Unseeded England face testing World Cup draw

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The Independent Online

Twelve years ago England's hooligans "earned" the national team a World Cup seeding at the expense of Spain. Yesterday even the memory of further violence in Marseilles, during the last World Cup, and Charleroi during the European Championship, could not deny the Spanish their just deserts.

Twelve years ago England's hooligans "earned" the national team a World Cup seeding at the expense of Spain. Yesterday even the memory of further violence in Marseilles, during the last World Cup, and Charleroi during the European Championship, could not deny the Spanish their just deserts.

This is not because the world has moved on. At Italia 90 England's seeding ensured their fans were initially confined to the island of Sardinia. With seeds no longer given the privilege of playing all their group matches at the same venue there is no security advantage in seeding England. Thus Spain's footballing credentials were given due respect.

As predicted in The Independent last month, Germany have also been seeded ahead of England despite finishing second in their qualifying group, having been beaten 5-1 by England at home, and trailing England in the Fifa rankings. Germany, said the world game's governing body after yesterday's meeting of the World Cup organising committee in Pusan, South Korea, were seeded by virtue of their superior World Cup record. Three other seeds were similarly rewarded, Argentina, Brazil and Italy, while the co-hosts, Japan and South Korea, and the holders France were automatically seeded.

The rest of the draw will be conducted on geographical lines. England and Ireland will be in pot two, which consists of the non-seeded European nations. Pot three contains the remaining South American and Asian nations, and pot four the African and Central and North American sides.

With 11 teams in the European pot, England and Ireland could be drawn together, as they were at Italia 90. If that happened, the seeded team in their group would not be a European team ­ there is a limit of two per group ­ but would be one of the hosts, or Brazil or Argentina.

The seeding of the hosts, while necessary for political and economic reasons, could produce two weaker groups, especially as one could head the group that will feature a single European team. For example, a group could be produced containing Japan, Slovenia, Ecuador and Senegal, three of whom are making their debut in the finals and the other, Japan, have yet to win a World Cup point. At the other extreme would be a grouping of Argentina, England, Portugal and Mexico, all of whom are in Fifa's top 10.

Do not be deceived by Mexico's 4-0 defeat by England in May. Fifa revealed they would have pipped England to a seeding position had Germany lost their play-off against Ukraine.

Michel Zen-Ruffinen, Fifa's general secretary, said the organising committee had based the seeding decision on performances in the last three World Cups, France 98, USA 94 and Italia 90, with a weighting of 3:2:1. The positions of teams in the Fifa world rankings at the end of 1999, 2000 and now were added to the equation in a 1:1:1 weighting. Zen-Ruffinen added: "According to those calculations Brazil have 62 points, Argentina 56, Italy 56, Germany 54 and Spain 45. Mexico followed with 42 points, then England on 41 and Croatia on 37."

Fifa's organising committee said China would play their first-round matches in South Korea. That was, they said, for economic and geographic reasons ­ though the historical enmity between China and Japan was probably an additional factor.

Similar friction between the co-hosts continues to cast a shadow over the tournament, with Emperor Akihito of Japan unlikely to attend the draw following a diplomatic flare-up in April over the Japanese government's decision to approve a history textbook criticised for whitewashing Japanese pre-War aggression in Asia.

A more severe political impasse, the decades-old conflict between North and South Korea, looks unlikely to be alleviated by the World Cup. South Korea had offered the North the chance to stage a match or two but they are yet to respond. Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president, admitted: "The last day to respond is by the draw ­ that's in three days, so it's unlikely it will happen."

On more mundane matters Fifa announced each competing country would be given 1m Swiss francs (£425,000) towards the cost of preparations. Sven Goran Eriksson will be more interested, when he lands in Korea this afternoon, in the news that yellow cards received during the qualifying stages will not be carried over. Paul Scholes, who received his second yellow card of the campaign in the final qualifier against Greece, will thus be free to play in England's opening game.

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