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Michael Lewis

December 7, 2005
FIFA drops ball; U.S. deserved better than to be placed with Asian teams for World Cup

Michael Lewis

Leipzig, Germany -- As disappointed as I was about the United States not being picked as one of the elite eight for Friday's World Cup draw on Tuesday, I certainly can live with the news.

After all, raw, cold numbers determined the ranking.

The U.S. (43) wound up ninth, only a point behind Italy (44).

But FIFA made a big mistake by not seeding the U.S. and the rest of the teams. That's right. They threw out the seedings after the top eight.

So, instead of being placed in the second tier of teams, the U.S. was put in with the other CONCACAF teams and Asian countries.

It doesn't make any sense.

Teams such as the U.S. and Japan, another country that should have been put in the second eight, should have been rewarded for their showings over the past three years in World Cup qualifiers, continental championships and international friendlies and for their performances in the last three World Cups.

Look, getting one of those top seeds doesn't necessarily mean an automatic qualification to the second round. But it certainly could make it easier.

Let's take a look at a worst-case and best-case scenario:

For the former, the Americans could wind up with the likes of Brazil, Argentina or Germany from the elite eight, Paraguay or Ecuador from Pot Two and the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and a tough Ukraine side from Pot Three.

Remember, there are no wildcards in this 32-team field World Cup. So only the top two teams from each group survive and play another day in the second round. Playing such a high-powered and highly touted team such as Brazil, Argentina or Germany, certainly cuts down the possibilities of the remaining three teams moving on.

As for the the best-case scenario, yours truly certainly can live with Spain, which has a history of underachieving in World Cups, or even France, which has been out of form despite a late qualifying push, from the top eight sides.

Add Togo or Tunisia from Pot Two and Switzerland from Pot Three and the U.S. has a much, much better chance of qualifying.

And the U.S. needs all the help it can get when it plays in Europe, whether its in the World Cup or an international friendly.

Here are some sobering numbers:

In three Euro World Cup appearances (Italy 1934, Italy 1990 and France 1998), the U.S. sports an 0-7 record (being outscored, 20-4). In four WC tournaments in either the Americas or Asia (Uruguay 1934, Brazil 1950, U.S. 1994 and Korea 2002), the Americans have a much more respectable 6-7-5 mark, scoring 21 goals and surrendering 25.

They don't exactly have a sterling record in Europe as well. They're 11-33-5 in friendlies, World Cups and FIFA tournaments against European sides across the Atlantic and 1-2-2 against teams from other continents in Europe.

While you can't always rely on the past to predict the future, it will be a difficult climb, no matter which teams the U.S. faces.

Arena football

It was interesting to see that U.S. coach Bruce Arena has down an about-face about the U.S. getting one of those top seeds.

For months he was saying he didn't know what sort of affect it would have on the U.S.'s chances in Germamy. But last week he espousing it during a speech at the Honda symposium in Los Angeles.

Not ready yet

Good move by FIFA by deciding not to use the smart ball in the World Cup. It's been tried in only one tournament, which is hardly enough time to determine if it works. FIFA should use it in several leagues in Europe and South America and even in the U.S. to see if it aids referees before they consider utilizing it in the most important sporting tournament -- soccer or otherwise -- on this planet.

Michael Lewis can be reached at He will only answer e-mails and letters that are signed or have names.

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