Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009: The year in blogging

He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.” (And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”) “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Luke 14:24-46


Or, the rich get richer. Depends on your point of view I guess.

In that spirit, please revisit my top 10 most popular posts of 2009. Not sure why they ended up as most popular; read them again to find out!

  1. Two of my least favourite Canadians: A handshake seals a Faustian bargain. Which one is the devil?
  2. Santos-Impact: 2nd leg live blog: Both Jason de Vos and I selected this game as our low moment in Canadian soccer in '09. But looking back, you'll see that it all started with so much promise.
  3. Nutrilite Canadian Championship pool: The beginning of the most popular contest to date on this blog. Congrats to our eventual winner, squizz, of some canadian guys... (honest, it wasn't fixed).
  4. MLS vs USL-1: Head to head: Arguments about the relative strength of MLS and USL-1 teams seem a bit quaint now, given that the two strongest franchises of the former USL-1 are MLS bound, and the lesser league has recently imploded. But it's the kind of argument that deserves some numerical analysis, which I provided.
  5. The next traitor?: I try to guess who the next player will be to switch national allegiances. My guess? David Hoilett. While he may yet choose another country, two other players have jumped ship in the 9 months since this post: Asmir Begovic and Jacob Lensky. So take what you read on this blog with a pretty big grain of salt.
  6. Montreal Impact - Santos: Monday preview: A preview of the first leg of that epic CCL quarterfinal.
  7. The treason scale: Where does Begovic weigh in?: A scientific measurement scale for opportunism and disloyalty.
  8. The Lensky interview: Back when we still cared about this guy, he did an interview with the Dutch press, when he couldn't quite decide what to do with his life. I applied my considerable linguistic talents and translated.
  9. Soccer 360 magazine review: I had to return a Christmas present and bought a soccer magazine for the bus ride home.
  10. Does CONCACAF deserve more World Cup representation?: Numbers again. Just a week old, this post looks at the performance of the weak sisters of world football (AFC, CAF, CONCACAF) in the last 4 World Cups.
Happy reading.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday cup of coffee: Christmas edition

Christmas is a wonderful time of year for people to spend time with their families and loved ones. But at times like these it is important not to forget that we live in a world full of pain, suffering and injustice.



And nothing lately seems quite so unjust as blonde-haired Natalie's Survivor win over oil tycoon Russell. Never in the history of that beloved game has a person controlled matters so utterly as did the lovable liar. The jury was stupid, no doubt, as testified to by the fact that the former Galu tribe members, despite their immense numbers advantage, ended up on the jury and not in the final three. Perhaps one day this wound will heal. But until then, let's remember Russell.


On to the good stuff, in a relatively newsy week for late December.


Simeon Jackson named POTY

This CSA award, voted by media and coaches, has been won in the past by Dwayne de Rosario (2005-2007) and Julian de Guzman (2008). Jackson was announced as the winner, narrowly beating out De Rosario. The full results:
1. Simeon Jackson (18.2)
2. Dwayne De Rosario (17.6)
3. Julian de Guzman (17.4)
4. Mike Klukowski (10.9)
5. Will Johnson (10.7)
6. Atiba Hutchinson (8.2)
7. Nevio Pizzolitto (7.5)
8. Ali Gerba (3.9)
9. Kevin McKenna (2.3)
10. Ethan Gage (0.6)
10. Charles Gbeke (0.6)
10. Tomasz Radzinski (0.6)
Allow me to discredit the intelligence of the assembled voters. Ethan Gage, who only played about half of the games for the Whitecaps, is a clear homer pick. Gbeke had a monster goal scoring season but does not belong in the same league as most of the other players. Clear homer picks.

Nevio Pizzolitto probably earned a few Montreal-based votes too, but has a better case to be on the list. He was probably included in the short list because of his excellent career, and as the preeminent Canadian player on a USL-1 champion team.

But how did De Rosario score so high? Sure, he was the most productive player on Toronto FC, but this is a team that missed the playoffs. Again. And he didn't play a minute for Canada.

I'm not so crazy about the Jackson selection either. He scored a bundle of goals in 2009, but more than half of those were in the first half of the year when he was playing for a League Two outfit. To his credit he showed up for Canada, but apart from his single goal against Cyprus he appeared not quite up to the challenge of international play.

