So, I'm trying to follow this draw nonsense live on FIFA. And I'm incredibly confused because the qualifying procedures in Asia and CONCACAF get less and less comprehensible each tournament.
I'll sum up (to the extent possible):
AFC - There are only 20 teams left in qualifying because 23 teams have already been eliminated through some sort of AFC pre-qualification thing which none of us have heard about. The 20 teams are in five groups, all of which are quite straightforward except for Group 1 which contains Iraq, China and Australia. Two teams progress from each group into two further groups of five. Top two from each of these groups goes to South Africa: the two third-place teams play-off for the right to play the Oceania winner (presumably New Zealand) for the right to play in 2010.
CONCACAF - this continent always has the weirdest qualifying structure simply partly because it has too many minnows but also partly because it actually has too many WC spots for the quality of football it produces. The tournament here starts with a round of home-and-away playoffs amongst the minnows, the winners of which (plus St. Vincent and the Grenadines - the country most likely to be mistaken for a motown act - which gets a bye) get to play off against the region's decent sides. The likelihood that any of the se minnows gets through is pretty small, though if you're looking for upsets, St. Vincent over Canada is a possibility because of the latter's brutal inconsistency, as is Suriname over Guyana and Antigua over Haiti.
However, assuming no upsets in the preliminary rounds, then the field fro the first group stage looks like this. Group 1: USA, Guatemala, Trinidad and Cuba. It would be a blast if the USA-Cuba match were played in Miami, but I kind of doubt anybody's that stupid. Group 2: Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras and Canada. Group 3: Costa Rica, Guyana, Haiti and Panama.
Top 2 from each of these groups goes trhough to a final six-team group from which three teams qualify directly for South Africa and the fourth-placed team gets slaughtered by the fifth-place team from the far-superior CONMEBOL group (CONMEBOL, btw, is not included in this draw, because they already began their insane, marathon 18-game qualifyinf schedule about three months ago).
Verdict: Canada is screwed. Group 3 is an easy cruise for Costa Rica and one really weak team (probably Panama) is getting an easy ride into the final group of six.
UEFA - Europe has 13 qualifying spots and nine groups. The nine group winners go through automatically and the best eight runners-up play-off for the past four spots.
The highlights: Group 2, which will feature Greece, Israel and Switzerland slugging it out for top spot, is possibly the weakest qualifying group in UEFA history, and it represents Israel's best chance at making the show in about thirty years. In Group 6, England have hilariously drawn Croatia again, as well as unpalatable trips to the Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. one suspects Johnathan Wilson was warming the balls. If the ginger idjit were still in charge one could see England finishing third here - presumably with a decent gaffer they will make first or second.
In group 5, Spain will no doubt have some near-death experiences against Belgium and Turkey before finally qualifying. Group 7 will feature France and Romania battling for top spot. In the small (five-team) group 9, the Dutch and the Scots will face off - and we'll soon see if the Scottish revival is anything more than ephemeral. Italy should cruise through group 8 while having the pleasure of watching Ireland face off against Cyprus again. The Czechs should cruise group 3, and the Russians probably won;t trouble the Germans too much in group 4. Group 1, with Portugal, Sweden and Denmark, is one of the few groups where the top spot doesn't look like a foregone conclusion.
CAF - Three minnows have already been knocked out, leaving 48 teams to play. Since WC qualifying also counts as qualifying for the African Nations Cup of 2010, South Africa has to play these matches too even though it is guaranteed a spot in the finals.
The 48 teams will be drawn into 12 groups. The winners of the 12 groups, plus the 8 best runners-up, will go on to the next phase with five groups of four teams. Top three from each of these groups will go on to the Nations Cup; the group winners will go on to South Africa . In South Africa's group, points won or lost by Bafana Bafana will count towards Nations Cup qualifying but not WC qualifying.
There's no point going into the African draw here because the important draw will be the one that sets the five groups of four - scheduled for late next year. Similarly, I won;t be boring you with the complexities of Oceania's already-started qualifiers because who's kidding who? The kiwis will be the ones served up as fresh meat for the fifth-placed Asian team (which may well be Australia).
So there you have it. Got it? No? Good.
The short version: Canada is screwed and everyone in the English speaking world is looking forward to two more years of Slaven Bilic cruelly exposing English weaknesses in word and deed. Unless of course the English FA offer Bilic the vacant manager's position, which wouldn't be a half-bad idea.
Just 928 days to go.
UPDATE: Now that I've had a chance to look at the schedule again, I've seen that Armenia and Turkey have been drawn against each other in UEFA Group 5, which is a far more interesting matchup than Cuba-USA. Throw in a Kurdish ref and we're off to the races.