By Carlo Garganese
The eight seeded teams who will be in Pot 1 when the World Cup draw is made in Bahia on December 6 are hosts Brazil, holders Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Switzerland and, barring a shock loss to Jordan in an inter-confederation play-off, Uruguay. The presence of the latter four teams ahead of giants Italy and Netherlands can only be described as farcical.
The Azzurri and Oranje were runners-up at Euro 2012 and World Cup 2010, respectively, and were the first nations outside of the Asian region to qualify for Brazil - romping through their groups unbeaten with two rounds to spare.
Four-time winners Italy have not lost a World Cup or European Championship qualifier for 40 games - their last defeat was more than seven years ago to France in Paris. In their last four major tournaments, they have reached the final twice - winning one. Netherlands have incredibly emerged victorious in 26 of their last 28 competitive qualifiers - the best record in Europe for the previous three qualifying programmes, superior even to Spain.
Compare this to Belgium, who have not progressed to a major finals in 12 years and finished fifth, fourth and third respectively in their three group qualifying campaigns prior to World Cup 2014.
|WORLD CUP 2014'S TOP SEEDS
|6th||Uruguay (still to qualify)|
Compare this to Colombia, who have won fewer World Cup games than Italy have trophies and have not participated in a finals since 1998. Or Switzerland, who failed to qualify for Euro 2012, were eliminated in the group stage in South Africa two years earlier and were the first team to be knocked out of their own co-hosted Euros in 2008.
The seeds were decided by using the October Fifa Ranking (this decision was only, coincidentally, made by the Fifa executive committee this month), in an attempt to reward form rather than past performances - as had been the old system.
But this procedure is clearly flawed when you consider that Uruguay are set to be in Pot 1, despite having not even qualified for Brazil yet. Oscar Tabarez's men endured a dreadful Conmebol campaign, winning just seven of their 16 qualifiers and ending with a +0 goal difference.
The complicated Fifa ranking, which is explained in full here, places too much emphasis on meaningless friendly matches, and this is where Italy and Netherlands have clearly been penalised. Since Cesare Prandelli replaced Marcello Lippi in 2010, the Azzurri have won just four of their 17 friendlies - displaying that innate Italian trait of treating uncompetitive games with disdain. The Dutch have only five victories in their last 14 friendlies - most of these against smaller opponents - which thus earns them fewer ranking points.
Uruguay, on the other hand, have won six and lost just one of their last 10 friendlies, earning substantial points by beating high-level opponents Italy, France and Chile. Switzerland have also won six of their last 10 uncompetitive clashes, losing two, racking up the points with prestigious triumphs over Brazil and Germany. Colombia have won six from seven, and Belgium also boast a much better record than the Azzurri and Oranje.
This is all somewhat comparable to Uefa's decision to compensate nations whose clubs do well in the derided Europa League with extra Champions League places, via their own flawed coefficient system.
Thus, when the World Cup draw is made in December, we are almost certainly guaranteed at least two or three groups of death. With Italy, Netherlands, England and play-off favourites France and Portugal all absent from Pot 1, a repeat of the controversial 2002 World Cup when superpowers fell by the wayside in the early rounds - albeit for other reasons - is a very real possibility.
What another wonderful World Cup that would be.
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