U.S. U-17s Learn World Cup Draw, Which Will Awesomely Include Uzbekistan

Marc Pelosi will lead the U.S. midfield.

The U.S. U-17 national team is going to the World Cup in Mexico next month, and yesterday they found out which teams they’ll face in the group stage.

First up, on June 19 (at 7:00 p.m. EST), the young Yanks take on the Czech Republic—most likely a tough game.

Three days later, they get Uzbekistan (4:00 p.m.) and … we have no idea.

Uzbekistan is one of the more obscure of the “ ’stan” countries in Central Asia, trailing only Kyrgyzstan, and possibly tied with Turkmenistan in that category.

We doubt Uzbeks bear any resemblance to their depiction in this vintage, possibly offensive and definitely hilarious clip from Second City TV:

But we couldn’t tell you much about them without consulting Google. We do know that they qualified for this tournament by finishing second in the 2010 U-16 Asian championships, which they hosted.

The Uzbeks defeated Australia 2-1 in the semifinals before falling to North Korea 2-0 in the final. All four semifinalists (Japan was the fourth) qualified for the U-17 World Cup.

The U.S.’s third game is at 6:00 p.m. on June 25 against New Zealand, which won the Oceania tournament, beating Tahiti 2-0 in overtime in the final.

Downing an island nation with a population of 175,000—and needing overtime to do it—might not seem like a landmark accomplishment. But before we go underestimating New Zealand, let’s remember the Kiwis’ full national team and its undefeated performance at the 2010 World Cup.

All in all, though, we’d say the U.S. should advance out of this group.

Here’s the entire draw (Groups B and F look like the toughest):

Group A
Mexico
North Korea
Congo
Netherlands

Group B
Japan
Jamaica
France
Argentina

Group C
Uruguay
Canada
Rwanda
England

Group D
USA
Czech Republic
Uzbekistan
New Zealand

Group E
Burkina Faso
Panama
Germany
Ecuador

Group F
Australia
Ivory Coast
Brazil
Denmark

World Cup Group C Getting Tougher by the Day

When Algeria began the African Cup of Nations with an embarrassing 3-0 loss to no-hopers Malawi, it confirmed worldwide perception that they were one of the weaker African entrants in South Africa 2010, and that Group C was a favorable draw for England and the United States.

But now, just two weeks later, that perception is being transformed, if not turned on its head: With a dramatic 3-2 win over tournament favorites Ivory Coast, Algeria is in the semifinals of the Cup of Nations, and asking its World Cup Group C brethren, “How ya like us now?”

Following that opening loss to Malawi, Algeria rebounded with a 1-0 win over Mali, then a 0-0 draw with hosts Angola that put them through to the quarterfinals, and yesterday’s riveting clash with Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Kolo Toure and Co.

Check out the highlights below, and get a glimpse of what the U.S. will face next summer:

Algeria will meet Egypt, which it eliminated from World Cup contention this past November, in one semifinal on Thursday; Ghana takes on Nigeria in the other.

Best XI Thoughts on the Draw

Eyes on the prize.

11. France qualifies in historically dubious fashion, then lands in one of the easiest groups in the tournament, with South Africa, Mexico, and Uruguay. Proof that the draw is not rigged.

10. Group B is under-the-radar difficult: Nigeria will be a handful for anyone and is playing on its home continent; South Korea reached the semifinals in 2002, and tied France and beat Togo in ’06 (yet didn’t advance); Greece won Euro 2004; and Argentina is Argentina….even with Diego at the helm.

9. The U.S. got the best draw it’s ever received, no doubt, but opening with England makes it a little trickier. If they fail to get a result of some kind against the Three Lions, the pressure will be on.

8. The D stands for Damn Difficult, if not Death. All four teams in Group D believe, rightly, that they are capable of advancing. Australia was frankly robbed in 2006, by a dubious late penalty for eventual champs Italy in the Round of 16, and they are primed to compete; Ghana, led by Chelsea’s Michael Essien, is a team no one wants to face, and Serbia, with former U.S. youth-international centerback Neven Subotic, topped its group in Euro qualifying.

