In my continued over-analysis of the US Men's national team chances in South Africa I spent a bit of additional time working out some ideas on the upcoming draw for the 2010 World Cup. Specifically, running the numbers to evaluate the assumption from my prior analysis that the seeded teams will be South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and five UEFA teams.
The main assumption here is that the seeding will be determined similarly to the 2006 World Cup, with the combination of FIFA Rankings and results from the last two World Cups being used to rank teams. In 2006 the scoring was done by totaling the following five numbers:
2002 World Cup Rank * (2/3)
1998 World Cup Rank * (1/3)
Nov 2005 FIFA Rank * (1/3)
Dec 2004 FIFA Rank * (1/3)
Dec 2003 FIFA Rank * (1/3)
World Cup Rank was computed on place of finish with the champion earning 32 points and last place earning 1 point. Non-qualifiers earned 0 points. FIFA Rank was computed by place in rankings with the highest ranked qualifier earning 32 points and the lowest ranked qualifier earning 1 point.
So our assumption is that the 2010 scoring will be done using these five numbers:
2006 World Cup Rank * (2/3)
2002 World Cup Rank * (1/3)
Nov 2009 FIFA Rank * (1/3)
Dec 2008 FIFA Rank * (1/3)
Dec 2007 FIFA Rank * (1/3)
Without boring you with all the details I ran the numbers using the October 2009 rankings in place of the not yet released November numbers. South Africa has already been given a seed as the host team, leaving seven seeds available to the remaining 31 teams. For the teams that are currently qualified six of the spots seem to be locked up based on my very unofficial numbers. In alphabetical order – Argentina, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy and Spain.
The seventh spot gets a little trickier, but not too murky. The Netherlands is the "leader in the clubhouse", but both Portugal and France are positioned to pip them for the seed if either wins their play-off to qualify for the tournament. Based on October rankings Portugal has a slight edge over France if they both qualify.
The Netherlands would likely be in a more comfortable position if they had qualified for Korea/Japan in 2002. Even with group stage crash outs the points earned by France and Portugal in that competition help push them both past the Dutch. A good showing in 2010 and the Netherlands will likely be in a much stronger position to earn a seed in Brazil.
On the outside, looking in are Mexico and the United States. Barring a crazy shake-up in the November rankings neither has a realistic shot of earning a seed. Mexico, seeded in 2006 and making the knock-out stages in both of the last world cups, can point to their mixed results over the last three years including qualification struggles in the final two rounds.
The United States has only to look at their 2006 World Cup performance to understand why they are again unseeded. In 2006 USA fans pointed to the quarterfinal performance in 2002 wondering why the finished one spot out of the seeds. A better performance in 1998 (when they finished last out of 32 teams) and they might have had a seed. A better performance in 2006 (tied for 25th) and they might be challenging for a seed this time.
In fact, the 2006 showing impacts both the upcoming tournament and 2014. If a semi-final or final run doesn't materialize in South Africa, the team's best chance of earning a seed anytime soon, other than hosting, may be to reach the knock-out stages in consecutive World Cups – something we have never been able to do. The current scenario – knock-out stages in South Africa and Brazil – seed in London anyone?
So my original assumption holds up and solidifies a little bit predicting seven of the eight seeded teams and the contenders for the last spot based on results of the upcoming play-offs. Of course that all goes out the window if FIFA announces a new system in the upcoming weeks.