I love a good draw, me. I am that guy who watched the World Cup qualifying draw from beginning to end (muting out the awkward banter between plastic presenters struggling in what is probably their third language).
My love of football obscurities is well and truly sated by watching the first qualification stage for the CONCACAF region slowly and excruciatingly drawn out. Oooh, Antigua and Barbuda will not be happy with that draw, it’s never easy to go to Belize on a cold Tuesday night (do they have those in Central America?).
The last week or so has been heavenly for draw aficionados. It began with the FA Cup third round draw – which was slightly spoiled by John Hartson’s brazen failure to swirl the balls at the start, and the lack of really juicy ties outside of Exeter v Liverpool – Monday’s Champions and Europa League draws, and at the weekend the draw for Euro 2016.
One of the major features of an international tournament draw is the possibility of a group of death. There was a cracker in Euro 2012 – Group B of Holland, Denmark, Germany and Portugal – and the 2014 World Cup arguably threw up three – B again, with Spain, Holland and Chile; D with England, Italy and Uruguay; and particularly G, consisting of Germany, Portugal, Ghana and USA.
Are they good for tournaments? Certainly they are good for fans, pundits and bloggers to coo over, but they may not be good for the football as a whole. Look at Euro 2012 again. While the Dutch and Danes were unlucky to be squeezed out, Group A was very poor, with the average Czech Republic and Greece sides going through. A similar story in 2014 – no-one can say Italy and Ghana were less deserving of a place in the knock-outs than Switzerland, Nigeria, and the blooming Greeks again.
So I say, for group stage tournaments (keep the straight knock-out of the FA Cup as random), the pots should be preassigned. See the table below. 1 denotes the strongest team, 24 the weakest.
Group A: 1, 12, 13, 24
B: 2, 11, 14, 23
C: 3, 10, 15, 22
D: 4, 9, 16, 21
E: 5, 8, 17, 20
F: 6, 7, 18, 19
This would leave the groups for Euro 2016 looking like this, if we base strength on the UEFA Co-efficient:
A: Germany, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland
B: Spain, Croatia, Sweden, Albania
C: England, Austria, Poland, Wales
D: Portugal, Switzerland, Romania, Iceland
E: Belgium, Russia, Slovakia, Republic of Ireland
F: Italy, France, Hungary, Turkey
What great groups! They are all even, competitive, and there’s a much better chance of the better and more exciting teams reaching the last 16. England are still in a bit of a group of death though – I wouldn’t fancy facing Alaba, Lewandowski and Bale in successive matches.
Ah well, the draws we got were OK. Unless you’re Ireland, in which case avoiding a repeat of Euro 2012 should be considered a real achievement.