To my mind, the most deserving players are those who won something (UEFA qualification for Klukowski and Hutchinson, an MLS title for Will Johnson). You also see the usual offensive player bias in this list as well: Andre Hainault (Houston), Dejan Jakovic (DC United) and Pat Onstad (Houston) all had better MLS campaigns than Gerba or even de Guzman (admittedly abbreviated).

Speaking of de Guzman, how does a guy who played maybe 20 games total in the entire year get on the list? From 2005 to 2007 he had a hard time getting his name to the top of the list, despite being Canada's best talent by far, but now that he's switched shirts, he almost wins without playing. Coincidence?

The Voyageurs' 2009 POTY as well as the CSA Fans' Choice are both awards I give more credence to, and I suspect we'll see a more thoughtful selection of players.


Canada to play Jamaica

As is its custom, the CSA doesn't spill the beans until all the details have been ironed out, but Canada will be playing Jamaica in Kingston (Jamaica, not Ontario) on January 31st. The Jamaican press have been all over this, and it is listed on Canada's FIFA page, suggest it is more or less a done deal.

From the linked article (Jamaica observer):
Burrell, also a member of the Jack Warner-led CONCACAF Executive Committee, explained that the deal with the Canadians has a reciprocal element where the Boyz are due to travel to Canada for a return match in 2010 or 2011, whichever is more convenient for both associations.
This I like. The Canadian association has promised two home friendlies for the men's team in 2010, and while not without skepticism, I am hopeful this promise will be fulfilled. Getting Jamaica into BMO should sell tickets, and frankly, I could care less about the ratio of Jamaican to Canadian support, as long as its money in the bank for the CSA.

The article also confirms a week long camp in Ft Lauderdale for Canada, which I'd imagine would also include some sort of kickabout, such as a closed door friendly or match against some Euro team on a tropical winter break.

Canada's all time record (W-D-L) against Jamaica is a healthy 7-3-6.


Canadian soccer blog post of the week: Read a great collection of soccer writers and commentators, and one total hack, in the SCGTAS roundtable (pt 1 / 2 / 3)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Does CONCACAF deserve more World Cup representation?

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of hoping that Honduras does well at next summer's World Cup in order to strengthen the argument that CONCACAF is not, in fact, the weakest of confederations, and therefore deserves an extra half spot. You know, to make qualification for Canada a sight easier. Having 4 teams qualify directly might also cause CONCACAF to reconsider its ludicrous qualifying format where 80% of the teams are eliminated after a year.

Ostensibly, the allocation of spots is based, at least in part, on performances at past World Cups. The best way to compare the weak confederations (Africa, Asia, North/Central America) is to measure the group stage performances of the qualified teams, since so few advance to the later rounds.

I ran the data for World Cups back to 1994, and here are the results:

Points per team in group stage
CONMEBOL 5
UEFA 4.84
OFC**** 4
CONCACAF 3.08
CAF 2.65
AFC 2.43

**** This mark is based entirely on Australia's 2006 performance.

The standard arguments given against further participation from CONCACAF is that the region has only one strong team, Mexico (more recently, two). I dispute the merit of the argument, but even if we accept that argument, removing Mexico's results from the picture yields a CONCACAF number of 2.13. If we do the same for the best African side over that period, Nigeria, and the best Asian country, Korea, those confederations put up 2.29 and 2 respectively.

Population as an argument doesn't hold water: the most populous Asian countries (China, India, Indonesia) have done nothing at all at World Cups, and as federations go, CONCACAF is only marginally smaller than Europe.

Do I think CONCACAF deserves 4 full spots? Of course I do. Asia doesn't deserve what they're getting, and I'll be shocked if they don't prove to be the worst performing confederation at South Africa.

Who's with me?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Year-end stats: newly capped players

Coming as it did at the premature end of a world cup qualifying cycle, 2009 ought to have been a year for Canada to evaluate and develop some new talent for the national team. With 4 friendlies on the schedule, there was ample opportunity to try out new players.

