Why U.S. soccer fans should not fear the World Cup draw

Posted on 04 December 2009 by Nathaniel E. Baker

After all the mock draws and speculation (and more mock draws) it is finally time for the real thing. At noon EST today, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) will stage the draw that will determine the U.S. Men’s National Team’s three first round opponents at next June’s World Cup in South Africa. Nobody, with the possible exception of FIFA itself, knows how the draw will play out.

With the unknown, naturally, comes fear. Conspiracy theories abound and at least one pundit has told U.S. soccer fans to “prepare for the disastrous.”

Nonsense. Instead, U.S. soccer fans’ motto should be “go ahead, make our day.” The USMNT has shown before it can deal with the toughest opponents. Just look at this year’s Confederations Cup. Or look at the 2002 World Cup, where the U.S. was placed in a “group of death” with Euro 2004 runners-up Portugal (seen by some as the best team coming into the tournament), hosts South Korea and Poland. We weren’t supposed to have a prayer against Portugal but beat them 3-2 on our way to advancing to the quarterfinals. Or go further back, to 1994, when the U.S. drew Colombia (tipped by none other than Pele as favorites that year), Romania (with Hagi) and Switzerland, but still advanced.

Sure, there was also 1998 (Germany, Yugoslavia, Iran) and 2006 (Italy, Czech Republic, Ghana) that did not go well at all. But here’s the thing about those World Cups: both took place on European soil.

This time, the World Cup will be held on a continent where it has been before. If the 2002 and 1994 tournaments are any guide, strange “unscripted” things tend to happen when FIFA’s signature event enters new continents. For whatever reason (climate? conditions?) the geography tends to upset the delicate balance of European teams in particular. Perhaps because it views itself as a European country, Argentina tends to suffer the same consequences as it did in ’94 and ’02 when it didn’t make it out of the group stage.

Other factors can turn the strength of a World Cup group on its head. In 2002, defending champions France lost their best player to injury for the first two games and fell apart, failing to score a single goal before exiting after the first round. We all know how Colombia imploded in ’94. There are numerous other examples.

No sooner were the pots announced this week that “group of death” scenarios began to haunt the imagination. The U.S. could draw Argentina, Ivory Coast and France! Brazil, Ghana and Portugal! Spain, Paraguay and Serbia! Of the pot four teams, two (Denmark and Slovakia) beat the U.S. in friendlies last month!

Guess what: Chances are the U.S. will be drawn into a so-called “group of death.” It’s happened before. It will happen again. I say bring it on.

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