7. The Netherlands needs to watch its back in Group E. We think Holland is capable of great things in this Cup–as they seem to be in every World Cup. But this time out, they have a relatively youthful team, which may work in their favor, to avoid the yips their more experienced players seem to get on the world stage. But with Japan, Cameroon, and Denmark–you saw the way the Danes dominated the U.S. in a friendly last month?–the road out of group play is studded with obstacles.

6. Italy has a cakewalk to the Round of 16. The defending world champs will top Group F, the easiest group in the tournament. Former D.C. United defender Ryan Nelson is a fine player, but New Zealand’s world class begins and ends with him. Ditto Slovakia and Liverpool’s Martin Skertl. Paraguay is always competitive in the World Cup. They’ll join the Azzurri in the next round.

5. Kim Jong -Il can not be pleased with N Korea’s draw. Holy Military Demarcation Line (Google it)! North Korea doesn’t qualify for a World Cup for 44 years, and this is the group they get? Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast. But wait, back in 1966, North Korea upset Italy 1-0 (really, they did) and then took a 3-0 lead on Portugal in the quarterfinals before falling 5-3. That said, they have no shot here. Ivory Coast and Drogba, who was an absolute beast at Germany ’06, will follow Brazil into the Round of 16.

4. Honduras needs to represent in Group H. They have a number of players playing in Europe, they’re bound to be underestimated, and they can play–2010 is the time for Los Catrachos to show the world there’s more to CONCACAF than the U.S. and Mexico. Spain will win this group, but the second spot is up for grabs between Chile, Switzerland and our southern neighbors.

3. Will Galaxy teammates Donovan and Beckham face each other in a World Cup game? It could happen, if both stay healthy and Golden Balls performs for AC Milan this spring.

2. The best group-play games are: U.S. vs England, Argentina vs Nigeria, June 12; Netherlands vs Denmark, June 14; all Group D games between June 13 and June 23–seriously, Germany vs Australia, Serbia vs Ghana …  Group D has a great mix of geography and talent; Brazil vs Ivory Coast, June 20; Brazil vs Portugal, June 25. Will the ref be able to speak Portugese?

1. U.S. fans in SA can chant “1950! 1950!” during that opening game: We know that Joe Gaetjens scored the goal in that historic upset, but can you see it here? We can’t, exactly. Let us know in the comments if you can.

Sweet Creamery Butter

Yess! We'll take it: U.S. draws Slovenia, manageable group.

All right, we’re back from a few unavoidable obligations, let’s move like an avalanche on this draw business.

First up: The U.S. could hardly have hoped for a more favorable group. They got a tough team out of Pot 1, England, but it could have been worse, much worse; they drew probably the most beatable of the African teams in Algeria, and they were gifted a European minnow in Slovenia. It’s safe to say that England and the Nats will be widely favored to advance out of this group. The only problem with that is that the U.S. is not used to being a favorite; it much prefers the underdog role. Next summer it will have to perform under the pressure of expectations—getting to the second round will be expected, not a pleasant surprise.

Second: All three CONCACAF teams have legitimate shots to advance. Mexico drew the hosts in Group A, along with Uruguay, which squeaked past Costa Rica in a playoff to qualify, and France, which—wait, how did France make it? I forget. Oh, right. They cheated. But they also were outplayed by Ireland in that playoff and who knows? Maybe they’ll be the France of ’02, which lost to Senegal in the opener and went home without scoring a goal. Or they could be the one of ’06, which reached the final and was two Zidane headers away from winning it all—one was tipped over the bar by Buffon, the other was embedded into the chest of Marco Materazzi.

Honduras drew mighty Spain, along with beatable Chile and Switzerland. If all three advance, maybe it’ll help one get seeded for 2014.