How did Canada do? Well, these are the 5 players that earned their first senior cap for Canada in 2009:

Simeon Jackson (Gillingham, League One, England, 22 years old)

Jackson made the most of his first opportunity by scoring in the friendly in Cyprus in March. So much did he impress the then-interim gaffer, Stephen Hart, that he saw the pitch as either starter or substitute in each of Canada's remaining 7 matches in 2009. It certainly didn't hurt that he has continued to score at the club level. He clearly has a future for Canada, but as evidenced by his performance against Macedonia, has some work to do before he is of the necessary quality for CONCACAF qualifying.

Simeon was the only newly-minted national teamer to play in more than one match.

The rest:

Eddy Sidra (Energie Cottbus, 2. Bundesliga, Germany, 20 years old)

Of the other newly-capped players, Sidra was the only one to start and go 90 minutes, also in the Cyprus friendly. More or less an emergency callup because regular RB Paul Stalteri was unavailable, Sidra must have played well enough, considering the team maintained a clean sheet, and he wasn't pulled off by Stephen Hart. He may have a future, but for the time being he isn't even the most promising Canadian defender on his own team. He's been surpassed by 19-year old Adam Straith, who has lately been starting for the 2. Bundesliga side.

Tyler Hemming (Charleston Battery, USL-1 [last year, at least], 24 years old)

USL players don't generally get called up for European friendlies, but Hemming made his debut against Cyprus in May. I don't know where he'll end up playing next year (Charleston will be playing in USL-2 next season) but he'll need to make a move if he wants to remain even on the fringes of the national team picture. He has a useful skillset, if lacking a bit in quality: a central midfielder with defensive knowhow, perhaps in the mould of a Daniel Imhof.

Speaking of Imhofs . . .

Dominic Imhof (FC Tuggen, 1. Liga, Switzerland, 27 years old)

This younger Imhof brother is no Daniel. He plays in the Swiss second or third tier, and was likely the first player to answer the phone after an injury in camp leading up to the Cyprus match. We won't be hearing of him again.

Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault
(FC St. Pauli, 2. Bundesliga, Germany, 21 years old)

If you have memories of JBB, it's probably of him pulling on the goalie shirt after newly-minted asshole Asmir Begovic was red carded against Congo in the 2007 U20 World Cup. He was given a courtesy run-out in the late stages against Macedonia. He might have a future for Canada, but at his age should soon be moving into the starting ranks somewhere.



Players that should be capped soon: Nana Attakora (TFC), David Hoilett (Blackburn, if he'll have us), David Edgar (Benchwarmer FC), Marcus Haber (Whitecaps/West Bromwich Albion)

Who else do you want?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Year-end stats: players

The players who made it onto the pitch for Canada in '09:

PLAYER START SUB MINS GOAL YC RC
Kevin McKenna 8
710
1
Atiba Hutchinson 7
604


Julian de Guzman 7
577


Mike Klukowski 6
540
1
Paul Stalteri 6
517
2
Patrice Bernier 5 1 499 2

Josh Simpson 5 3 493


Dejan Jakovic 5
406


Greg Sutton 4 1 405


Jaime Peters 4 2 369


Will Johnson 5
368


Ali Gerba 4 1 368 4

Simeon Jackson 3 5 364 1

Richard Hastings 3 1 315


Marcel de Jong 4 2 283 1

Lars Hirschfeld 2
180


Issey Nakajima-Farran 1 2 138


Josh Wagenaar 2
135


Adrian Cann 1 2 111


Andre Hainault 1
90
1
Eddy Sidra 1
90


Nikolas Ledgerwood 1
90


Rob Friend 1 1 90


Tomasz Radzinski 1
85


Iain Hume 1 1 64


Tyler Hemming
1 22


Andrzej Ornoch
1 9


Chris Pozniak
1 7


Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault
1 2


Dominic Imhof
1 1


TOTALS 88 27 7932 8 5 0

A few thoughts:
  • The total number of minutes should be 7920 (8 matches x 11 players x 90 minutes), but I just cribbed stats from the CSA site so obviously they goofed.
  • Average age of the top 6 minute-getters in '09: just over 29 years old. Which is too old.
  • A total of 30 players were used in the calendar year
  • Of these players, only the immortal Dominic Imhof is unlikely to ever play for Canada again. The other marginal types are either too young (Beaulieu-Bourgault, Ornoch, Sidra), too versatile (Pozniak), too ageless (Radzinski), or too domestic-based (Hemming, Pozniak again) to be ruled out entirely.
  • The players likely to form the core of future teams (Johnson, Jakovic, Simpson, de Jong, Jackson) got a pretty fair chance to show what they can do in 2009. Only Hainault probably deserved more time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Year-end stats: matches

I'll be publishing some year-end stats of the men's national team during what's left of 2009.

