The draw has been completed and we now know who plays who, where and when, at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Now of course, with about six months to go, the expectation will heighten as people start to wonder, hope and fear for their favourite country. In this post, I’ve decided to calculate which is the hardest group and find out who has the easy ride.
My quick answer is South Africa had it tough, Italy has it easiest in the first round, Spain, not Brazil, is in the hardest group but England is the most likely top seed (other than the host) to fail to qualify.
The rankings used for the event were the FIFA/Coca Cola World Rankings [precise linking not easy] for October 16, 2009. For my analysis, I’ve taken the most up to date data, from November 20. The main difference is that Portugal, not England, should have been seeded. One wonders if the size of television audiences and advertising markets in any way influences the choice of ranking. But hey! No one manipulates the data to come up with the results one wanted, do they?
A poll on FIFA’s website suggest the following order from hardest to easiest group (I’ve added teams and latest FIFA/Coca Cola rankings in brackets, ranking points in angle brackets “[” and “]”):
1. 49.7% said Group G was hardest
(Brazil 2 [1,592], North Korea 84 , Ivory Coast 16 , Portugal 5 [1,181])
2. 23.41% Group A
(South Africa 86 , Mexico 15 [931, Uruguay 19 , France 7 [1,122])
3. 7.97% Group D
(Germany 6 [1,170], Australia 21 , Serbia 20 , Ghana 37 )
4. 4.7% Group H
(Spain 1 [1,622], Switzerland 18 , Honduras 38 , Chile 17 )
5. 4.49% Group E
(The Netherlands 3 [1,279], Denmark 26 , Japan 43 , Cameroon 11 [1,035])
6. 3.82% Group B
(Argentina 8 [1,085], Nigeria 22 , South Korea 52 , Greece 12 [1,028])
7. 3.39% Group C
(England 9 [1,063], USA 14 , Algeria 28 , Slovenia 33 )
8. 2.53% Group F
(Italy 4 [1,215], Paraguay 30 , New Zealand 77 , Slovakia 34 )
I think the host country, South Africa in Group A, has reasonable grounds to consider the draw somewhat harsh: France was (barely) the second hardest team from Europe to face in the opening round, Uruguary the second hardest option from South America and Mexico the second hardest (barely) from the rest of the world.
It might have been too easy to get North Korea, Paraguay and Slovakia, respectively 84th, 30th and 34th in the FIFA world rankings. But at 86th in the world and the lowest-ranked country in this competition, nine places behind 77th-placed New Zealand, a little luck in the draw would not have gone amiss.
The obviously weak group is that of defending champions Italy (4th in the current rankings), which has Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. How Fabio Capello, the Italian manager of the England team, must have quietly wished he could swap places…
As a half-French half-British soccer enthusiast living in London who supports Liverpool F.C., I hope England does well.
This is not rugby, where I would rather have root canal treatment than listen to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and watch oafs with the sporting intelligence of steroid-pumped pantomine wrestlers struggle to score a try against Argentina. (No, I’m not claiming the English rugby team uses steroids, only that no one could tell the difference from the amount of flair in their game, with a tiny smattering of exceptions.)
I’ve used four indicators to determine the strength of each of the eight groups in the first round of the World Cup. I call them “Group Average,” “The Minnows’ View,” “View From The Top,” and “Mind The Gap.” I don’t know which of these is the most reliable guide, we shall have to wait and see.