London: There are scores to settle, family feuds and no shortage of karmic reckoning. For something so random, Friday’s World Cup draw delivered a blockbuster mix of intrigue, entertainment and storylines that will keep people talking from now until the tournament kicks off on June 12.
Here are a few you should know:
The Americans and revenge
As soon as Ghana were drawn into Group G with Germany, you just knew the United States were going to wind up there, too. Maybe it’s payback for that snow game against Costa Rica, maybe the soccer gods just have a wicked sense of humour. But throw in Portugal and this group has more drama than any soap opera. More difficulty, too, with an average ranking of 11.25, the lowest by far of any of the eight groups. Ghana’s Black Stars aren’t Africa’s best team, but they have the Americans’ number, ousting them from both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. The Portuguese were stunned by the Americans in 2002. Don’t think the Portuguese have forgotten. Or forgiven. Portugal also has the Master of Hair Products and Diving, Cristiano Ronaldo. He is deservedly considered the best player in the world along with Lionel Messi, and the Americans, who struggle against attackers with half his speed, will have nowhere to hide.
England fans are notoriously dour and hard on their team. This time, they’ve got good reason. The Three Lions weren’t exactly inspiring in qualifying. Sure, there were thrashings of Moldova and San Marino. But England also drew with Montenegro and needed a late goal against Poland just to get to Brazil. Comparing its defence to a sieve isn’t much of a stretch and, no, bringing John Terry back isn’t the answer. A matured Wayne Rooney might be at his best yet, but his supporting cast is weak. And as for the goalkeeper Joe Hart… But then came the draw, where England landed in Group D with 2010 semi-finalists Uruguay and 2006 champions Italy, with a game in the one place they desperately wanted to avoid, the jungle city of Manaus. “There were not going to be many scenarios where we were going to be jumping for joy,” manager Roy Hodgson said.
Looking for a dark horse to make the final? France. Sure, the French put the ‘fun’ in dysfunction — with their petty squabbling and early exit in South Africa — and needed a play-off just to get to Brazil. But they’re leading a charmed life now after landing in Group E, one of the most favourable draws of the day. The French must play Switzerland, considered the lightweights of the seeded teams, Ecuador and Honduras. Best of all, they have no long-haul trips to the north, making their group-stage travel look more like an easy commute compared to the treks some teams are making. “It’s rather good news,” France coach Didier Deschamps said.
Looking for a team to follow — literally? You can’t go wrong with Ghana or Mexico. Both might struggle to make it out of group play, but that won’t matter. They each have games in Natal and Fortaleza, two of the most scenic host cities. In fact, early exits might be preferable. All the more time to enjoy the beach.