First up: Canada's matches this calendar year:

CANADA IN 2009
Date Opponent Location Type CAN Opp Result
30/05/09 Cyprus Larnaca Friendly 1 0 Win
30/06/09 Guatemala Oxnard, CA Friendly 3 0 Win
03/07/09 Jamaica Los Angeles Gold Cup 1 0 Win
07/07/09 El Salvador Columbus, OH Gold Cup 1 0 Win
10/07/09 Costa Rica Miami Gold Cup 2 2 Draw
18/07/09 Honduras Philadelphia Gold Cup 0 1 Loss
14/11/09 Macedonia Strumica Friendly 0 3 Loss
18/11/09 Poland Bydgoszcz Friendly 0 1 Loss
Totals


8 7


Wins 4




Draws 1




Losses 3



The record and goals for and against are respectable. As for trends, keeping a clean sheet for the first 4 and being kept off the scoreboard for the last 3 are the first things that jump out at you.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tuesday cup of coffee

A round up of recent news and events.

CSA press conference: No news is no news

I don't think we learned anything that was terribly interesting from yesterday's slightly ballyhooed CSA presser in Toronto. Stephen Hart was confirmed as full-time head coach (we more or less knew that already), and the CSA plans to host two friendly matches in fall (I'll believe it when I see it).

The 24th minute takes the NASL/TOA angle and worries about the present non-sanctioned state of the new league and potential problems for CONCACAF Champions League qualification should the Whitecaps or Impact win the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, but I think its a bit premature to get into a panic about it. The USL-1 owners have played all the wrong cards so far, and I think the USSF is quite happy to see them punished for it.

World Cup loose ends

I have already filed a brief report of my thoughts on the World Cup draw. I'd not be half the blogger I claim to be if I didn't also make a set of irresponsible and incredibly premature predictions.

So, in that vein, the teams to advance will be:

Group A: Mexico, France
Group B: Argentina, Greece
Group C: England, USA
Group D: Germany, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark
Group F: Italy, Paraguay
Group G: Brazil, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Honduras

Not really going out on a limb, except with the Honduras pick. Which I'd love to see. You'll notice I only have one African team advancing out of the group stage, and no Asian teams.

Frankly, I believe we always overrate the African sides. But the historical evidence is stacked against them:
  • Exactly 1 African team, Ghana, advanced past the group stage in '06 (no Asian teams),
  • Exactly 1 in '02, the surprising Senegal (only the 2 Asian hosts, Korea and Japan, made it through).
  • How many African sides advanced in '98? Exactly one, again. (No Asian teams either).
We'll come back to these predictions in 7 months time.


AZ report: Advocaat swoops in

Advocaat is a Dutch liqueur, made from egg yolks, sugar, and brandy. Dick Advocaat is the Belgium national coach.

Advocaat and Advocaat.


Both are currently in season: Advocaat goes well with a bit of whipped cream and spices, and is kind of like a Dutch egg nog. Dick Advocaat is in the news because he has taken on an interim job with my boys, AZ, who finally fired the rather incompetent yet still somehow employable Ronald Koeman. (This man ruined AZ's 2009-2010 campaign, as well as Ajax's 2004-05 season when I was living in Amsterdam.)

The homo sapiens Advocaat will take over at AZ after tomorrow Champions' League finale against Standard Liege. Which is in, of all places, Belgium. A win qualifies AZ for Europa League; any other result ends their European year. It might not be all bad if they are forced to focus on domestic results: they are currently 19 points behind leaders Twente, who are now in a two-horse race with PSV. Mounir el Hamdouai will likely be available as a substitute Wednesday, which should provide further punch to the sputtering AZ attack.

Democracy now!

It seems we've gone a while now in this country without an election, but if you're itching for some polling, don't fret. Vote for me (or anybody else: the actual best blog in the sports category is probably the Drunk Jays) in the Canadian blog awards. You can vote daily until Saturday, so please make the most of this opportunity.

