Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The 2014 World Cup Draw - Reactions and "Deathiness" Rankings

The Grail

The 2014 World Cup is stacked. The average FIFA world ranking of all teams in the tournament is 20.78, which is astonishing when you consider that Africa and Asia (not traditional soccer hotspots) got eight of the 32 tournament berths. Australia, at 59, is the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, and they have three players plying their trade in top-flight European leagues. This has all the makings to be the most hotly contested World Cup ever.

After the (potentially rigged) draw last Friday, we now know the eight groups that will make up the first stage of the competition. As you’d expect, many of these groups are absolutely terrifying. You can’t have a draw with the best teams in the world and expect the groups to work out completely fairly. Having said that, some teams (cough cough the United cough States cough) have some serious reasons for concern.

With over 6 months until the start of the tournament, there’s not much that soccer fans can do except wait, pray against injuries, and speculate. So speculate I shall.

I’ll be breaking down the World Cup through the lens of my semi-vast knowledge of world soccer, combined with my nearly airtight hunches based on such important factors as climate, travel, fatigue, player fitness, things I know about the country that the team is from, and the potential corruptness of the referees.

Since there are eight groups, and it would take forever to dissect each one’s 12 games, I’m chunking these blog posts into (hopefully) weekly breakdowns. This week, we’ll start with an overview of the groups, and give a general level of Deathiness (as a nod to the most overused phrase in World Cup parlance, the “Group of Death”).

As Michael Bolton says, let’s get to it.

Group A: Brazil, Cameroon, Mexico, Croatia
Death Scale: Brendan Fraser
"My hair product? Camel spunk."
Google is a wonderful tool. Since this group would have made up the Group of Death in 1999, when Brazil was ranked 1st in the world, Croatia 9th, and Mexico 10th, I simply Googled "celebrities who almost died in 1999", and was rewarded with this nugget from the Wikipedia entry for "The Mummy""Brendan Fraser nearly died during a scene where his character is hanged. Weisz remembered, 'He stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated.'" It's almost a shame he survived.

In short, this is a tough group for everyone except Brazil. The gulf in quality is so vast that it feels like Croatia and Mexico are 116th and 120th in the world, rather than 100 spots better. 

Group B: Spain, Chile, Australia, Netherlands
Death Scale: Steve Irwin
"MY hair product? Crocodile kisses."
You had to see this one coming. In the land down under, they're probably lamenting this group as the worst possible outcome. Wait, let's check.... Yup. They totally are

Only one death has hit this country harder in the recent past, and it was the tragic passing of everyone's favorite bushy-haired and bushwhacking television presenter, Steve Irwin. 

Federal buildings should probably just stay closed until July to mourn the inevitable and untimely passing (soccer pun intended) of the Australian national soccer team at the 2014 World Cup. This could be the kind of total destruction that turns an entire generation of young Australians away from soccer and towards a more successful sport, such as rugby, avoiding sharks while on a slice of wood in the ocean, or kangaroo boxing. 

Seriously though. Spain and the Netherlands played for the 2010 World Cup trophy, and Chile will be bringing their entire population across the Andes in waves like the Huns in Mulan.

Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece
Death Scale: Kel Mitchell
"I'm not dead. I promise." 
Despite what you may read.. um... everywhere, Kel Mitchell is not, and has never been, dead. He's the perfect representation of this group, though, because everyone knows about the Kel Mitchell Death Rumor. Every few years, someone will trot out the old "Hey, did you hear Kel Mitchell died?" routine at a party, only to go on Wikipedia and find that, once again, he's managed to not die yet. 

In the same way, I feel like the general public knows just enough about every team in this group to make it seem really intriguing. The playing styles and the talents in these games will clash mightily, and just like Kel's life post-Kenan and Kel, we'll learn a little bit more about each of these teams every time we check in on them. 

Group D: Uruguay, Italy, Costa Rica, England
Death Scale: The Old Christians Club Uruguayan rugby team
My, what big teeth they have.
The 2014 World Cup will be played in South America for the first time since 1978. That year, the host Argentinian side won the tournament. Chile played host to the 1962 World Cup, and Brazil came out victorious. Twelve years earlier, Brazil hosted the tournament and Uruguay lifted the trophy. Are we seeing a pattern here? 

South American teams win South American-hosted World Cups.