The two toughest groups are G, with Brazil, N Korea, Ivory Coast, and Portugal, and D, with Germany, Australia, Serbia, and Ghana. Our Man at the Valley argues that G should get the nod as the Group of Death, since Brazil, Ivory Coast, and Portugal are all semifinal contenders whereas D simply doesn’t have a weak team—but you’d only consider Germany a semifinal contender. Fair enough. But we do have a creeping hunch about Australia. Would not be surprised to see them in the quarters or even beyond.

Here are the groups:

Group A—South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France

Group B—Argentina, South Korea, Nigeria, Greece

Group C—England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia

Group D—Germany, Australia, Ghana, Serbia

Group E—the Netherlands, Japan, Cameroon, Denmark

Group F—Italy, New Zealand, Paraguay, Slovakia

Group G—Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal

Group H—Spain, Honduras, Chile, Switzerland

The U.S. opens with England on June 12, a Saturday, at 2:30 p.m. EST. They then play Slovenia and finish the group stage against Algeria.

More to follow. Share your draw thoughts in the comments.

’90 to Now: Rating the U.S. World Cup Draws

We heard that Charlize Theron—by the way, have you had enough of her yet? Is it possible? She’s gonna look so good at today’s draw, you will doubt all over again that that was really her in Monster.

Caligiuri and Co. were overmatched at Italia ’90.

Anyway, we heard that she drew an “Ireland” ball out of the bowl during a dress rehearsal for the draw, instead of a “France” ball, just to have a little fun with FIFA. Ha.

But why would there have been an “Ireland” ball at the draw, dress rehearsal or not? … Ah forget it, we are choosing to believe this story, just to add to our admiration for South Africa’s favorite daughter.

Where were we? Oh, right: U.S. World Cup draws. How will today’s stack up against the last five? Let’s take a look:

1990: Czechoslovakia, Italy, and Austria

Degree of Difficulty: For the U.S.’s inexperienced team, which contained two college players, a solid 9.

Results: Three and out; two goals scored and eight conceded.

1994: Switzerland, Colombia, and Romania

Degree of Difficulty: Playing at home helped, but remember, Colombia was a popular darkhorse pick to win the whole thing that year, and Romania had Gheorge Hagi, the Maradona of the Carpathians (best nickname of all-time?), who led the team to a win over Argentina and into the quarterfinals, where they lost on penalties to Sweden: 8.

Results: Tied Switzerland 1-1, beat Colombia 2-1 [!], lost to Romania 1-0. Advanced to Round of 16 meeting with Brazil, lost 1-0.

1998: Germany, Iran, and Yugoslavia

Degree of Difficulty: With two legit European powers and an intense political rival in Iran—which was far more motivated by that rivalry than the U.S. was—this one scores an 8.5.  

Results: Lost to Germany 2-0, Lost to Iran 2-1, lost to Yugoslavia 1-0. Oof.

2002: Portugal, S Korea, and Poland

Degree of Difficulty: Like Colombia in ’94, Portugal entered the ’02 tournament as a trendy darkhorse; S Korea was hosting, and Poland, even though it was a second-tier European team, was generally tabbed to finish second in the group: 8.  

Results: Beat Portugal 3-2[!], tied S Korea 1-1, lost to Poland 3-1. Advanced to Round of 16 meeting with Mexico, won 2-0; met Germany in quarterfinals, lost 1-0.

2006: Czech Republic, Italy, and Ghana

Degree of Difficulty: This was a straight-up Group of Death, and was called so at the time: a world power in Italy, a Czech team fueled by Pavel Nedved, Tomas Rosicky, and big Jan Koller, along with a dangerous African power in Ghana, led by Michael Essien: 9.5.

Results: Lost to Czech Republic 3-0, tied Italy 1-1, lost to Ghana 2-1. Done.

2010: ???

But we’re optimistic, because as reader Mike G. points out, the U.S. has a pattern in World Cup performances.