Also, if you're registered on the Voyageurs forum, you can also vote for the Vs player of the year for 2009. On my ballot were, in order, Mike Klukowski, Will Johnson, and Atiba Hutchinson.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

World cup draw: Better late than never?

Now that the dust has settled on the World Cup draw (yes, it's only been two days), most of the cogent points about the resulting groups have already been made. I'm not so egotistical to claim that I have anything unique or insightful to add (instead, I just vote for myself in the Canadian blog awards -- sports category -- every day).

Not bad for an MRF.

But the loyal readership probably is wondering by now how I feel about the Netherlands' Group E and a few other happenings.

The inevitable discussion after the drawing of groups for any big tournament is about which group is the Group of Death. If Group of Death is understood to mean a group with four highly competitive and high quality teams, there is none this time. Full stop.

Here are the groups:

GRP TEAM FIFA RK FIFA PTS
A France 7 1122

Uruguay 15 901

Mexico 19 931

South Africa 86 377

Averages 31.75 832.75




B Argentina 8 1085

Greece 12 1028

Nigeria 22 848

Korea Republic 52 625

Averages 23.5 896.5




C England 9 1063

USA 14 980

Algeria 28 823

Slovenia 33 756

Averages 21 905.5




D Germany 6 1170

Serbia 20 900

Australia 21 863

Ghana 37 739

Averages 21 918




E Netherlands 3 1279

Cameroon 11 1035

Denmark 26 835

Japan 43 709

Averages 20.75 964.5




F Italy 4 1215

Paraguay 30 816

Slovakia 34 755

New Zealand 77 433

Averages 36.25 804.75




G Brazil 2 1592

Portugal 5 1181

Cote d'Ivoire 16 927

Korea DPR 84 399

Averages 26.75 1024.75




H Spain 1 1622

Chile 17 926

Switzerland 18 924

Honduras 38 738

Averages 18.5 1052.5

Group H, by either measure (rank or FIFA ranking points), is the group with the most quality overall. Yet most have pointed to Group G, with powerhouse Brazil, consistently strong Portugal, and always threatening Cote d'Ivoire as the toughest. Team Kim Jong Il is the punching bag.

If we accept the argument that a Group of Death can be the result of three strong teams, it's worth measuring which group has the best trifecta. The answer? Group G, of course. The script is flipped, and Group H ranks as the next toughest.

There is much better statistical analysis happening elsewhere:
  • The outlandishly named Voros McCracken does some mathematical thingamajiggery to determine the winners and losers of the draw. Biggest winner? England. Loser? Brazil. Somehow I still think Brazil goes further.
  • Climbing the Ladder examines the odds, based on a number of ranking alternatives to the FIFA list.
  • World Cup Draw Math Geekery from Mark McClusky (h/t @footiefool). He tackles the group of death question as well, making the very valid point that we should be looking at the rankings of the third place teams, as well as the delta (difference in rank) between the 2nd and 3rd ranked in each group.
The Dutch got an OK group. They don't have any pushovers (hello, New Zealand!), but there are no teams in that group who should strike fear into the heart of a top opponent. I don't fear Japan at all, and Cameroon is one of those African sides that is persistently overrated. Denmark might be a tough nut to crack, but it's unlikely they'll score enough to worry the Dutch. Plus we all know that this team doesn't crap the bed until the later rounds. It's premature, and I haven't fully explored all the permutations, but I hear we could see a Germany-Netherlands clash before the final if everything falls right.

(Ask me if you don't know why I care about the Oranje in these international tournaments).

As for the Rest of Canada's fallback option, England, what a pattycake group. Is there any way that both England and the USA can lose in their Matchday 3 confrontation? Please?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

CSA Fans' Choice Award

Before I rail unnecessarily against the CSA for what is, at most, a minor technical issue, let me point out how immensely gratifying it is to see correct apostrophe placement in the press release for the CSA Fans' Choice Award (assuming, of course, that the choice is being made by more than one fan). Correct grammar and punctuation can get you a long way with me, and the correct use of the plural possessive is far too rare in this world.

That said, how amateurish is it that the voting mechanism for this award is a free, ad-supported online survey site, on a page that doesn't even list the nominees. Even last year's personal email to CSA PR guy Richard Scott was less off-putting.

