All the major European sides are in groups where they are likely to advance. England has an interesting match against the US, but does anyone really think the English are going to fall to Algeria or Slovenia? The Netherlands, to Denmark or Japan? Italy, to Slovakia or New Zealand?
The closest thing to interesting is down in Group D, where Germany faces three teams that, while not as good as Germany, are all good enough to perhaps pull off an upset. But Germany is still very likely to advance.
Since “which major European side advances” is not interesting, and the obvious stuff about the draw has already been discussed a million times elsewhere (Italy lucks out! France is not punished! Portugal, too bad!) let’s briefly consider the structure of the groups.
Two-and-two groups: Or, the fix is in. These are the groups where FIFA has succeeded in its goal of making sure two seeded teams advance. They include Group A (Uruguay and France should advance, Mexico and South Africa not), Group B (Argentina and Nigeria), probably Group C (England and the US), Group F (Italy and Paraguay — this is the most lopsided of all groups, with poor Slovakia and New Zealand there for the better sides to amuse themselves), and probably Group H (Spain and Chile).
One-and-three groups: Where one team is utterly dominant, and the other three can compete for the “at least we reached the elimination round” slot.
Strangely, there doesn’t seem to be one of these this year, though I suppose you could make a case for Group C if you don’t rate the US’ chances so high. There are, however, a couple of one-and-two groups. There’s Group G, where the Ivory Coast and Portugal should both crush North Korea, lose to Brazil, and end up deciding things with the match between them, and Group E, where Cameroon and Denmark get to fight for the slot behind the Netherlands.
Three-and-one groups, where you have three teams that have about equally good chances to advance and one throwaway: there isn’t one of these either. Go figure.
That leaves the odd Group D, where, as noted, Germany is better than any of the other three sides, but not that much better. Germany should advance, but otherwise I don’t know what the hell happens in Group D.
I dunno. The 2002 Cup was awesome. (Turkey and South Korea in the final four — remember that?) The 2006 was kind of a snoozer, with few surprises. This one isn’t looking so great so far, unless watching the aging Italian team dismember the North Koreans is your strange idea of fun.
But hey, I could be wrong. What think you?