Finally. All of two days ahead of the Finals Draw, we know which teams are in which pots.
Thanks for all the warning, Fifa.
The winners? Argentina, the Netherlands and Africa.
The losers? France and Concacaf.
First, let's break out the four pots, as identified by Fifa today:
Pot 1 (seeded): Argentina, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, South Africa (host) and Spain.
Pot 2 (Asia, Concacaf, Oceania): Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea; Honduras, Mexico, United States; New Zealand.
Pot 3 (Africa, South America): Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria; Chile, Praguay, Uruguay.
Pot 4 (rest of Europe): Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland.
OK, back to winners and losers.
-- The Netherlands, which probably deserved to be seeded but would not have if Fifa had used any one of its recent formulations for determining seeding (the ones that include recent results in World Cup finals). Netherlands didn't even play in the 2006 World Cup, so that would have buried it under the formula used just four years ago.
Instead, Fifa went off rankings ... and Netherlands is a top-five club, so it's seeded.
--Argentina. Forget the rankings. Argentina under Diego Maradona has not been anything like one of the world's top eight clubs. If France is going to be punished for recent form (see below), why not Argentina, as well?
--Africa. By being placed in a pot with the South American countries (the three that aren't Brazil and Argentina), that lifts Africa out of the "loser" pot it shared with Concacaf as recently as 2002. Now the five Africans are guaranteed at least one match with Asia, Concacaf or New Zealand.
And the losers ... some of which we already have referred to:
--France. Is Fifa punishing the French for the Ireland/Thierry Henry hand-ball mess? Certainly seems so. Under the old system of recent World Cup performance, the runners-up in 2006 ought to seeded. If Fifa went with its most current rankings, France is No.7 and ought to be in. But by going back to October's rankings, France is edged out by England.
(Hey, Ireland, we're not letting you in, but we're messing with France. Might even just by accident end up in a group with Brazil, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Feel better? Didn't think so.)
--Concacaf. The North American teams clearly are considered bottom of the barrel, along with Asia and Oceania -- and the latter two groups clearly deserve it. But Concacaf had two of its three teams ranked in the top 18 in October (United States No. 10, Mexico No. 18) ... yet they are stuck with the weak Asian teams and New Zealand -- which means they can't be in the same group with any of them of those quite-beatable five.
Concacaf teams, then, can look forward to a draw that will include a seeded team, one of the eight unseeded European teams ... and then either an African team (playing on its home continent) or South American team.
That is, a tough draw. The best the North Americans can hope for is getting into South Africa's group. South Africa will be infinitely better, at home, but it still looks more vulnerable than the other seeded teams. Aside from a Diego-led Argentina, maybe.
Seems as if Concacaf should have been thrown a bone and put in the same pot as Africa's five, considering South American already has two teams seeded and one of them (Argentina) is semi-bogus. Let the top two qualifiers out of Concacaf have a chance to play one of the four Asian teams -- none of which are ranked anywhere near the USA and Mexico. (Australia, at 24, is the only Asian team ranked above No. 40, as of October.)
But punking Concacaf is a hoary tradition, in Fifa. All the Yanks and Mexicans and Hondurans can do is go out and get results against at least two good opponents.