Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The World Cup Draw for Dummies

Don't be this guy, you want to see when something big is flying at your head... Here is a brief World Cup Draw primer so you have some idea what the world's sporting fans are getting all excited about.

World Cup is coming! How big is soccer on the world stage? It is so big that this Friday the FIFA World Cup Draw, an event where not a single minute of sport is contested will draw television ratings to rival the Super Bowl and the “Who Shot JR” episode of Dallas. By the way, in case you’re wondering FIFA stands for Fédération Internationale de Football Association, it’s the international governing body of soccer. (Technically, they consider it the international governing body of football, but I’m too much of an American to call the game football, it’ll always be soccer to me.)

The World Cup Draw show is like the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament selection show on steroids. It is wildly popular even though it lacks the “Who is the last team into the tournament” drama of the NCAA Selection show…as we already know all 32 nations that will be represented.

Millions and millions around the world will tune in this Friday, not to watch a game, but to watch the selection of eight groups and to find out which nations their team will be competing with in group play.

Is there a weirder pairing than Charlize Theron and Archbishop Desmond Tutu?

Interestingly, the World Cup Draw television show will broadcast live from Cape Town and will feature a cast of characters that includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Haile Gebreselassie (an Ethiopian long distance runner), David Beckham, Makhaya Ntini (A South African cricket player and the first black man to play for the South African cricket team), FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke, and oddly, Charlize Theron (Invited to participate because not only is she a native South African, she’s also easy on the eyes.) Nelson Mandela will also address the audience via video message. Yup, It’s a pretty big event! For those unaware of how the world’s biggest sporting event works…here is a brief synopsis:

Thirty-two teams have qualified to play in the 2010 World Cup. These teams will be broken down into eight groups of four. The first round of the World Cup consists of each nation’s team playing the other three teams in their group. A team is awarded three points for a win, one point for a tie, and no points for a loss. If there is a tie, tiebreakers work with goal-differential the first tiebreaker, total goals the second, and finally to the head-to-head result. If those tiebreakers are all even, then it goes to a drawing of lots…which would be about the single most important and exciting game of Paper, Rock, Scissors in the history of time.

At the end of the round-robin stage, the top two teams from each group advance to a sixteen team single-elimination tournament until only one team remains standing as the World Cup Champion. Even if you’re not a big soccer fan, you should give the World Cup a shot when it rolls around next June. The excitement that surrounds the event and the passion of the crowds and intensity of the competition is electric. Even for those who actively avoid the beautiful game, if you’re a sports fan it’s hard to not get sucked into it.

World Cup action is truly spectacular.

As for this Friday’s draw: here’s how it works. The eight groups will be created by taking one team from4 regionally oriented groups. The four groups are called pots, and the first group is created based on rankings and the other three are created based on region of the world. The pots are created by a complicated statistical formula that takes into consideration each nation’s FIFA rankings along with historical performances in past World Cups to determine which teams get the preferential treatment.

The top seven teams are placed into Pot 1 along with the host nation. Then the remaining teams are placed into pots based on their region so that teams from the same area do not play each other. Pot 1 is comprised of the best teams and they are often referred to as the seeded teams. The teams which have received seeds this year are: Germany, Brazil, Italy, Spain, England, Holland, and Argentina. Pot A is rounded out in 2010 by the dance partner that everyone in Pots 2, 3, and 4 are hoping to get grouped with…The host nation South Africa.

South Africa is only in the World Cup because they are hosting it; the host nation gets an automatic bid. South Africa is ranked number 86 in the world in the FIFA rankings, and had they been forced to attempt to qualify, they wouldn’t have made it; South Africa just isn’t very good. Being matched up with the hosts in a group is a double blessing as it means that not only do you get a relative cupcake for the Round Robin portion of the World Cup, you also avoid having to qualify for the elimination round against the seven best teams in the tourney. Getting grouped with South Africa is like being kissed by the World Cup fairy, The United States has a 1 in 8 chance of getting that lucky. However, the USA has a history of being unlucky when it comes to draws…I’ll be shocked if we get lucky enough to be in the South African group, although that is what I’m hoping for.

The rest of the pots are broken down like this:

Pot 2 (Asia, Oceania, North America, and Central America) - Japan, South Korea, Australia, North Korea, New Zealand, the United States, Mexico, and Honduras

Pot 3 (Africa and South America) - Cote D’Ivoire (a.k.a. the Ivory Coast), Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria, Paraguay, Chile, and Uruguay

Pot 4 (Europe) - France, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland, Greece, Serbia, Denmark, and Slovakia

So, this Friday at noon Eastern time, when that weird soccer-fan guy in your office is acting all ecstatic or dismayed because of “the draw.” You’ll have a slight idea what he’s talking about, and you can laugh because he is getting all emotionally riled up over games being announced that won’t be played for seven months. Man, I love the World Cup!

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