Soccer fans around the world held their breath today, as the lottery draw to determine the playing groups for next's year's FIFA World Cup took place in Brazil. The U.S. has landed in Group G, with Ghana (a team that has beaten the U.S. in the last two World Cups), Germany (the team that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann used to captain as a player), and Portugal (a perennial world power.)
The U.S. team will thus face an upward battle to advance in the World Cup. During the World Cup, teams will play a round-robin against their group opponents, with the top two teams from each group moving on to the Round of 16. From there, the World Cup turns into a straight winner-moves-on competition. With the U.S. staring down three powers, every game in next summer's contest will be vitally important.
The 32 teams, represented by ping pong balls, were divided into four separate pots. One ball was be drawn from each pot to determine the eight distinct World Cup groups that will compete against each next summer in the preliminary round-robin Group Stage. Each of the pots represented a different grouping: Pot 1 held all of the top favorites, including Brazil and Spain; Pot 2 held African teams and the unseeded South American squads; Pot 3 consisted of Asian and Central/North American teams, including the United States; and Pot 4 held the remaining unseeded teams, largely from Europe.
There were few upsets in the regional qualification rounds, making this group of 32 World Cup teams exceptionally scary compared to previous Cup iterations. “All the names you expect to be at the World Cup are pretty much there,” United States Coach Jurgen Klinsmann told Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl. “So there won’t be an easy group. It’s just not happening."
Every World Cup has had a so-called "Group of Death," or the group that pits together several favored heavyweights to battle it out, often sending a top-ranked team home. This year's draw could put those to shame though. "World Cup 2014 promises to be a tournament so suffocatingly competitive that the traditional clichéd "Group of Death" will feel redundant," ESPN explained. Due to a draw quirk, one potential group could include the frightening powers of Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States together; "The Group of Death to end all Groups of Death," as SB Nation called it.
The escaped that terrifying possibility. But the real one doesn't look much better.