Mexico to open World Cup, U.S. paired with England
Twenty-seven months after the first qualifying match for next summer's World Cup in South Africa, the 32 finalists were drawn into their opening-round groups Friday at the Cape Town International Convention. And the draw was good news for both the U.S.and with Mexico.
The Mexicans were placed in Group A and will play the tournament's first game June 11 against South Africa. The U.S., meanwhile, was placed in Group C and will begin play June 12 against England.
Paired with Mexico and South Africa in Group A is Uruguay, which finished fifth in a relatively weak South American qualifying tournament, and France, a finalist in two of the last three World Cups and the seventh-ranked team in the world.
The U.S. caught a huge break when its group was rounded out with Algeria, making its first World Cup appearance since 1986, and Slovenia, which needed to win a playoff to reach the World Cup field for the second time ever. The top two teams in each group advance to the round of 16.
Honduras, the third CONCACAF team, was drawn into Group H alongside Spain, Switzerland and Chile.
The strongest of the eight groups, the so-called Group of Death, is Group G, with includes tournament favorite Brazil, North Korea, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. Brazil is ranked second in the world, three places ahead of Portugal. And the Ivory Coast is considered by many to be good enough to become the first African nation to win a World Cup. Only two of those three teams can advance to the second round, however..
The luck of the draw was not with the U.S. in 2006 when the Americans failed to advance out of a group that included Ghana, the Czech Republic and eventual tournament champion Italy. Mexico did slightly better, advancing to the round of 16 before losing, 2-1, to Argentina in extra time.
The 2006 World Cup draw was watched by an international TV audience of more than 300 million.
-- Kevin Baxter
Photo: David Beckham, left, and Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy will play against each other in the opening-round of the World Cup in South Africa. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images.