In an announcement Wednesday that will not come as much of a surprise to followers of soccer, Italy was named one of the top seeds for the 2010 World Cup, joining host nation South Africa, Brazil, England, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, and Argentina.
The big news coming out of this announcement is the conspicuous absence of one team from “Pot 1″: 2006 World Cup runner-up France. What penalized the French was not the handball by Thierry Henry to William Gallas, but the fact that FIFA now strictly uses world rankings, not past results, in their seeding.
The remaining 24 national teams are divided into three pots based on geographic location, and unseeded to ensure that when the draws are announced Friday, each group will have only one team from each confederation, and no more than two European teams in each group.
You can see the four pots here on the FIFA website.
In terms of the Azzurri, Friday’s draw will obviously determine just how far this veteran team can advance in the World Cup. Here are the most favorable/least favorable draws from each pot for Italy:
Pot 2 Most Favorable: Despite the 1966 match that will live in infamy, North Korea would be the best draw for Italy from this region. This is only their second World Cup qualification, and the teams they beat to qualify were less than impressive. I envision this club as the type to be happy to have made it this far, and with suspect scoring ability, is a perfect match for Italy.
Pot 2 Least Favorable: What to think of the United States? Is this the squad that was 45 minutes away from winning the Confederations Cup, or the club that folded like a cheap suit in the last 45 minutes of the final versus Brazil? Regardless, this club has talent, and although Italy handled them in their last match-up, I can see a healthy Oguchi Onyewu trying to prove his ability to fellow Serie A players and helping the US advance.
Pot 3 Most Favorable: Although a country full of promise and history, Nigeria labored way too hard to qualify for the World Cup, needing an injury time goal to beat Mozambique to qualify for the tournament. I can envision them repeating their result from the last two Cups.
Pot 3 Least Favorable: Drogba. Eboue. Toure. Italy does not want the Ivory Coast. EPL fans can testify to that.
Pot 4 Most Favorable: While it is hard to discount any club that beat the Russians, you would have to consider Slovenia a good addition to your group. The teams in their qualifying group, plus their lack of success internationally, make them a great continental match-up for the Italians.
Pot 4 Least Favorable: Although they struggled unexpectedly to actually make the Cup, Portugal always has the talent to make your team’s match against them worrisome.
Share your thoughts on the best and worst draws in the comments.