Asia fails and sticking with a France v Argentina final

27 June 2014

With the match-ups for the knockout stage complete, other than Spain’s early and humiliating exit, there’s actually been very few surprises overall for the tournament. Only Group D where both Italy and England failed to progress from the group, at the expense of Costa Rica and Uruguay, could you point to a surprise. Maybe Portugal in Group G is a small surprise at finishing third behind Germany and the USA.

The small upset in Group D means the earlier prediction of one semi final being Argentina vs Netherlands is all the more likely. The Dutch face Mexico then either Costa Rica or Greece, while Argentina must navigate past Switzerland and then either Belgium or USA. For either to fail to reach the semi, that would be an upset.

Knockout Stage Matches

Left Side

BRA v CHI
COL v URU
FRA v NGA
GER v ALG

Right Side

NED v MEX
CRC v GRE
ARG v SUI
BEL v USA

Despite the tougher run for both teams, I’m sticking with Brazil and France to reach the other semi. Brazil plays Chile and then either Colombia or Uruguay. Interesting that four of the five South American qualifiers play each other, meaning three can’t make the semi. Argentina stands alone for South America on the right side of the draw. The fact Brazil plays its fellow South Americans should be comforting to them. The times Brazil have been knocked out early it’s been by Europeans. Their opponents will be very familiar and most will play in the more open South American style that will suit Brazil.

The lower part of the left side should see France and Germany brush past Nigeria and Algeria, respectively, to then meet in a quarter final. Forget about France only securing a 0-0 against Ecuador in the final pool game as a case against their legitimacy as a contender With any luck, France could have scored the same bagful that they did against Switzerland and Honduras. They seem to have the fire power to break down Germany.

From the semi finals, I expect Brazil to crumble under pressure, from both the burden of being host and the fear of France’s attacking prowess. The Dutch defence has already been exposed as suspect, so expect Argentina to get through.

In the earlier preview, I cheekily said the team in dark blue to win the final, thinking both France and Argentina coud be wearing a dark strip depending on who is drawn as the nominal home team. Except, France’s dark blue is their home strip, and Argentina’s is their away strip, so there’s no clash. France will be in dark blue against the faint stripes of Argentina. It looks like it’s France to win the World Cup!

While France might be the prediction, who do I actually want to win? As always, a new team would be great. Based on the draw, Colombia vs Netherlands would suit perfectly, with the Dutch to win. So many near misses, including such a narrow loss to Spain four years ago, it’s time they won. If Colombia are the designated home team, Netherlands will just happen to be in dark blue too.

Asia’s failure – we’re not alone

All four Asian teams finished last in their group and could only accrue a total of 3 points between them. That’s courtesy of a draw each from Iran, Japan and Korea. Australia, in the toughest group, finished with nothing. While it’s disappointing, it should not be surprising, since Asia is still a fly-weight on the world stage. Only in the home World Cup in Korea and Japan did Asian teams excel, with Japan reaching the quarter finals and Korea finishing fourth.

Before anyone points fingers at querying Asia’s allocation of four spots at the World Cup, Africa and Europe can hardly claim a strong success rate from their allocation either. Three of 5 African teams bombed out, with the other two likely to be swept aside in the first knockout game. Excluding Algeria – an Arab team – it’s three of 4 failures from a region that was so widely hyped that Pele famously predicted they’d win a World Cup before last century’s end. They’ve gone backwards. As for Europe, seven of their 13 teams failed too. Europe, especially, benefits from a weight of numbers, and who’s to say that if more Asian teams were in the World Cup, some would not progress?

Asia’s small allocation meant they could not spread their numbers throughout all groups, and therefore have a team in all the weaker groups (even if three of them actually did have a reasonable draw). Does this mean Asia’s allocation should be altered? No. The only change should be that its half spot is linked with Oceania. This was part of the bargain for allowing Australia to enter Asia – that effectively Australia would not take a spot from the traditional Asian teams. At worst, such teams would finish fifth, and play against New Zealand. That happened for 2010 when Bahrain lost to NZ, which left no room for Asia to complain. For 2014, FIFA as they always do, re-jigged the rules to suit the more powerful confederations, meaning a random draw for cross-region playoffs that saw Asia face South America and Oceania face CONCACAF.

