World of Chig   

England's A to Z of football

From Andorra La Vella to Zagreb, via Astana, Kyiv and Minsk. These are the travels that await the England football team after this afternoon's draw for the qualifying groups for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. No one will want to be the England manager after this, unless they are keen on collecting Air Miles. With Croatia and Ukraine in England's group, it's going to be a struggle on the field anyway.

My guess is that, with the exception of Zagreb, most of the England football team don't have a clue where these places are. (They probably won't go to Andorra La Vella anyway, as the last Andorran 'home' match against England was played in Barcelona, to allow for a bigger crowd.)

None of these travels to the East look easy, either because of distance or the quality of the teams. Whether England will relish drawing Croatia again, just four days after they put us out of Euro 2008, remains to be seen. (Andorra were also with Croatia and England in the Euro qualifying group, so there's a certain air of familiarity with Europe Group 6, as drawn in Durban today.)

Compare this with Scotland's group, which features nothing further East than FYR Macedonia, their other opponents being Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands.

None of the five teams from the UK and Ireland have been drawn together, and the six countries who previously made up Yugoslavia have also been drawn into six different groups. What are the chances of those two things happening? It almost looks suspicious...

Grudge matches

Looking further afield, today's World Cup draw has thrown up the local derby to end all local derbies; North Korea and South Korea are in the same group! Blimey! This puts Sweden v. Denmark in Europe Group 1 and the aforementioned Iceland v. Norway in Europe Group 9 into perspective.

I've decided that Europe Group 3 should be named 'The Group of Geographical Confusion' as the Czech Republic and Slovakia are forced together again. Not only that, but Slovenia are also in this group with Slovakia, which will confuse the people who think they are the same country. (Even the Slovenian tourist authority's website used to acknowledge this confusion.)

In Europe Group 4, it will surely be expected that Germany and Russia will win all their games against the other four countries (Azerbaijan, Finland, Liechtenstein and Wales). The group winner will probably be decided on the two results between Germany and Russia themselves, but it matters in this competition, as it's only the group winners who go to South Africa automatically. The best eight (of nine) European runners-up will then play four play-offs to claim the last four European places.

On a personal level, I'm quite pleased with one of the countries that England have drawn, as I'm going there in a couple of weeks. It will give me something to talk about with the locals (language permitting). I wonder if you can guess where I'm going on holiday? (There won't be any lounging on any beaches.)

Photo (c) BBC News.

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