When FIFA unveiled the makeup of the four pots from which teams would be drawn at Friday’s World Cup draw on Tuesday, U.S. national team fans probably spent a good amount of time staring at an inevitability the USA has been facing for some time now.
Avoiding a brutal World Cup draw will be extremely difficult for the Americans, especially after CONCACAF teams were placed in the same pot with Asian teams, thus removing several of the easier potential opponents from the USA’s list of possible group stage options.
Now, the Americans are facing the strong likelihood that at least two world powers will be in their group, and there may even be three juggernauts in the USA group.
How tough are we talking?
Consider that the USA could wind up in a group with Brazil, Italy, and the Netherlands.
Yes, that could actually happen.
That worst case scenario is just one of several "Group of Death" draws that could leave the Americans facing their toughest road to the knockout rounds in World Cup history. Consider it the harsh reality of a World Cup field with few pushovers, and even fewer among the field of teams the USA could be paired against.
As scary as some scenarios might be, it should be noted that history has shown that, at times, seemingly scary draws have worked out very well while seemingly easy draws have led to heartbreak and plenty of nail biting.
Consider the 2002 World Cup. While some revisionist history might suggest the USA had an easy draw that year, it wasn’t thought of as one going into the tournament. The Americans were drawn against a powerhouse in Portugal, a host nation with talent in South Korea, and a European team that went unbeaten in World Cup qualifying (Poland).
The 2002 U.S. team survived that group, with some help from South Korea, and went on to a run to the quarterfinals, and a team that drew little fanfare as a force heading into the tournament left the 2002 World Cup considered by some as arguably the best U.S. team ever.
The 2014 U.S. team has the potential to be even better, and while some forgettable friendly results have tempered the enthusiasm surrounding Jurgen Klinsman’s side, it should also be noted that the Americans have not had their full-strength team together for much of the year.
A full-strength American team could potentially do well in a Group of Death, and while it is understandable to want a cushy draw, facing and surviving a group of death could do much more for the U.S. national team program than advancing out of a weak group.
Unfortunately for the Americans, the odds of being dropped into a truly weak group are pretty bad. Throw in the fact the U.S. received a reasonable draw four years ago, and it becomes even tougher to see the Americans get lucky yet again.
So what can we expect out of Friday’s World Cup draw for the USA? Here is a rundown of best-case scenarios, worst-case scenarios, and match-ups that could offer up some of the best storylines from each of the three World Cup draw pots that USA opponents will be drawn from in Brazil on Friday:
Worst Case Scenario: Brazil
Playing home teams at a World Cup is never easy, but playing a dangerous and in-form Brazil team would be a brutal task. Teams like Spain and Germany would also be rough draws, but taking on the Selecao in front of the home fans would be the toughest task of all.
Best-Case Scenario: Switzerland
The Swiss may have the FIFA ranking to earn a seed, but there aren’t many teams in the other three pots that aren’t hoping to be drawn into a group with Switzerland.
Best Storyline: Germany
It wouldn’t be the easiest draw, but Germany would certainly offer plenty of subplots. Klinsmann against his old team, Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson and Terrence Boyd against their birth country.
Better draw than you think: Uruguay
The prospect of facing an attack that features Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani should be terrifying, but Uruguay had an up-and-down qualifying cycle and isn’t as strong as the Uruguay team that finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup.
Worst Case Scenario: Netherlands
The Dutch are in good form, with Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben leading a confident attack. The Dutch team’s odds of being drawn out of Pot 2 are high, but whether out of Pot 2 or Pot 4, the Netherlands would not be a good match-up for the Americans.
Best-Case Scenario: Algeria
There is little debating the fact that the Algerians are the easiest draw out of Pot 2. You could make a case for Ecuador, but the South Americans will be on their home continent and boast a stronger attack than Algeria. The U.S. also has the memory of Landon Donovan’s winner to beat the Algerians in the 2010 World Cup.
Best Storyline: Ghana
As much as many USA fans would dread another rematch against the same Ghana team that has beaten the Americans in the past two World Cups, you have to admit the opportunity for revenge would make this one exciting for USA fans, even if it would also be equal parts scary.
Better draw than you think: Nigeria
It might sound crazy to want a draw that includes the reigning African champion, but this Nigeria team isn’t as scary as past Nigerian teams, and there are much scarier teams in pot 2. Also, African Cup of Nation winners don’t always do well in the subsequent World Cup.
Worst Case Scenario: Italy
With Giuseppe Rossi looking dangerous, and forming a potentially potent partnership with Mario Balotelli, the Azzuri could be extremely tough to deal with next summer. Gigi Buffon still mans the nets, while Andrea Pirlo continues to pull the strings (though he is currently injured). A U.S. team that could field several World Cup newcomers might struggle against the experience Italy could bring to the table, not to mention the quality.
Best-Case Scenario: Greece
The Greeks scored a meager 12 goals in 10 World Cup qualifying group stage matches, but they booked their playoff spot by allowing just four goals in those same contests. The Greeks defend and counter, which would offer a good match-up for an American team that still his a defense that is a bit of a work in progress.
Best Storyline: Portugal
A dozen years after the USA shocked the Portuguese team’s ‘Golden Generation' the Iberians look for revenge with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the charge. Selling the USA vs. Ronaldo match-up wouldn’t hurt TV ratings in America either.
Better draw than you think: England
Four years ago the USA gave England all it could handle, and this time around the Americans should have a stronger team. England won’t be a pushover, but this match-up would be better for the Americans than most people realize.