It even happened at the very first tournament in 1930, when Uruguay won the inaugural World Cup as the host nation. 

Unfortunately, the only logical Death Scale photo for this group recalls the story of the 1972 "Miracle in the Andes" - when a planeful of Uruguayan rugby players on their way to a game in Chile crash-landed on the snow-covered slopes and had to resort to cannibalism before their eventual rescue. 

Uruguay has to channel their miraculous 1972 ancestors and, unfortunately, feed on their less fortunate Central American opponents, Costa Rica. England might continue its recent run of slip-ups at major tournaments, especially as this World Cup will be played in muggy Brazil.

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, France
Death Scale: Nicolas Flamel
"My hair product? ... Also camel spunk."
Many of you know Nicolas Flamel as a French Alchemist, and the only known creator of the Sorceror's Stone, a bloodred rock from which one can create the Elixir of Life - a substance that makes the drinker immortal. (He was also a real guy.)
In terms of ranking the Deathiness of this group, there is no better half-fictional sorta-real French alchemist than our boy Nicky here. The man was flat-out unable to die, despite his outrageous age (he was 665 when the Sorceror's Stone was destroyed), much the same way that this French national team seems unable to fail despite their very best efforts.

After being left for dead less than a month ago (seriously, more than 8/10 French people thought they were screwed), the French somehow roared back to life. They needed to beat the Ukraine by at least three goals (or by four if the Ukraine scored a goal) on the last day of European qualifying in order to make it to the World Cup, and somehow they pulled it off - winning 3-0 in Paris for one of the country's most famous victories.

Now, French fans must think they've died and gone to ciel. (That's "heaven" in French). This group is an absolute joke, and the French have a 78% chance to get through. Sacrebleu.

Group F: Argentina, Nigeria, Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Death Scale: Jimmy Fallon
"I'm famous. I don't do my own hair. Jeesh."
Know how when someone famous dies, people say: "Wonder who had her in the death pool?" Well, two years ago, my friends and I started an actual celebrity death pool. Each person can pick up to three people, and the group gets to haggle on the odds of each celebrity's death. If your person dies, you get the amount of money that your person's odds were relative to 1. For example: I had Kim Jong Il at 9-1 last year, he died, and I got 9 dollars from everyone.

To keep things sane, we figured the longest possible odds should be 50-1. Then, you couldn't haggle for like 1,500-1 odds on Kate Middleton, then go to England and run her over with a truck (or something).

We decided that the celebrity with the longest odds of death, the one furthest from kicking the bucket, the human being at whose death you would be most shocked, is Jimmy Fallon. He is just so goddamn alive.

Now, don't get this confused. A low Deathiness rating does not mean that every team in a group is "alive" with a chance to get into the knockout stage. It simply means that the group is weaker than an unevolved Magikarp. Argentina should stomp every other team in this group. Period.

Group G: Germany, Ghana, United States, Portugal
Death Scale: (Sorry to do this, but) Paul Walker
I had to do it. It's that bad. Even if you're not a soccer fan (and if you're not, and still reading, congratulations), you've probably heard of either the death of Paul Walker or the impending doom faced by the US Men's National Team (AKA the mighty Von Trapps). These two things are not on the same level of tragedy, but they both represent the worst thing that had even a reasonable chance of happening.
Paul Walker loved fast cars. If someone asked you what terrible thing could perhaps be expected to happen to him, you'd say a death involving a fiery car wreck.

The USA was in Pot 3. If someone asked you what terrible group they could perhaps be expected to fall into, you'd inevitably give a top 3 team in the world, a team with which the USA has historic trouble, and a team with one or more unstoppable playmakers.

Well, that's exactly what you've got. The analysis will come later, but for now, it's hard to see a way out for the Von Trapps.

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, South Korea, Russia
Death Scale: Seven fluffy newborn ducklings
"Jeff? Turn around bro. Can we get one good photo please?"
Jesus Christ this group sucks. It was absolutely agonizing as a United States fan watching the draw, because the time in between the announcement of each successive team gave me more than enough time to release my inner cynic.
Let's review the tape. The USA had a 50-50 shot at being in this group, but instead were dumped into a group with the 2nd and 5th ranked teams in the world, rather than the 11th, 22nd, and 26th.

The polar opposite of a Group of Death. Coin flips are annoying when you lose three straight.

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