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With a weekend full of heavyweight domestic clashes (Barca-Real, Arsenal-Chelsea, Liverpool-Everton, etc.) over in Europe, I'd normally be tempted to weigh in on it, but since this is officially World Cup draw week, I'm going to talk strictly World Cup.
The draw takes place Friday, and not only can you see it live on our air (12 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com), but we'll be having a CoverItLive panel for ESPN.com analyzing the draw step-by-step. The panel will comprise everyone's favorite wizard not named Harry Potter in Jimmy Conrad, along with Jeff Carlisle, Leander Schaerlaeckens and myself (Ives Galarcep will also be doing a drive-by panel appearance).
As for the likely group scenarios for the U.S. -- the pots/seeds haven't been officially announced yet, but since FIFA rarely does anything innovative, you can pretty much count on a reprisal of the usual formula for pots.
The first pot will be the eight seeds, while the rest of the draw is divided by confederation, with UEFA teams in their own pot; Africa (CAF) and the remaining South American teams (CONMEBOL) grouped together; and the final and fourth set of teams made up of qualifiers from Oceania, Asia (AFC) and North and Central America (CONCACAF).
The result will be a set that looks as follows:
Pot 1: South Africa, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Germany, Argentina, England, France
Pot 2: Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland, Greece, Serbia, Denmark, Slovakia
Pot 3: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay
Pot 4: Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Mexico, Honduras
Looking at that list, the ideal draw for the U.S. would probably be France (I'll exclude South Africa, since South Africa is pretty much the dream seed for every team to draw), Slovenia and Algeria. Chances for that to happen and the U.S. to get something like England, Greece and the Ivory Coast instead? Probably pretty high considering the Americans' luck or lack of it when it comes to FIFA draws in general.
As for the actual tournament, 2010 will be the ninth World Cup I've followed -- since the 1978 World Cup, I've seen every match, so I thought I'd share with you what my three favorite matches from that period were:
1. France 3, West Germany 3, 1982 -- Not only my favorite World Cup game ever, but my favorite international match of all time. Two superb teams that played beautiful possession soccer with great skill and technique (the West Germans had underrated flair) and a game that had my two favorite players of all time (France's Jean Tigana and Germany's Pierre Littbarski). The French team of the early to mid-'80s with its dynamic midfield (Platini, Alain Giresse, Tigana and later on Luis Fernandez) routinely carved up opponents with precision and was extremely unlucky to lose this one. Tied at one apiece after regulation, the French looked like sure winners when they went up 3-1 in extra time on two glorious goals. However, the Germans brought on a half-fit Karl Heinz Rummenigge, who would inspire a two-goal comeback and eventual penalty shootout win.
2. Scotland 3, Holland 2, 1978 -- Along with the rest of the U.K. (well, the objective ones anyway), I was one of those who thought that the Scots were a dark horse in '78. Forget the Scottish sides you've seen in the past two decades; back then the Scots were laden with world-class talent like Kenny Dalglish, Willie Johnston, Graeme Souness and Archie Gemmill and entertained genuine hopes of going deep in the tournament. However, it all unraveled horribly with a loss to Peru (led by the genius of Teofilo Cubillas) and Johnston's subsequent suspension for failing a drug test (he took the wrong hay fever remedy). Things didn't get any better when the Scots could only tie Iran 1-1 and relied on an Andranik Eskandarian own goal at that (if the name sounds familiar, it's because he's the father of the Galaxy's Alecko Eskandarian). Heading into its final game, Scotland was given next to no chance against a superb Dutch team, but turned in an epic and unforgettable performance.
3. Denmark 6, Uruguay 1, 1986 -- A master class of attacking football from the maverick Danish side of the mid-'80s, which was one of the greatest offensive sides I've ever seen. That team, containing electric talents such as Michael Laudrup, Soren Lerby and Preben Elkjaer, failed to win anything of note, but on style points alone blew everyone's mind.
Brazil 2, Russia 1, 1982 -- If you ever want to watch an example of what it takes to beat the world's best goalkeeper, then watch Brazil versus Rinat Dasaev in 1982. Trailing 1-0 to the Soviets for much of the game, Brazil pulled the fat out of the fire with two late wonder goals from Socrates and Eder (the latter's goal being one of my favorites of all time).
Germany 1, U.S. 0, 2002 -- This game was notable for a multitude of reasons, and not just the drama. It was where I first saw that the U.S. had truly become a legit footballing nation, and where I was surrounded by European soccer cognoscenti who were similarly gobsmacked. Aside from (mostly) outplaying the Germans and being robbed by that handball call, the game was memorable for the fearlessness and the direct running of then-youthful U.S. speedster Landon Donovan. I remember watching the game from a bar in Hong Kong and being asked by several startled French journalists, "Who are those guys?"
As an aside, I still think the U.S. starting lineup in '02 was superior to the '06 lineup and the likely lineup the U.S. will field in South Africa next year (although obviously there's far greater depth across the board now).
Anyway, I'd be interested to know what all your favorite (not best) games were, so feel free to post in the comments section below.