FIFA World Cup Draw: Fold, Check, or Raise?

Ryan PopilchakCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2009

Today was the group draw for the FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Fans from all over the world watch to see who their team will play in the group stages and hope they get a little luck to go with all their hard work in qualification.

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

Given that the draw can completely change a team’s prospects in the tournament, I’ve always thought it resembled a poker game just as each player is sizing up his/her cards before the flop.

Here are some of the poker hands that national teams are staring at after the big draw (along with their winning percentages for games with four players, representing the chance of advancing from the group, thanks to this site ).  Every hand has it's potential for greatness, possible combinations that will take it to victory and match-ups that it just can't win, which is similar to any team in the tournament. 

South Africa2-7 (13%)
Unfortunately for the host nation, they don’t have much of a chance unless they get lucky. France, Mexico, and Uruguay are all ranked in the top 20 national teams by FIFA and could literally bluff the Bafana Bafana’s out of the tournament. Much like the dreaded 2-7, they would need a miracle flop to pull off an upset.

Nigeria9-5 suited (22%)
The Super Eagles are not favored to advance but have a definite chance. Much like holding suited cards gives a poker player the hope of a flush, the pairing of Yakubu and Obafemi Martins up front gives Nigeria a shot, but they need to hit a string of form at just the right time.

USAPair of Jacks (49%)
The Americans should be optimistic. While they are likely battling it out for second place in the group, their recent form in the Confederations Cup shows they have the talent and organization to move on. Slovenia is a deceptively dangerous team and represents a threat, but the USA just needs to raise early and often, so their superior hand forces the other competitors to feel overwhelmed.

SerbiaKing-Jack (33%)
The Serbians have made their first World Cup after completely dominating their qualifying group. Unfortunately for the up and coming soccer nation, they have solid outs but will need some help. Ghana is a formidable team who also qualified in a strong position and Australia proved at the last World Cup they can grind out victories.

DenmarkPair of Nines (40%) vs CameroonKing-Eight (25%)
Denmark managed to qualify in first place from a very difficult European group. They were “rewarded” with a group that resembles a table in which 3 players raise before the flop. While the Danes have the upper hand for the second spot in the group, Cameroon absolutely possesses the card to sink them, and his name is Samuel Eto’o.

ItalyAce-King suited (41%)
While Italy is clearly the best team in this group, they effectively limped into first place. The offense was fairly ineffective and they racked up points by avoiding losses rather than notching definitive wins. Much like an A-Ks, they are in the pole position, still have some work to do in order to advance comfortably, but have enormous upside.

Ivory CoastJack-Ten suited (33%)
With players like Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Kolo Toure, the team shows all kinds of promise. Unfortunately, they’ve been drawn into this year’s Group of Death. Brazil and Portugal are both world class opponents. The Elephants will need to be on top form to move on, but could easily end up with the straight flush to do it.

SpainPair of Aces (63%)
The number one ranked team in the world, got a very favorable draw. While Switzerland is well organized defensively and many are high on Chile’s chances to advance, no team poses a serious threat to the European Champions without once-a-decade luck.

FranceAces in their sleeve (0%)
Les Bleus got into the World Cup by cheating . In poker, it would be the equivalent of finding a glitch in an online entry tournament. That said, teams that get in by shady means, typically find that sports karma comes back to haunt them. I have a sneaky hunch that France is in for a very rough time on the world’s biggest stage.

As we get closer to June, we'll add some in depth analysis of each group and it's participants.

This article is also featured on Sports Opinionated .