The World Cup Draw: Dreams and Nightmares (+ Tavern Power Rankings!)

The time has finally come! After 2 years of World Cup qualifying, the field is set and we’re ready for the draw. For small nations like Panama and Iceland, this will be their first taste of the nervous rush of the World Cup Draw. For countries like Morocco, Egypt, and Peru, it is a welcome return to the world’s stage after 20-30 year absences. For us Taeguk Warriors, it is a familiar feeling of nervousness as we await our fate! Will we be put into the dreaded Group of Death or handed a gift from the Footballing Gods? We’ll find out with the rest of the world Friday afternoon in Moscow as football celebrities spin the balls around with their hands and reveal the groups. Here at the Tavern Tim has already played around with a draw simulator and we’ve previewed each pot as well, so now it’s time to lay out our dream group for the Taeguk Warriors and the nightmare group that is keeping us up at night. Remember the draw’s one rule is that no group can have more than 2 teams from Europe. Read through our groups, vote on which one you like the most, which one scares you the most, and as always you can sound off in the comments down below!

TAVERN WRITERS’ RANKINGS IN FULL:

TEAMSJaeJinseokMichaelNicoleRoyTimTavernStd Dev>3?POT
Russia25212123282024YES1
Germany020101010201011
Brazil010203020103
021
Portugal080707060505071
Argentina050506030607051
Belgium060605040706061
Poland12150812141312(tied)1
France040302070304041
Spain030404050402032
Peru15141729181518YES2
Switzerland14121324111414YES2
England070810080809082
Colombia111312091212102
Mexico13111413131012(tied)2
Uruguay090909100908092
Croatia10101119101111YES2
Denmark161615141718153
Iceland171916201519163
Costa Rica20252215262522YES3
Sweden181718161621173
Tunisia262723252526263
Egypt19181926191720YES3
Senegal22232032222725YES3
Iran21262617242223YES3
Serbia242224182123214
Nigeria20202511201619YES4
Australia292928303129304
Japan282827222728284
Morocco23243031232427YES4
Panama323232273032324
South Korea30302921293029YES4
Saudi Arabia313131283231314

Michael

Looking at our position in Pot 4 with the lowest ranked teams, the odds are that we will be placed in a difficult group. To be realistic, I’ll start with the three nations that I think will give us the most trouble. From Pot 1, I am most scared of France. The wealth of talent that they can call on at all positions is frankly terrifying. There is no area of the field where you can spot a weak link. Their goalkeeper is the world-class Hugo Lloris, their defense can call upon Varane, Umtiti, Koscielny, Mendy, Laporte, and Kurzawa. Their midfield and attack is an embarrassment of riches filled with experience, speed, guile, and creativity. I won’t even mention the names, just take a look at their recent squad lists and tremble in fear. If Deschamps can get his team selection right and the attitude in the camp is free of controversy, France is my current pick to win it all. From Pot 2, the team that shouldn’t be there is Spain. The fact of the matter is that the FIFA rankings are a game and Spain have not played the game well enough. The key to the rankings game is to play friendlies sparingly and at times of high importance. Spain are certainly a better side than Poland but have lost out because they haven’t figured out FIFA’s system. Spain will not suffer a repeat of 2014 where an aging side crashed out in the group stage. This squad has been refreshed and a talented young generation is filling up the midfield and attack. In defense, assuming the Catalan independence referendum doesn’t cause more controversy, Pique and Ramos will form the spine of the team in front of David de Gea in goal. With names like Isco, Saul, Ander Herrera, Thiago Alcantara along with veterans like Iniesta and David Silva, the midfield should be able to break down any side over 90 minutes. We all remember that 6-1 drubbing last summer in Austria, right? Now that I’m out of European teams to pick from, picking a danger team from Pot 3 is a bit harder. I’ll spring for Senegal here, who are making their first appearance since 2002. I choose them for featuring one of the best African talents at this World Cup, Liverpool’s Sadio Mane. He is freakishly fast, has the skill in tight spaces, and has the knack for clutch goals. Complementing him is a solid squad that plays throughout Europe and heavily in France and England. Some names that catch my eye are Kalidou Koulibaly in defense, Kouyate, Gueye, and Diame in midfield, and Moussa Sow and Keita Balde up front with Mane. No nation will want to play Senegal as they will be relishing their chance on the world’s stage and looking to pour goals in on unsuspecting defenses.

Now for a little bit of positivity. What group am I praying to the Footballing Gods for? You might think I want Russia, but I’ll go for Poland here. I was tempted to take Ronaldo’s Portugal but Ronaldo will most likely be relishing what may be his last chance to lift the World Cup and finally claim a trophy Messi has never touched. The reason I pick Poland is because this team is lacking the talent of the other teams in their pot. As Tim pointed out, Robert Lewandowski is this team’s main attacking force and if he struggles, the team struggles. In addition, Poland refrained from playing friendlies until after the pots were decided to secure their ranking. This squad is not as tested as other European teams after an easy World Cup qualifying group and will be short on experience against the top sides going up to the World Cup. This is the one team where I could see us pulling the upset! Of course I also think we could upset Russia, but I hesitate to place us in a group with the hosts. From Pot 2, I’ll spring for another FIFA rankings gamer in Peru. Peru will be coming to the World Cup for the first time since 1982 so this whole squad will be feeling those pregame jitters and could even be without captain Paolo Guerrero depending on the results of his drug case. Peru are a great story but look to be the weakest side in Pot 2. From Pot 3, my choice is Denmark. My take on this team is that Christian Eriksen lacks the attacking quality that he has at Tottenham. When he plays for Spurs, Eriksen gets to provide assists to Kane, Son, Alli, and Lamela. Each of those attacking threats create space for Eriksen by occupying defenders and midfielders. With Denmark, sides prepare for Eriksen and look to stifle him. In the first leg of the UEFA qualifying playoffs, Ireland frustrated Eriksen and came away with a draw in Copenhagen. Let’s all forget the fact that Eriksen bagged a hat-trick in the return leg to get to the World Cup, shall we? We can plan to pack the midfield with tenacity knowing that the forward line that Denmark trots out will struggle to score. Denmark should be ripe for the taking and I suspect many nations will be hoping to get a crack at them.

