By Gideon Rachman
The World Cup draw has just been made and I am immediately faced with a dilemma – can I be bothered to travel thousands of miles and to spend thousands of pounds to watch Brazil play Portugal in Durban on July 25th? On the one hand, I appear to have tickets for the tie of the round. On the other hand, my sofa in west London looks more comfortable and cheaper.
I will return to my personal issues in a moment. But, first, some comments on the draw. Everybody on television here is crowing about how easy England’s group is: the US, Algeria and Slovenia. Even Scotland might have a shot of qualifying from a group like that. When England were drawn in an easy group and made to play their first game in Rustenberg, right near their training camp, I must admit I sensed a fix. (The proverbial hot ball in the pot.) Were FIFA making things easy for the English, who usually have a huge and free-spending group of travelling supporters? The holders, Italy, also have a ludicrously easy group.
But any unworthy suspicions that there might have been a fix have been dispelled by looking at poor old South Africa’s group. It is normally deemed essential to the health of the tournament that the host country qualify for the knock-out stages, which means that they have to finish in the top two. Normally, by hook or by crook, they do it. Even an unfancied US made it to the last 16 in 1994 – and both co-hosts, Japan and South Korea, made it through in 2002. But South Africa are really going to struggle to qualify. In fact, they might struggle to win a game against Mexico, France and Uruguay.