The World Cup is meant to represent the best teams in each part of the world. Ideally you have 8 teams from each approximately 50-team quadrant (Europe, Africa, Asia/Oceania, Americas) at the World Cup. Until all regions mature to a relatively equal standard, the best approach is continue performance based with a minium of four. Ideally this process should be more transparent so to end the ritual squabbling for spots. You do that by allocating spots based on an average of top 16 of the previous three World Cups. Meaning if Asia/Oceania had two teams in the top 16 for the last 3 World Cups, they get six spots. If Europe begin to average only 6 teams in the top 16, then their total spots should be 10.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Uruguay, Cameroon and Greece the preferred World Cup draw for Australia

6 December 2013

Saturday morning, 3am AET, Australia will discover its opponents for next year’s World Cup in Brazil. The draw will also decide venues at which Australia will play, which could prove problematic for all those “We’re off to Rio” and “Road to Rio” slogans from media, fans and even players. Rio is just one of many cities that will host matches throughout this huge country, and most likely is a city that Australia will never visit.

The Pots

Pot 1: Brazil+, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay, Switzerland

Pot 2: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chile, Ecuador, 1 from Pot 4*

Pot 3: Japan, Iran, Korea Republic, Australia, United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras

Pot 4: Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Russia, France

* In a pre-draw, a team from Pot 4 will be placed in Pot 2. Upon being drawn in the main draw, this team will be placed in one of the groups of a South American team from Pot 1 – either Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Uruguay.

+ Brazil will automatically be placed in Group A as Team 1

To no surprise, in their infinitely insane and warped wisdom, FIFA have cocked up the whole notion of a draw. First, the seeds, whereby FIFA are using their heavily flawed and useless rankings system. Forget that Australia is ranked the lowest team in the tournament at 59, just like the Socceroo Realm consistently ignores referring to FIFA rankings as some sort of meaningful analysis of Australia’s status. Look at the fact that the sixth best South American team after the qualifying phase – Uruguay – is one of the top 8 seeds. Sixth best gets you top eight. While Colombia at least finished second behind Argentina, the fact that Belgium and Switzerland reached the top 8 after merely winning their qualifying group against fellow middling European teams, is astonishing. Belgium hadn’t even qualified since 2002, so unlike Uruguay that finished third in 2010, Belgium never had a points legacy. It’s been built by beating Croatia, Serbia, Scotland and Wales. While Switzerland qualified ahead Iceland, Slovenia and Norway. What? No Italy, Germany or Netherlands to surmount on your glorious, high-ranking qualifying run?

The second flaw is the potty pot system itself that’s perpetually used. While it’s fine to separate teams based on geography, it’s not fine to avoid opponents based on geography. Grouping Asia with CONCACAF in one pot means no team from these region can play each – ie: Australia cannot be drawn against Mexico, USA, Costa Rica or Honduras. Ridiculous. A real draw would be just all teams in one pot, then pick them out one by one, filling each group as the rules allow. Say Brazil is in Group A and Spain is drawn next, they go straight in with Brazil. If Chile comes next, they can’t go with Brazil so are put into Group B. If USA comes next, they go to Group A. If it’s Mexico next, they go to Group B because they can’t be with regional rivals, Mexico. If Australia is next, into Group A. If an Asian team were already in Groups A and B, then Australia goes to Group C. This is the simplest, most effective and fairest method. All teams get a realistic chance of playing any other team from another region. See the Hypothetical Draw below for more of an idea.

Preferred Draw

Mostly, I want Australia to play new teams – teams we’ve not played recently, and especially not at a World Cup – or rivalries.

Pot 1: Avoid Brazil, Germany, Argentina; Prefer Spain, Belgium, Uruguay or Switzerland

Pot 2: Australia are in this group, so a preferred option of USA won’t happen.

Pot 3: Avoid Ghana, Chile and France; Prefer Algeria, Cameroon or Ecuador

Pot 4: Avoid Netherlands, Italy and Croatia; Prefer England, Greece, Bosnia or Russia

Obviously some of these preferences will depend on teams already selected as Australia won’t play two teams from the same region unless it’s Europe. For instant, if Australia draw Uruguay from Pot 1, they won’t play any South Americans from Pot 2. Likewise if Spain is drawn from Pot 1, the European team from Pot 2 won’t be an option.

