World Cup Finals Draw: South Africa 2010

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Representatives of the 32 teams qualified for South Africa 2010 are making their way towards Cape Town for Friday’s World Cup Finals draw.

One nation who won’t – or, at least, shouldn’t – be there is the Republic of Ireland. FIFA rejected the FAI’s request for an extra place at the tournament, after their play-off defeat to France due to Thierry Henry’s double handball. Of course, FIFA being FIFA, little was said about the precedent that would be set by approving a side’s appeal every time they were on the receiving end on an ‘unjust’ refereeing decision, and more about the fact that 33 was an odd number.

And for the guilty Frenchman? While his Gillette advert buddy Tiger Woods has this week been under investigation by Florida Highway Patrol, Henry faces a much more terrifying prospect: an inquiry by soccer’s governing body. But FIFA has decided against introducing extra behind-the-goal linesmen for the 2010 showpiece after the ‘Hand of Gaul’ incident. Thank god – we’d end up with more officials than players, it’d be like the NFL!

Amongst of all this, Sepp Blatter and co. did get down to the business of announcing the four pots of teams in anticipation of Friday’s draw. The eight seeds, decided chiefly on FIFA World Rankings, include reigning champions Italy, five-time winners Brazil and hosts South Africa. Portugal and France – who both needed the play-offs to qualify – are unseeded and lurk dangerously in the European pot, as the remaining sides are arranged by region. Although we know the big dogs will be kept apart for the group stages, there’s plenty of options left open for Friday. A potential ‘Group of death’ pitches Spain, the USA, Ivory Coast and France together, whilst a ‘Group of, erm… life’ would see South Africa, North Korea, Paraguay and Slovenia fight it out.

Friday’s draw promises to be a miniature festival of famous footballing and film faces. South African actress Charlize Theron will co-host; Beckham, Beckenbauer and Blatter will be on stage, presumably pulling out balls, or perhaps paper slips, to decide not just the make-up of the eight groups, but also the road to the Final in Johannesburg on 11 July 2010.

John Smit, the South African World Cup winning rugby union captain, will be there too. ‘Rugby?’ Yes, you see the hosts are actually pretty naff at soccer. ‘Bafana Bafana’ have the lowest FIFA ranking (68) of any team present at the Finals. Carlos Alberto, who guided Brazil to World Cup glory in 1994, has been brought in as Head Coach to prove the South Africans deserve to be at – let alone seeds at – their own tournament.

200 became 31, plus the hosts, after an arduous two-year-four-month qualifying process. Way back on 25 August 2007, Fiji beat Tuvalu 16-0 in a sign of one-sided things to come in the Oceania section. American Samoa scored 1 and conceded 38 in four games while both Andorra and San Marino scored ‘nul points’ from ten fixtures in Europe. Several continental heavyweights will join them in spending a summer on the beach. Pavel Nedved’s international retirement in 2006 signalled the end of the Czech Republic’s golden generation, and they struggled in Group 3.

Turkey – semi-finalists at World Cup 2002 and Euro 2008 – didn’t make it out of Group 5, whilst Guus Hiddink’s well-fancied
Russians, who made the last four in 2008, fell to Slovenia on away goals in the playoffs. Master tournament tactician Hiddink may still be in South Africa though, as Argentina boss Diego Maradona’s number two. Maradona’s banned from the draw after his foul-mouthed outburst when Argentina finally sealed qualification, so we might even see the Dutchman on Friday.

The best teams from both Asia and Africa – at least technically – won’t be in Cape Town either. Iraq – led by Younis Mahmoud – won the Asia Cup in 2007, but didn’t even make the continent’s final round of qualifying for 2010. Egypt are the holders of the African Nations Cup, defeating Cameroon in the Final in February 2010, but lost 1-0 to Algeria in a tiebreak qualifier last month.

Spain of course will be the team everyone wants to avoid, having won Euro 2008 in style and scored a perfect 10 – 10 wins out of 10 that is – in qualifying. Here’s to holding our breath…

Pot 1 (seeds):

South Africa, Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina, England

Pot 2 (Asia, Oceania and North / Central America):

Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Mexico, Honduras

Pot 3 (Africa and South America):

Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay

Pot 4 (Europe):

France, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland, Greece, Serbia, Denmark, Slovakia

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