Soccer’s Most Important Balls

The World Cup is such a colossus, that even the draw for the group stages is a major international event.

This year’s event, for the 2014 edition in Brazil, aired live on Univision and ESPN2 in the United States. It featured, as always, plenty of pageantry, a mascot dancing, grown men groping around for balls, and ample sideboob.

So what did we learn? Not all that much. But here’s a few things that stuck out.

    • The USA got a miserable draw. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will face his native country, Germany, now coached by his protege Jogi Low. Low was Klinsmann’s assistant during the 2006 World Cup, when Germany finished third, and has since gone on to reach at least the semifinals in each of the three competitions since. More impressively, he’s overtaken Klinsmann in fashion, with his crisp white shirts and snappy sweaters. (Jurgen’s no sartorial slob himself.)Then there’s Portugal, featuring the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo (Lionel Messi is currently injured), and Ghana. The United States has bowed out of the last two World Cups at the hand of the Ghanorians. The difficulty of the opponents is compounded by the travel. According to Grant Wahl’s calculator, the Yanks will have to fly 8,866 miles for the first three games, including a dreaded trip to the Amazon in Manaus. No team will travel more in the group stages.
    • There are some shitty groups. Much of the #hottakes you’ll hear about the draw will feature the Groups Of Death ™ and ominous gongs. Sure, there are some tough matchups (Spain versus the Netherlands, a WC 2010 final rematch, on the opening day of Group B is especially tasty). But there are also plenty of really straightforward paths to the knockout rounds. We’re calling them Group Crap (Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan), Group Easy (Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras) and Group Horrible (Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic). Out of those 12 teams, it’s difficult to imagine anyone besides France advancing deep into July.
    • Mexico is straight laughing. Group A opponents include host Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon. El Tri, which only qualified thanks to a playoff against New Zealand, can now spare a chuckle for a much easier draw than either the USA or Costa Rica (Italy, England and Uruguay – woof). Mexico has qualified for the Round of 16 in five straight World Cups. Don’t bet against a sixth. It’s cliché, but Miguel Herrera will remind his players that it doesn’t matter how you qualify, just what you do once you get there.