Most Preferred Draw: Uruguay, Cameroon, Greece

With our World Cup qualifying playoffs against them in 2001 and 2005, Uruguay is an obvious pick. Of course, they are beatable. They are not a top 8 nation. While Jordan capitulated in the first leg of the playoff this time, Uruguay were held 0-0 at home. Cameroon are the most interesting and erratic of the African teams. Greece is almost a “local derby”. It’s a natural rivalry, the match would be highly interesting, and competitive.

Least Preferred Draw: Germany, Ghana, Croatia

Germany smashed us in 2010 and simply would be too clinical, not to mention boring to revisit. Ghana, again, played in 2010 to a draw. With Serbia in 2010 and Croatia in 2006, and even despite Australia’s good record against these teams, been there, done that, with these Southern Slavic teams.

Toughest Draw: Brazil, Netherlands, Italy

Brazil would be interesting if it was Australia’s first match as it would be some occasion to play the opening match of the World Cup. Only in that situation would it be appealing. Italy wavers between a rival and a boring team. That 2006 match in Germany was more an anomaly than two even teams fighting it out. Worst, they’d be a tough team. Because you have top European teams like Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and France in Pot 4, any of which could end up in Pot 2, it creates a dangerous situation for a famed “group of death”, so there’s several options of tough Europeans in a draw to avoid.

Rivalry Draw: Uruguay, England, Italy

Remember, the World Cup doesn’t end with the Group stage. If Australia reaches the second round, they could face England. While many fans want to draw England in the group, I’d prefer them in the knockout stage so to knock them out.

Hypothetical Single Pot Draw

This is based on the one pot draw as described at the top of the article. Except for the host, each team is randomly assigned these numbers as their draw position…

17 Algeria, 09 Argentina, 03 Australia, 21 Belgium, 05 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 23 Cameroon, 26 Chile, 30 Colombia, 20 Costa Rica, 11 Croatia, 08 Ecuador, 10 England, 14 France, 06 Germany, 24 Ghana, 25 Greece, 15 Honduras, 28 Iran, 13 Italy, 29 Ivory Coast, 27 Japan, 19 Korea, 01 Mexico, 18 Netherlands, 07 Nigeria, 16 Portugal, 31 Russia, 02 Spain, 04 Switzerland, 12 Uruguay, 22 USA, 00 Brazil

In other words, Algeria would be drawn 17th out of the pot, Australia third. The groups are then filled in accordance with FIFA’s rule of no more than one team from each region in a group, except for Europe which can have a maximum of two teams. Brazil is automatically set to Group A as Team 1 as FIFA has dictated…

Group A: 00 Brazil, 01 Mexico, 02 Spain, 03 Australia

Group B: 04 Switzerland, 05 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 07 Nigeria, 08 Ecuador

Group C: 06 Germany, 09 Argentina, 10 England, 15 Honduras

Group D: 11 Croatia, 12 Uruguay, 13 Italy, 17 Algeria

Group E: 14 France, 16 Portugal, 19 Korea, 20 Costa Rica

Group F: 18 Netherlands, 21 Belgium, 22 USA, 23 Cameroon

Group G: 24 Ghana, 25 Greece, 26 Chile, 27 Japan

Group H: 28 Iran, 29 Ivory Coast, 30 Colombia, 31 Russia

Wow! Australia has it tough. They’d play Spain first, Mexico second (impossible under FIFA’s system) and Brazil last. Group C is a cracker, while Group F has a great opening match. You can see with Germany as drawn sixth was shuffled into a new pot as there were already two Europeans in Group B. Nigeria came out seventh so could fill Group B, as could Ecuador in eighth. It’s a very simple and fair draw. Just place the team in the first available pot.