This year's choice is far more difficult than last, and the list of nominees for the men's side, which is the same list for the Media/Coaches award, isn't terribly helpful.

The options:
Male Nominees from the Men’s national team / Joueurs en nomination de l’équipe nationale masculine senior
- de Guzman, Julian M Scarborough, ON, CAN CAN / Toronto FC
- De Rosario, Dwayne M Scarborough, ON, CAN CAN / Toronto FC
- Gerba, Ali F Montréal, QC, CAN CAN / Toronto FC
- Hutchinson, Atiba M Brampton, ON, CAN DEN / F.C. København
- Jackson, Simeon M Mississauga, ON, CAN ENG / Gillingham FC
- Johnson, Will F Toronto, ON, CAN USA / Real Salt Lake
- Klukowski, Mike D/M Oshawa, ON, CAN BEL / Club Brugge KV
- McKenna, Kevin D/F Calgary, AB, CAN GER / 1. FC Köln
- Pizzolitto, Nevio D Montréal, QC, CAN CAN / Impact de Montréal
- other selection/ autre
Of course, we fans are given the helpful reminder that our vote is to be based upon popularity. However, I'd rather heed the set of instructions given to the much better informed media and coaches, who are directed to vote based on "their 2009 achievements with both the national team and their respective club teams".

This combination of club and international success is rare for Canadians in 2009. By that token, I think we can dismiss Julian de Guzman and Nevio Pizzolitto immediately. Nevio had tremendous success, captaining the Montreal Impact to the (last ever?) USL-1 title. But he hasn't earned a cap since 2004, and was likely only nominated as the most prominent Canadian for Montreal. De Guzman only played about a dozen games between Deportivo and Toronto FC, and his teams were anything but successful.

By the same token, Ali Gerba, who scored 4 times in 5 matches in '09, lost his club job in England, and then failed to make any kind of impression in Toronto, except at the city's buffet lines.

Others in the list:
  • Kevin McKenna mostly played well in his 6 matches for Canada, but lost his starting position with his club
  • Will Johnson and Simeon Jackson both emerged as solid players with a bright future, but it's important to be careful not to overrate young talent, a common Voyageurs affliction
  • Dwayne de Rosario put up numbers, but on a bad team, and didn't show up at all for Canada.
For me the players who combined consistent club play at a relatively high level and solid contributions for Canada are Mike Klukowski and Atiba Hutchinson. And since Atiba is the kind of guy that would drift in and out of matches for Canada, I'm siding with Klukowski.

This fan's choice (yes, that is also correct apostrophe placement) for the CSA Award.

I'm sure nobody is surprised about that.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

World cup seedings announced


The pots for Friday's World Cup draw are out. The surprise is that October's FIFA rankings were used as the basis for seeding teams in Pot A, instead of the previous formula, a complicated metric based largely on performances in previous World Cups.

For my boys*, the Netherlands, this is great news, since while they consistently fail to perform on the big stage, the Oranje also have maintained a consistently high FIFA rank over the last few years.

The pots:
Pot 1: South Africa, Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina, and England.
Pot 2: Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, New Zealand, Honduras, Mexico and USA.
Pot 3: Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Pot 4: Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.

I hacked together a quick python script to simulate a random drawing. With Netherlands in pot 1 instead of the European pot 4, the likelihood of a true "Group of Death" is diminished.

Upon first electronic drawing:
Group A: South Africa , USA , Paraguay, Slovakia
Group B: Brazil , Japan , Nigeria , Greece
Group C: Spain , New Zealand , Algeria , Portugal
Group D: Netherlands , Mexico , Uruguay , Serbia
Group E: Italy , South Korea , Chile , France
Group F: Germany , North Korea , Cameroon , Denmark
Group G: Argentina , Australia , Ivory Coast , Slovenia
Group H: England , Honduras , Ghana, Switzerland

To be honest, there aren't too many groups where it would be tough to pick out the top 2. I'm sure our southern neighbours would be thrilled with this draw.

In case you were wondering, the worst possible group, by FIFA ranking:
South Africa (86), New Zealand (77), Paraguay (30), Slovakia (34)
We'll see what we get on Friday.