The England team are so firmly established as the standing joke of European football that one of the key figures in the 2010 World Cup bid said he hoped the English made it to that competition if only for the players' WAGs. Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the 2010 organising committee praised the "ambiance and atmosphere" brought by the England team, as well as their wives and girlfriends, that will be missing from the Euro 2008 finals.
At least England will be in the hat for the World Cup qualifying draw tomorrow afternoon along with the other 206 teams ranked by Fifa, although the Football Association delegation will arrive to find their standing downgraded. Having slipped to 12th in the Fifa world rankings for international sides, England will not be seeded in the top pot for the draw and instead are in the same pool as the likes of Scotland and Israel.
Only the top nine European teams within the Fifa world rankings will be seeded and with England ranked 10th in the continent they will now be drawn in a World Cup qualifying group with one of those top nine. In the best-case scenario they could find themselves up against Greece, who crept ahead of them in the rankings this week. The gloomier scenarios will find England up against Italy, France, Germany or Spain – either way, the FA's new manager will have no easy task.
Of the nine seeded teams that England could face they have lost to six of them the last time they played them. Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Portugal and Croatia all beat England the last time they met while the Netherlands drew with them in November last year. England beat the Czech Republic, albeit 10 years ago – with goals from Darren Anderton and Paul Merson – and the only seeded country England can legitimately claim to have one up on is Greece who were beaten 4-0 in August 2006.
The worst possible group that England could end up with come Sunday evening is a matter of conjecture but it would surely include a mix of football powers and one awkward trip to the former Soviet Union. On paper, drawing Italy, Serbia, Macedonia, Kazakhstan and the new sovereign nation of Montenegro would not look a good prospect. The game in Almaty after the 3,500 mile flight to Kazakhstan would give the locals a chance to make their nation famous for something other than Borat.
The FA delegation set out last night for Durban, with one crucial member of the party absent – the England manager. It was a far cry from the last time England came to South Africa for a friendly in May 2003 when they were well on their way to qualifying for Euro 2004. David Beckham was so pleased to meet Nelson Mandela he had his hair plaited into traditional African cornrows for the occasion.
Yesterday Jordaan said he wanted England to qualify. "England is very important to the World Cup: at 2006 in Germany, England sold 80,000 tickets. At one stage England had more than 100,000 fans there. England fans are travelling fans and they are very important for the ambiance and the atmosphere and in Germany they brought an additional element – that of the WAGs."
Luck of the draw: Teams to discover fate in race for South Africa
Although Durban will tomorrow host the World Cup 2010 qualifying draw the 861-match programme opened in Samoa in August. The first of a record 200 entrants to be knocked out was American Samoa. The Asian and South American zones have also started with Argentina leading the way in the latter.
Tomorrow, however, the finals move tangibly closer. In a ceremony broadcast to 173 countries former players such as Lucas Radebe, George Weah and Marcel Desailly, plus Fulham's Kasey Keller, will perform the draws for the European and Concacaf (North, Central American and Caribbean) zones, and the core stages of the Asian and African competitions which have already begun. There will also be music from bands such as the Soweto String Quartet and perhaps Africa's best known singer, Senegal's Youssou N'Dour.
The most extraordinary figure will, though, be the master of ceremonies, the Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke. Less than a year ago Valcke was fired after a US court ruled that Fifa had misled Mastercard in a sponsorship dispute. Valcke, who had been director of marketing, was sacked after, admitted Fifa, the judge accused him and others of 'repeated dishonesty during negotiations'. In June, days after Fifa paid Mastercard £45m to settle the case, he was re-hired as president Sepp Blatter's right-hand man.
The European section, which should take place around 4pm (GMT), divides 53 countries, competing for 13 places, into eight groups of six teams, and one group of five. The group winners will qualify automatically and the best eight runners-up will play home and away play-off matches for the remaining places.
Italy, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, France, Portugal, The Netherlands, Croatia, Greece
England, Romania, Scotland, Turkey, Bulgaria, Russia, Poland, Sweden, Israel
Norway, Ukraine, Serbia, Denmark, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium
Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Moldova, Wales, Macedonia, Belarus, Lithuania, Cyprus
Georgia, Albania, Slovenia, Latvia, Iceland, Armenia, Austria, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan
Liechtenstein, Estonia, Malta, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Andorra, Faroe Islands, San MarinoReuse content