Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Wed 28 November 2007

World Cup 2010 Preliminary Draw

Somewhat later than billed in the Radio Times, we thought we'd take a look at the World Cup Preliminary Round Draw that took place on Sunday. The reason we're a bit late in bringing you this is because we got a bit cocky about how to write the article and it backfired on us a bit. We can only apologise for this, but hopefully you'll see we had the right motives at heart.

Our plans came unstuck because we didn't just want to tell you who had been drawn against who in Durban at the weekend. We also wanted to analyse the record books and tell you which teams tend to get drawn against who most often in qualifying games for both the World Cup and European Championships. All well and good, but the sheer amount of data we had to process was rather more than we anticipated, hence our lateness in bringing you this article. We blame the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Far too many European countries now, by far…

Anyway, about that draw. Without over-generalising too much, it looks like the usual suspects will be qualifying from North and Central America as their paths have been drawn out to the benefit of all concerned. The USA are waiting to play the winner of the match between Dominica and Barbados while Mexico will play either Belize or St. Kitts and Nevis.

In Asia, there were apparently gasps of surprise in Durban's city hall (hard to believe, we know) when Australia were drawn in the same group as China and Asian champions Iraq. If the Aussies wanted a sterner test than the one they used to get in Oceania section, it appears they now have it.

Equally as intriguing is Group 3 in Asia where North and South Korea face up to each other. Jordan and Turkmenistan may have to act as referees if any 'tensions' come about from any stressful comings-together…

Over to Africa now and Group 6 could be where most eyes will be focused as Senegal, Algeria and Liberia will be facing off in the not-too-distant future. Elsewhere in Group 4, Nigeria will play South Africa even though the hosts won't need to qualify for their own tournament. They're using the 2010 World Cup qualifiers as the preliminary round for the African Nations Cup that year. Go figure…

With the South American qualifiers revolving around a single round-robin competition, it just leaves us to take in the ever-sprawling European section. For 2010, there'll be eight groups of six teams and one of five, with the winners and eight best runner-ups (runners-up?) going into a play-off.

Scotland, the lucky devils, were drawn in Group 9 - the short one - where they'll face the Netherlands for the first time in a World Cup or European Championship qualifier along with Norway, Macedonia and Iceland.

In Group 6, England, as you'll probably now be aware, are set to face Croatia once again after the crashing success of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. Elsewhere in the group there are first-time meetings with Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine for Steve McClaren's successor to look forward to while a repeat visit to Andorra completes the schedule for England.

Things don't get any easier for Wales. Aside from the obvious impediment of having John Toshack as their coach, they've now got the prospect of facing both Germany and Russia in the 2010 qualifiers to consider in Group 4. Aside from that there's Finland, Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein in the group, so unless Jose Mourinho decides to take over and announces a batch of continental stars with newly-found Welsh parentage to choose his team from, don't expect too many fireworks there.

Northern Ireland's task in Group 3 isn't much better, but at least Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and San Marino will seem beatable even if top seeds, the Czech Republic, aren't.

Of the other groups, there are none that whet the appetite to any great extent. Sweden have a rare chance to play a qualifier against neighbours Denmark along with Portugal, arguably favourites to win Group 1.

In Group 2, Israel and Greece are the top two seeds and they'll be playing each other in a major qualifier for the first time since the 1954 World Cup. Switzerland lie in wait for those two, thereby adding a further competitive element to the proceedings.

Group 5 should be a walk in the park for Spain and Turkey. With a decreasingly efficient Belgium plus Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia and Estonia, you should be able to put your house on the first two being at the right end of the group by the close of 2009.

Group 7 similarly has two front-runners in the form of France and Romania while elsewhere there's the potential to see a re-run of the shock 1991 victory for the Faroe Islands over Austria. The way Austria are playing these days, don't be surprised if it happens all over again…

Finally in Group 8, the Republic of Ireland's main concern will be Italy but that should be about all. Bulgaria are supposedly the second-seeds (not our opinion) while Ireland's meeting with Cyprus will be their third in the last four World Cup qualifying campaigns. If that doesn't prove fruitful for the Irish, there's always Georgia and new boys Montenegro to tackle.

For more details about who's playing who in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, head on over to the FIFA website where they've got all the details displayed in a highly efficient manner for your delight.

So as we were saying earlier, we've been doing a lot of number-crunching lately and we can now tell you who gets drawn against who most often when it comes to European Championship and World Cup qualifying competitions.

Think of England and you instinctively expect them to end up in the same group as Poland, but is that a fair assumption? By our reckoning, the answer is 'yes' - Poland are indeed England's most frequent opponents, having met on seven occasions, their last coming in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers.

Ironically, Northern Ireland's most frequent opponents have been England. They've met each other six times, the last being in that same World Cup 2006 qualifying group with England and Poland.

If you're Scottish, the chances are that your team will be picked to play Wales (it must be all those British Championship competitions that doubled up as qualifiers for the major competitions). Scotland and Wales have played each other five times over the years, but the last meeting was back just before the 1986 World Cup.

Finally to Wales themselves. Their most frequent opponents are the Czech Republic (including Czechoslovakia). They've met each other seven times including the Euro 2008 qualifying group where they also played Germany - a team they'll be playing again in the World Cup 2010 qualifiers.

To complete this service to you, here's acknowledgement that England's seven-time match-up with Poland is the joint-record. They share it with Hungary and Greece who met most recently in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. The Netherlands and Belgium have also played seven times in preliminary rounds - the last time for them was ahead of the 1998 World Cup.

So now we have the statistics at hand, we'd like to offer you the chance to ask us a question if you have one. Ever wanted to know how many times Spain have played Italy in qualifying campaigns? Want to know who Belgium play more than any other? Drop us a line at info [at] spaotp [dot] com and ask us - we'll leave your questions and the accompanying answers on the comments page attached...

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