What would work for England at the World Cup draw?

THE 2014 World Cup in Brazil is creeping up quickly, with the draw for the tournament group stages but a few days away.

On Friday December 6th, the football bigwigs descend onto the North Eastern resort town of Costa do Sauipe to perform the ceremony that puts all the 32 teams into the groups for football’s biggest tournament.

Its a chance for FIFA to talk up a tournament whose preparation has been beset by a variety of issues – late completion of stadiums, hotel rooms and transport links, the tragic death of workers at the new-build Sao Paolo stadium and country-wide protests about the tournament’s cost have generated plenty of negative press for the tournament.

But with no turning back, it means the 32 teams including England are preparing for the draw and the chance to figure out the challenges for next summer.

At the last minute, FIFA have handed their draw a strange alteration. The seeding structure means 9 European teams are not seeded – one more than the 8 groups. As a result, one team has to be sent in to a group where the top seed is not a European nation.

Originally, this was going to be the lowest ranked according to the seedings. This was France, but for some reason, FIFA have doubled back on this and decided the odd team out will be put in with the African and South American teams. This will lead them going into a group with a South American top seed.

Supposing England are not the team that falls victim to this twist, it would make Switzerland the ideal top seed. The Swiss are the surprise inclusion in the top seeds over higher-reputation teams like Italy and the Netherlands, but don’t seem to be the strongest.

Assuming England don’t get shuffled into pot 2, the weakest touch from there appears to be Algeria, with the African nation barely scraping through the play-offs against Burkina Faso. But thinking Algeria is easy would be very deceptive given that England failed to beat them during the 2010 tournament. The other easier touch appears to be Ecuador, who England beat the 2006 World Cup.

Pot 3 is intriguingly varied, with opponents that England could do well against but could equally do poorly against. The easiest touch in the eyes of most pundits is the Central American nation of Honduras, although Iran could also be useful opponents.

So, ideally, Switzerland, Algeria or Ecuador and Iran would be a good group assuming England stay in Pot 4.

Supposing England do get shuffled changes the dynamic, with Pot 4 coming into play. This brings up potential clashes with heavyweight opposition like Italy, Holland, France and Portugal. Conversely, teams like Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece appear to be more manageable affairs. But considering England struggled through a group containing Montenegro, Ukraine and Poland, there is no way the team can count their chickens.

From the tops, it means Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay as opponents. The easiest looking is Colombia, but considering they qualified ahead of the much-fancied Uruguayans, they still hold the potential to be tricky customers.

Nevertheless, a draw of Colombia, Iran and Bosnia would represent a very progressable draw for the Three Lions.

But it is important to be beware of how deceptive these groups can be. After England’s 2010 World Cup draw, the papers heralded a group of the USA, Algeria and Slovenia to be easy only for England to almost fail to qualify for the knockout round.

Plus, the luck of the draw means that, for all the hope England land in such a group, they could equally end up in a group containing Spain, Chile and South Korea, for example.

Roy Hodgson has previously said he is more worried about where they play as much as who they play. Although you’d like to think England can perform anywhere, its certainly an interesting spread of venues.

A bad draw location-wise would see England land in Group G, for example, which would involve flying from their team base in Rio de Janeiro to the north-eastern cities of Recife and Natal, and a game deep in the Amazon in Manaus.

Some of the groups require immense travelling, and it would be quite unhelpful if the team was required to make such long distance commutes to all their games. But with no pot 4 team scheduled to have a game at Rio’s Maracana Stadium, it also cements the concept of such mega travelling.

It will be interesting to see how England cope with this, and it promises an interesting challenge.

Are Hodgson’s England up for the job? We’re about to find out…


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