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US get tough World Cup draw
The United States' Mens National Soccer Team missed being seeded for the World Cup by one point and suffered the consequences by being drawn with Italy, Czech Republic and Ghana. The group is the only one of the 8 World Cup groups that features 3 of the top 12 teams in the Fifa World Ranking. The seeded teams were decided by a system that takes the Fifa Rankings as well as the performances in the last World Cup into account. Italy got the eighth and final seed, just one point ahead of the US, meaning they wouldn't have to face any of the other seeded teams.

The group is similar to that from World Cup 1990 in Italy (the USA's first World Cup in 40 years), which featured Italy, Czechoslovakia and Austria. The US lost all three games including a 1-0 loss to Italy and a 5-1 loss to the Czechs. Though official Fifa World Rankings either didn't exist or can't be found from 1990, it seems likely the US wouldn't have even been considered a top 30 nation. 1990 was six years before Major League Soccer was formed and many of the players on that US squad would today be classified as amateurs. The results were what could be expected for a nation in its first Word Cup in 40 years.

World Cup 2006 in Germany looks to be different. Though certainly the results could be the same, the USA's expectations are higher. Coming off a quarterfinal appearance in the 2002 World Cup, the US is expected at the very least to put up a good fight against two of thetop teams of Europe and certainly not suffer a 5-1 loss. In fact this time the USA's ranking (#8 in the World) would indicate they should advance. The US starting eleven against the Czech Republic (ranked #2) on June 12th could very well feature nine or more players currently playing in Europe. In fact several of the players should be familiar with each other. Americans can take confidence from US striker Brian McBride scoring on Czech 'keeper Peter Cech in an English Premier League clash between Fulham and Chelsea on August 26th. Two days later American Carlos Bocanegra was part of a Fulham defense that kept Czech striker Milan Baros scoreless in a match against Aston Villa. Though the Czechs are certainly favorites going into the match, this is a game the US should feel they can win.

On July 17th the US will face 12th ranked Italy. Despite the US having the higher ranking, this will likely be the toughest match of the group. With Italy's entire squad likely being made up of players in the Italian Serie A, and no Americans currently playing there, neither team will have players with much experience against each other. In fact Italian coach Marcelo Lippi could not name any American players when asked. Certainly both sides will have scouted each other by the time they meet. On paper Italy looks to be the strongest team in the group, but they are certainly not unbeatable as lowly ranked nations Norway (#38) and Scotland (#60) managed to get draws against Italy in qualifying. Slovenia (#68) even managed to beat Italy.

Ghana is the unknown of the group. As the 50th ranked nation in the group they are favorites to finish last in the group. The 4 time African Champs cannot be underestimated, however, as they managed to get through qualifying with only one loss and that coming back on June 5th of 2004. It should be noted that Ghana has not been the African Champion in over 20 years, though that could change next month. The US face Ghana last on the 22nd of June in what will most likely be a must win match if the US are to advance.

If the US do advance, it won't get any easier for them as up next could likely be a match-up in the round of 16 with defending World Champions Brazil.

World Cup 2006 Groups:
GROUP A: Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador
GROUP B: England, Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago , Sweden
GROUP C: Argentina, Ivory Coast, Serbia & Montenegro, Holland
GROUP D: Mexico, Iran, Angola, Portugal
GROUP E: Italy, Ghana, USA, Czech Republic
GROUP F, Brazil, Croatia, Australia, Japan
GROUP G: France, Switzerland, South Korea, Togo
GROUP H: Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
January 03, 2006 Sean Donahue


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