Hypothetical Draw Using FIFA’s Pots

Group A: Brazil, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mexico, England
Group B: Spain, Nigeria, Australia, Croatia
Group C: Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, Italy
Group D: Germany, Algeria, Korea, France
Group E: Argentina, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Portugal
Group F: Uruguay, Ghana, USA, Netherlands
Group G: Belgium, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece
Group H: Colombia, Chile, Iran, Russia

Note that Bosnia was the pre-drawn European team that would go into Pot 2 and there’s no draw on the group place. Pot 1 is slot 1, pot 2 is slot 2, etc. I much prefer the single pot draw. It produced a much more interesting and fluid draw. Australia has it tough, and I especially dislike playing Croatia again. Groups A and E seem the most interesting of a fairly dull outcome. Thankfully it’s all hypothetical, so far…

Hypothetical Single Pot Draw 2

This time the groups are filled horizontally, with the first 8 teams obviously filling first position in each group…

Group A: 00 Brazil, 10 England, 16 Portugal, 24 Ghana

Group B: 01 Mexico, 08 Ecuador, 17 Algeria, 25 Greece

Group C: 02 Spain, 09 Argentina, 18 Netherlands, 27 Japan

Group D: 03 Australia, 11 Croatia, 20 Costa Rica, 26 Chile

Group E: 04 Switzerland, 12 Uruguay, 19 Korea, 29 Ivory Coast

Group F: 05 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 13 Italy, 22 USA, 28 Iran

Group G: 06 Germany, 14 France, 23 Cameroon, 30 Colombia

Group H: 07 Nigeria, 15 Honduras, 21 Belgium, 31 Russia

Wow! Look at Group A. Opening match Brazil vs England. Then there’s Portugal and Ghana as the other teams. For a true lethal, you can’t go past Group C. Group G is tough, while Australia’s group proves quite placid and would present great optimism to reach the second round.

Mostly these single pot draws show that simplicity and a true democratic draw works best. FIFA trying to fix seeds and segregate teams is foolish. If the issue is that you can’t have the bevy of former players on the stage helping with the draw, that could be fixed by teams randomly split into separate pots for each player to be used and they take it in turns drawing a ball from their pot.

Positions

With the exception of Brazil as Team 1 in Group A, the draw also decides position in the group. Most likely Australia will face one super tough team, and many theories abound about best time to play them. Mark Milligan, earlier in the week, suggested it’s best to play them first: “Many times the big teams do not get into the swing of things so early in the tournament. They usually build into a tournament so playing them in the first match might give us an advantage and the best opportunity to get a result. People might say that facing Germany in the first game of South Africa 2010 did not quite help us (losing 4-0). The way I look at it is that the Australian team learned a lot from that bad defeat and went on to have two very strong games against Ghana and Serbia on the back of that game.”

Playing the top team first up, you might catch them by surprise. More likely they are primed, then you’re in the mindset of needing to win the final two matches (even if not in actual position as mathematically a team can progress with as low as 2 points), plus there’s the sapping of confidence. Australia just didn’t recover in 2010. If you win or draw, you could also become complacent. How often has Australia excelled against a top team only to bomb out against a lower side in the next match? Too often.

Playing them second up, if you’ve won your first game, you go in confident while still guarded because it is the top team. You also have the comfort of the third game in case the result doesn’t go well. If you’ve lost the first game, you go into the second game really alert, and with Australia’s famed fighting spirit, it’s perfect chance to snatch an unlikely win.

Meeting the top team third up they could be qualified, or they could be desperate. Of course, you could already be qualified yourself, then the match matters even less. If not, as in the case of second-up after a loss, Australia’s fighting spirit comes to the fore, and you also have nothing to lose. If the top team needs to win, the pressure is actually all on them.

Personally I favour the second match to face the top team, with third-up the next preference. There’s less psychological involvement with second-up, and historically it seems to just have the edge. In 2006, the scenario of second-up played out perfectly. Won against Japan, lost to Brazil without losing confidence, primed for the qualification passed Croatia. In Confederations Cups and Youth World Cups, when Australia excelled against the top teams, it’s been second or third match.

Even if Australia draws a top team first, there’s no reason to be anxious about it. No one can predict the mindset of teams, whether or not they’ve already qualified for the next phase, or know the mindset of Australia. There’s scenarios justifying any position to play the top team. If the team is coached well, especially psychologically, it just doesn’t matter at which stage points are accrued. As long as they are accrued, that’s all that matters.