See above: ’90: crap, ’94: second round, ’98: shite, ’02: quarterfinals, ’06: bollocks….’ 10: they’re due to get out of group play, at least!

Enjoy the draw.

Pot Luck 2.0

Luck Be A Lady: completely non-gratuitous semi-nude shot of World Cup draw joint-host Charlize Theron.

We’ve covered the best-case/worst-case scenarios for the U.S. at tomorrow’s draw, now let’s calculate the odds of the Amerks getting either a Group of Death or something more manageable.

Since we’re better with letters than numbers, we called in two friends of the site, AbesArmy, and Our Man at the Valley, to crunch the numbers.

First, a couple of assumptions: A “good” draw would be one that matches the U.S. with two or more “favorable” teams. We use the term loosely, because as we’ve said, unless you’re playing New Zealand, and possibly North Korea, you’re in for a battle every time you step on the field at this tournament. But there are definitely teams you’d welcome in your group over others.

In our opinion, these “favorable” teams are:

Pot 1—Just one favorable here: South Africa.

[Pot 2—U.S. is in pot 2, will not draw any teams from here]

Pot 3—Four favorables: Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Algeria

Pot 4—Five favorables: Denmark, Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland

Before we get to the math, Our Man At the Valley points out that if the U.S. draws South Africa from Pot 1, it’s guaranteed a “favorable” team from Pot 3, because the African teams will then be ruled out (can’t have two in the same group). On the other hand, if the U.S. gets Argentina or Brazil from Pot 1, it has an 80% chance of drawing an “unfavorable” team from Pot 3, ie., the African teams would then all be in play. Got that?

Okay, take it away, AbesArmy:

“Looks to me like the alignment of the pots was even more influential than usual. Our probability of being drawn with South Africa is 1/8, but it’s 1/3 for the unseeded South Americans. Plus the African teams look so much stronger than the Asian ones, and they’ll have the home-turf advantage of all the continent’s vuvuzelas buzzing them on.”

Our Man at the Valley:

“So our probabilities are 1/8 for South Africa, 5/8 for a second-tier Euro team and 1/2 for second-level South American team or Algeria. But that is higher if we get South Africa from Pot 1 and lower if we get one of the seven other seeds, right? Does that put us around 25% for a favorable draw?”

/Blogger’s head starting to swim. Let’s cut to the results:

AbesArmy:

“My math says:

3 favorable teams: 8%

2 favorable teams: 28%

1 favorable teams: 45%

0 favorable teams: 19%

So, I would say that we have a 36% chance of a favorable draw using these odds—and assuming that you need two teams you can get results against to hope to advance.

This fails to account for the fact that not all favorable/unfavorable teams are created equal, but I think it’s pretty good.”

We agree (and he included a spreadsheet).

So that Brazil-France-Ivory Coast nightmare has only a 19% chance of becoming reality.

We feel better already.

Pot Luck

190 days to go....

The World Cup draw pots were announced today, and, as expected, the U.S. and its CONCACAF brethren were placed with the teams from Asia and Oceania. While it would have been nice to have been grouped with the African teams instead (thereby avoiding drawing them in the first round of the Cup), no one can say they’re surprised it didn’t happen. In fact, the only surprise among the pots was that the Netherlands received one of the eight seeds and nudged France into the pot of second-tier European teams. FIFA swears this had nothing to do with Henry’s handball v. Ireland, but either way, it’s a welcome bit of retribution.

Here are the four pots. On Friday in Cape Town, FIFA officials will pull one team from each to make the eight groups for SA 2010:

Pot 1—Argentina, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, South Africa

Pot 2—Australia, New Zealand, Japan, N Korea, S Korea, Honduras, Mexico, United States

Pot 3—Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay

Pot 4—Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland

The U.S.’ best-case scenario (see previous post) remains unchanged. For the worst-case, we’d plug in either Portugal or France to the spot vacated by the Netherlands.