95), Gabon (106) and Lesotho (154). A clear favourite in Ghana.

Group 6. Senegal (38), Algeria (81), Liberia (146) and Gambia (111). Again a clear favourite, but the visit to Algeria may not be easy for Senegal.

Group 7. Cote d’Ivoire (37), Mozambique (75), Botswana (102), Madagascar (152). As with Senegal in Group 6, Cote d’Ivoire are clear favourites but need to watch at least one rival, and need to secure their European based players to ensure progress,

Group 8. Morocco (39), Ethiopia (108), Rwanda (119) and Mauritania (130). Morocco must be happy with this.

Group 9. Tunisia (47), Burkina Faso (113), Burundi (116) and Seychelles (165). As with their neighbours Morocco, Tunisia are looking for a comfortable progress into the next round.

Group 10. Mali (46), Congo (92), Sudan (105), and Chad (143). Mali, who beat Togo on the last day to secure passage and Sudan, who surprisingly finished ahead of Tunisia are both in Ghana. Congo and Chad both failed in the same qualifying group.

Group 11. Togo (72), Zambia(68), Eritrea (126), Swaziland (151). Zambia are the only team in the group to play in Ghana, and Togo have a tough task if they are ‘to go’ to the next world cup, as well as the last.

Group 12. Egypt (41), Congo DR (80), Malawi (130) and Djibouti (175). The African cup holders, Egypt may be favourites, but they have to do well to get through.

CONCACAF – North, Central America and Caribbean.

There are two rounds of knock out matches in the region, as the numbers are reduced from 35 to a manageable 12. The 12 are placed in three groups of 4, with two teams from each making a final round of 6 teams. This means a lot of matches, especially for the fourth place in the final group, who will also face a play-off. The first round in particular gets a small audience, as these are minor teams, all expected to be beaten in the second round. All matches should be over two legs, but look out for odd changes.

The second round draw, with FIFA rankings – do not expect any ranking upset in the second round.

USA (19) v Dominica (189) or Barbados (124)
Guatemala (104) v Turks and Caicos Islands (181) or St Lucia (177)
Trinidad and Tobago (83) v Bermuda (138) or Cayman Islands (191)
Aruba (201 equal) or Antigua and Barbuda (156) v Cuba (70)
Belize (201 equal) or St Kitts and Nevis (159) v Mexico (15)
Jamaica (98) v Bahamas (171) or British Virgin Islands (180)
Honduras (54) v Dominican Republic (147) or Puerto Rico (196)
Canada (55) v St Vincent and Grenadines (77) – St VG have a bye in the first round, to set up potentially the closest tie in the second
US Virgin Islands (201 equal) or Grenada (170) v Costa Rica (69)
Suriname (170) or Montserrat (201 equal) v Guyana (93)
Panama (66) v El Salvador (141) or Anguilla (198)
Nicaragua (162) or Netherlands Antilles (183) v Haiti (66)

Four CONCACAF teams share 201 equal place in the World rankings (=no ranking points at all) along with East Timor and Guam from Asia, and American Somoa from Oceania. Sao Tome e Principe have a total of -99 ranking points and are placed on their own in 208th place.

Asia.
With the preliminary matches in Asia having already removed 23 of the 43 teams, the competition has now reached a serious stage. There are five groups of four, with two teams from each qualifying for a second stage two groups of five. Asian matches have a tendency to go with form and ranking, but Iraq may struggle to reach this standard without home matches, and facing long trips to China and Australia.

Group 1. Australia (48), China (85), Iraq (70), and Qatar (86). The 3-1 success for Iraq over Australia in Thailand knocked the confidence off the Aussies and went a long way to explain why Iraq became champions of Asia. But Iraq may struggle in this group, without the advantage of any home games, and if they do, then surely it is China that can claim qualification with Australia.

Group 2. Japan (33), Bahrain (101), Oman (76) and Thailand (113). Japan will win this group. Easily. I think Bahrain may come second.

Group 3. South Korea (42), North Korea (117), Jordan (122), Turkmenistan (127). The feature is the matches all Korea have been waiting for, and on a home and away package. The two teams have met before in qualifying for the 1990 and 1994 world cups, but then the final round group of Asia was in a single venue. In 1989, South Korea won 1-0 in Singapore, whereas four years later the match was in Qatar, and the South won by 3-0. On both occasions, South Korea qualified for the World Cup. Both the remaining teams fancy their chances of reaching the second round as well.

Group 4. Saudi Arabia (57), Uzbekistan (64), Lebanon (137) and Singapore (130). This is where I see the classic Asian tradition of running to form continuing, Uzbekistan to finish second behind Saudi Arabia.

Group 5. Iran (40), Kuwait (121), UAE (99) and Syria (109). Surely a comfortable group for Iran. UAE are favoured to come second, but this will be close.