Ranking Draw Teams in Pot 3 of World Cup 2014
Separating the Strong From the Weak In World Cup 2014
When the four pots for the 2014 World Cup drawing were announced on Tuesday, there was very little surprise what nations were drawn into their respective pots. This is because of the fact that the first pot is always reserved for the top eight teams in the FIFA Rankings and the other three pots were decided based on geography. Additionally, there was very little going on in recent weeks that could have significantly changed the previous rankings -- World Cup playoffs were not included -- and many soccer statisticians have been able to accurately predict rankings for years.
Pot 3 was the CONCACAF and AFC bowl, and was composed up of the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, South Korea, Japan, Australia and Iran National Teams. And while none of these teams was ranked amongst the top eight in the world, there is little doubting that their is a vast gap between the best and worst squads in the pot. Some of the member nations are vastly experienced in world cup play and have been at the tops of their games recently, while others are quite inexperienced at the World Cup Final stage and their are numerous teams in between.
But if one was to only look at the November FIFA rankings to gauge which of these teams is the best and which was the worst they would be ill advised to say the least. This is a result of FIFA's rankings being based entirely off of computer analysis, which takes out the human element and by effect any opportunity to discern exactly who is barely getting by and who is for real.
With this inaccuracy in mind we have taken the responsibility of ranking the teams in Pot 3 into our own hands. When composing these records we took an in-depth analysis of each team's roster, their recent results, historical results and experience in big time events.
Enjoy and feel free to give feedback.
While Iran is the highest ranked team in the FIFA November 2013 ranking from AFC to make the World Cup, there is little doubting they are both the worst team qualified for the World Cup from the region and in Pot 3 as a whole. Almost all of their current squad plies their trade in the lowly regarded Iran Pro League, with midfielders Masoud Shojaei, Mojtaba Jabbari and forward Reza Ghoochannejhad the only members who ply their trade abroad. The result is that their squad has little experience against top sides, which has played itself out to Quarterfinal exits in the 2007 and 2011 Asian Cup's, and they have only won one game at the World Cup Finals ever. With little time to improve before the 2014 World Cup, there is little reason to believe that Iran can take down any top teams in the world.
Over the last ten years Honduras has taken a big step forward as many of their national team players have moved from the domestic Honduran National Professional Football League and into both the MLS and European leagues. Currently such stalwarts as Wilson Palacios, Maynor Figueroa, Oscar Garcia,Victor Bernardez, Emilio Izaguirre, Roger Espinoza, Andy Najar and Jerry Bengston play in these leagues, and the nations on-field footballing has been better for it. They have made the semifinals of the last three CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments, appeared in the 2010 World Cup and finished third in the Hexagonal qualifying group. Still, despite this success they are still a relative newcomer to the international stage, and will find it much tougher to make to navigate the 2014 World Cup than the rest of the nations who lie above them on this list.
In recent years Australia has had a tough time moving from their so-called "Golden Generation" to a younger group of players. They have lost to Japan, China, Brazil and France in recent months, but two straight victories over Canada and Costa Rica will provide hope they have finally turned the corner. With Tim Cahill leading the way they will certainly have opportunities on goal, and they may yet try to go with an aging back four in an attempt to get one last big tournament out of their veterans. Doing so could be dangerous but rewarding, as veteran guidance is at a premium in tournaments as big as the 2014 World Cup. It would still be hard to bet money on Australia though against this pot, as their competing nations are simply too talented to be stopped by good coaching.
5. Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a squad that is made up of players who almost all play abroad, with talents such as Bryan Ruiz, Bryan Oviedo, Keylor Navas and Celso Borges making them dangerous from top to bottom. This talent has helped the team to almost always play with an inner belief and attacking impetus, although this does sometimes backfire in big games. Recently the nation has bowed out of the 2011 and 2013 CONCACAF Gold Gup at the quarterfinal stage and led them to not qualify for the 2010 World Cup. These losses could turn out to be learning experiences, as if Costa Rica comes out of the gate with a level head and smart game plan they can compete with any team in this pot.
4. South Korea
The 2014 World Cup will mark the eight straight appearance on soccer's biggest stage for South Korea, and it is safe to say they are one of two powerhouses in AFC, alongside Japan. They play a disciplined, fundamental style that makes them both fun to watch and a teaching model for nearly every other nation in the world. Additionally, with guys such as Lee Chung-Yong and Ki Seung-Yueng and Ji Dong-Won now playing overseas they are beginning to get the talent to play amongst the big boys regularly. They are still physically a little bit smaller and less athletic than most opponents, but Japan is the only nation from the AFC more dangerous than South Korea right now.
Over the last year Mexico has gone through many ups and downs, as they were knocked out of the Semi-Finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup and did so poorly in the Hexagonal that they had to win a playoff against New Zealand just to make the 2014 World Cup Finals. Still, just a year and a half ago they were winners of the 2012 Olympic Games and have made it to the Round of 16 at the past five World Cup Finals and have great talent. There is no doubting that they are the most talented nation in this pot, and if Miguel Herrera can get the team playing for the same cause they could be the surprise team of the 2014 World Cup Finals. Doing so will be a difficult task, but it would be hard to bet against Mexico against nearly any other team in this pot.
Japan is another team that is extremely sound in terms of fundamental and team football, but they are a little more advanced than regional rivals South Korea. The Samurai Blue will be making their fifth consecutive World Cup Finals appearance in 2014 and have won three out of the last five AFC Cup championships. This charge has been led by world class players such as Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, whom have both excelled in the Champions League and can make a difference against any team in the world. Likewise Japan has the ability to stack up against any team in the world, and will be a force to be reckoned with at the 2014 World Cup Finals.
Over the last year, USA has undergone a vast transformation under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and are now arguably one of the top 15 teams in the world. Klinsmann did this by convincing veterans such as Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to buy into his attacking system, and their 16-3-4 record in 2013 vindicates the coach's style of play. After finishing first in the Hexagonal and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, it is clear USA has a ton of momentum heading into the 2014 World Cup Finals, and should feel confident in their status as the top dog in Pot 3.