Although the pots for Friday's World Cup draw were revealed today, they didn't do much to provide clarity to the situation for UEFA teams like England. Instead of placing a European team in Pot 2 at the outset, the committee is going to hold a draw.
Due to that unknown, there are a wide range of possibilities for England as Friday approaches. Even though there are several favorable outcomes available, there's also a very good chance they end up in the "Group of Death" alongside a top South American team and another European squad.
A national team's luck during the draw is a major factor in whether or not a deep run is possible. With that in mind, let's examine the best and worst potential results for the Three Lions, which are a second-tier contender heading into the draw.
|England's Best Group Possibility|
|2014 World Cup|
Above all else, the most important thing for England is avoiding the move to Pot 2. Whatever European team suffers that fate is going to end up playing alongside a South American Pot 1 team and a UEFA rival, the "worst" of which include Russia, Croatia and Greece—all strong sides.
Of course, it could also work in the opposite direction, with another top team from Pot 4 ending up in Pot 2 and then drawing England. In either case, it would already be a tough three-team race without even considering which team from Pot 3 ends up in the group.
If England avoids that dreaded possibility, things actually open up nicely.
In a perfect world, the Three Lions would draw Switzerland from Pot 1. While Brazil and Belgium are actually ranked lower than the Swiss side, both of those other squads are more potent. Brazil won the Confederations Cup and Belgium features a roster full of rising stars.
The best options from Pot 2 come from Africa. The Ivory Coast has an aging core but is still capable of one more strong showing before the next wave of talent takes over, and Ghana has enjoyed success at recent World Cups.
If you take those two away, that leaves Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon as the remaining teams. In all three scenarios, England would be happy with its draw from Pot 2 and would head into that match as a clear favorite. Cameroon is the best outcome of all.
Finally, the two teams to avoid in Pot 3 are the United States and Mexico. The Americans earned a draw with the Three Lions in the 2010 event, and El Tri have far more talent than their qualifying results would indicate.
Any of the Asian teams or the other CONCACAF sides would be acceptable. In the best-case scenario, Australia would probably be the most favourable matchup.
If the draw played out that way, England would be expected to advance with relative ease.
|England's Worst Group Possibility|
|2014 World Cup|
While thinking about that best-base scenario will have England supporters dreaming of a deep World Cup run, draw day could also turn into a nightmare very quickly. If the Three Lions land in Pot 2, things are going to get very worrisome.
Since whichever European team that gets moved will automatically be paired with a South American team from Pot 1, it's a remarkably undesirable situation. Getting put with Brazil, the host nation, would be a cringe-worthy outcome.
It could still get a lot worse, though.
From Pot 3, England could draw the United States, which has improved since their 2010 World Cup encounter. While the Three Lions would likely enter that match as the favorites, it's far from a gimme, and that's what every contender is hoping for at least once in the group stage.
Rounding out the group is another European team. There are no shortage of bad options, including Italy, France and the Netherlands. Based on ranking and an in-form Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal could very well end up being the most dangerous of the bunch.
If the above group, or something close to it, ends up as reality, England is going to struggle just to make it out of the group stage.
It shows how the draw can turn a mid-range contender like England into an afterthought simply due to some terrible luck.