Author Steve Fenn is just as perplexed as you…and Bob.
On Monday, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) held the draw for their final round of World Cup Qualification. In the preceding 26 months, the CAF had presided over 144 matches in which these 10 nations had outlasted their 42 continental rivals. Actually, in Tunisia’s case they didn’t entirely outlast them all, because they had apparently been eliminated by Cape Verde days before. But Cape Verde was found guilty of using an ineligible player in that decisive group stage match, so the Tunisians advanced, but without the coach who quit after losing to Cape Verde.
Welcome to Africa, the continent whose World Cup Qualification format makes the FIFA general assembly seem as organized as a German auto factory, and whose qualifying trials make CONCACAF’s guantlet look like a red carpet.
It bears repeating: 144 matches to eliminate 42 countries, and now 5 of the best 10 will emerge from randomness-heavy head-to-heads for a spot in Brazil next June. CAF…might as well stand for Crazy As F…..
Not even Nelson Mandela could broker this.
Along with the chaos of the coming matches themselves, the draw matching up these teams had an enormous impact on many of these squads World Cup probabilities. ESPNFC maintains a visualization of World Cup Qualification odds driven by their Soccer Power Index (SPI), which was developed by Nate Silver. Based on the difference between their published odds pre-draw and post-draw, here’s a ranking of the difference that “draw luck,” alone, played in each country’s World Cup odds (with their fantasic nicknames included as an added bonus):
Those 20% swings based on only the draw are larger than you would usually see from the results of an actual qualifying match. Draws often have a great deal of power, but only in Africa are even the best teams subject to their whims at the end of qualification.
The pairings that led to this, with the top seeds on the left:
Ivory Coast – Senegal
Nigeria – Ethiopa
Ghana – Egypt
Algeria – Burkina Faso
Tunisia – Cameroon
Essentially, SPI is saying that Algeria and Tunisia were weak top seeds, and Ethiopia is the weakest of them all, so all of their opponents were lucky. Meanwhile, no one wanted to draw the strongest in their respective pots: Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and Egypt.
The Ghana-Egypt matchup is the deepest cut.
Bob Bradley’s Pharaohs deserved to be a top seed after a perfect 6-0-0 record in qualifying matches under the stoic former United States boss. Their FIFA ranking couldn’t bounce back from the sins of Bradley’s predecessor, though.
Now Bradley gets a shot at… redemption or merely a re-do. If you know Bradley, history is not crossing his mind. That said, it was Ghana who denied Bradley’s US Men’s National Team a trip to the last World Cup’s quarterfinals. Four years earlier, of course, Ghana dealt the final blow also; the Black Stars denying passage out of group play to a US team coached by Bradley’s mentor, Bruce Arena.
Per SPI this matchup is the most even pairing of the 5 CAF head-to-heads. The odds are basically 55/45 favoring Ghana, but Egypt is more than capable of taking it to the Black Stars.
Specific dates have not been announced for any of these CAF matches, yet. US broadcast rights are TBA, too.
The odds for all 10 teams to advance:
Notice that once you get past Nigeria-Ethiopia, every team has a respectable chance here. Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon are favorites in their matchups but, given these SPI odds, there is a 71.9% chance that at least one of them will not make it to Brazil next June. And of course there is a 100% chance that either Egypt or Ghana will miss out on the 2014 World Cup.