Tim

I’ll be brief, since I did do 3/4 posts of the series:

My group of life would look like this:

Russia, Peru, Senegal, South Korea

My group of death would look like this:

Germany, Spain, Egypt, South Korea

In the group of life, there are still no easy fixtures. Peru is a hard team to read and could, in my view, either shine unexpectedly or choke spectacularly at the competition, given their long time away from the spotlight and the very last-minute nature of the qualification (an uncertain playoff against New Zealand), while Senegal can still cause us problems, especially with Sadio Mane’s pace, even if traditionally we’ve done rather well against CAF sides (except Algeria, of course…). No one usually wants to get drawn with the hosts, but I wouldn’t much complain in this case – the Russians just aren’t that good and I’m more confident about putting some goals past Akinfeev then having our defense try to handle Robert Lewandowski.

My Group of Death essentially is any group with a strong, title-contender Pot 1 side (Germany, Brazil) with an equally difficult Pot 2 side (Spain, to a lesser extent England). I say it’s a Group of Death because there is *NO* way we are beating these teams. I could see us, in some miracle world, get a draw against England, or hold a disjointed France to a deuce (not likely, but not unfathomable). However, I honestly feel that in this competition Germany, Brazil and Spain are a notch above, and are quite simply unbeatable teams for Korea. Egypt comes out of Pot 3 because of the no-three-European-teams rule (makes sense) and to be quite honest I’m petrified and startled at Mohamed Salah’s stunning form. They certainly seem to be riding high of all the CAF teams.

Based on ranking alone, the other writers’ Groups of Death/Life are:

Jae:

Life: Russia, Peru, Tunisia, South Korea

Death: Brazil, Spain, Denmark, South Korea

Roy:

Life: Russia, Peru, Costa Rica, South Korea

Death: Brazil, Spain, Iceland, South Korea

Jinseok:

Life: Russia, Peru, Tunisia, South Korea

Death: Germany, Spain, Egypt*, South Korea

*Denmark, but no three European teams allowed, so it fell to the next non-European team, Egypt

Nicole:

Life: Russia, Peru, Senegal, South Korea

Death: Germany, Spain, Costa Rica, South Korea

Tavern Joint Group of Life/Death Based on Rankings:

Life: Russia, Peru, Tunisia, South Korea

Death: Germany, Spain, Egypt*, South Korea

(Basically, Jinseok is the middle ground).

About Michael Welch 3 Articles

That Halfie Korean-American who loves football (I mean, soccer).

2 Comments

  1. Great coverage leading up to the draw! Awesome to see so many posts and writers contributing. Let’s hope our draw treads closer to Group of Life than Group of Death. We’ll all know soon enough!

    I took a look at how the 2014 World Cup would’ve played out in terms of ranking, hypothetical pots, and results. The 2014 World Cup seeded Pots 2-4 by geo while Pot 1 comprised Brazil and then the top 7 countries. I re-organized Pots 2-4 to follow the 2018 rules; Pot 1 remained unchanged. Some of the groups ended up featuring teams from the same pot if we applied the 2018 system*. Therefore, the following findings are a bit wonky, but still interesting to look at.

    *For example, let’s take the infamous Group D of Death (Uruguay, Italy, England, and Costa Rica): Uruguay was in Pot 1, but if we were to apply the 2018 lens of sorting pots, Italy and England would’ve been in Pot 2 and Costa Rica in Pot 3.

    7 out of 8 teams in Pot 1 advanced (5 finished tops in their groups [Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium], 2 in 2nd [Uruguay, Switzerland], Spain finished in 3rd)

    4 out of 8 teams in the new hypothetical Pot 2 advanced (Netherlands were the only team to finish 1st, Chile + USA + Greece all finished in 2nd, Italy + Portugal + Bosnia and Herzegovina finished in 3rd, England in 4th)

    3 out of 8 teams in the new hypothetical Pot 3 advanced (France + Costa Rica finished 1st, Mexico in 2nd, Ivory Coast + Croatia + Russia + Ecuador in 3rd, Ghana in 4th)

    2 out of 8 teams in the new hypothetical Pot 4 advanced!!!!!! (Algeria + Nigeria finished 2nd, the rest all finished last in their groups [Honduras, Japan, Iran, Korea, Australia, Cameroon])

    ***
    All of which is to say, Pot 4 has a chance! Sort of, based on one past World Cup of data. WCs feature plenty of surprises so who knows what will happen?

  2. Good luck Korea. You’re gonna need it!
    When Iran got drawn with Spain and Portugal, I was really really happy for Korea. Oops…
    Well, I will say that I think Korea can beat Sweden and I honestly think they can beat Mexico if they play an amazing game.
    The pressure will be on to win their opening game against Sweden. If they lose to Sweden, they are screwed.

    Russia v Saudi Arabia opening game? Yikes………. two lowest ranked teams.

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