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Analysis of Cup draw

International Cup 2008

The 2008 Australian Football International Cup draw puts 16 teams into 4 pools of 4. We look at how the seedings unfolded and a few of the issues surrounding what is, however, a pretty fair system.

It's a standard tournament format and makes for a good system, but does have two major drawbacks. It pits some of the world's least developed football nations against the very best (outside of Australia). And assuming the form hasn't changed markedly since 2005, it's unlikely that the first three rounds will see any blockbuster matches between the top teams - in fact there will be some awfully large losses dished out.

Based on expected form, it looks like a fairly clear run for the big four from 2005, i.e. New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the United States and Ireland. The toughest semi-final position to win may well be in Pool C, where the Stars and Stripes of the US Revolution will have to contend with the rising stars from South Africa. If they have improved the Africans may challenge the Americans, but if not the Danes may even give the South African Lions a run for their money. Other likely pivotal matches include Round 2's Samoa versus Japan, and Nauru versus Great Britain.

The pools:

RankPool APool BPool CPool D
1New ZealandPNGUSAIreland
2SamoaGreat BritainSouth AfricaCanada
3JapanNauruDenmarkSweden
4IndiaPeace TeamChinaFinland

Concern

The concern for the newest nations is a real one. Although teams such as India and China will feature proud sportsmen from their countries, there's no doubt that Aussie Rules is a hard and uncompromising sport. Anyone who has played the game knows that you have to learn to protect yourself - the ability to take a hip and shoulder is a crucial skill. With India, China and the Peace Team featuring players we believe mostly have less than 12 months experience, and perhaps only two or three matches to their names, how will they fare against the world's strongest sides? With their Rugby background and big bodies the Samoans can be expected to be very powerful tacklers. Likewise the US feature many large, gym-hardened physiques and play a very brutal style. Those players are competing for their country and percentage could be important, so they must be expected to go full tilt at their smaller and less experienced opponents.

This isn't an issue of worrying about the little guy versus the big guy - plenty of smaller players are as tough as any going around. But in the case of lightly built players brand new to the game so not knowing how to protect themselves, sending them home with a few major injuries might not do much for the cause. Let's hope it doesn't play out that way, and against this theory is that the lower teams will feature a mix of players, e.g. India is expected to have some players with Australian experience, and the core coming from India are drawn from players with Rugby and soccer backgrounds, so perhaps the damage will be more on the scoreboard than physical.

Of course on the scoreboard the new teams can expect some terrible losses, but that isn't new to the International Cup, and they will at least get competitive matches in the finals rounds when they play off against their "peers". Any system that has all the teams in together necessitates that the top sides run into the bottom ones.

Seeding

Crucial to the format is the seeding that provides the pools, and overall the method appears to be quite reasonable. The purest system would have seeds 1 to 4 left to right across the top of the pools, followed by seeds 5 to 8 going right to left in the second row. Then left to right for the third row, and right to left for the bottom. So we could expect to see the 9 rankings (excluding absent Spain) at the end of the 2005 Cup, with the addition of Nauru and Denmark slotted in at 10 and 11, and with the five debutantes filling out the bottom spots. It hasn't worked out exactly that way.

Row one sees the seeds in order, but row two, from the right, would have Samoa, Great Britain, Canada and South Africa. However Canada have moved up (perhaps fair enough based on their win against the US earlier this year), South Africa move up (which given the resources pouring into footy there would be no surprise) and Samoa and Great Britain move down. The Samoans have some concerns regarding player eligibility and availability, but perhaps the Brits will feel hard done by, given they defeated Ireland last year. Some of the re-alignment is believed to be based on seeking desirable match-ups. Certainly Samoa (down three spots) and Canada (up two spots) are the only significant moves.

The third row makes sense, though Nauru and Denmark could be switched, but that would assume their relative rank remains unchanged since 2002. Sweden gets the nod as the highest ranked new nation, making third spot in Pool D - that appears appropriate given the longer history of their leagues, competitive matches against Denmark and recent win over Finland.

Finland have at least played Sweden, and have a local league, so are justified as the best of the fourth row. Next comes China, the Peace Team then India, with no real data to separate them.

Overall the seeding appears to be fairly sound, with a little bit of tweaking leaving the draw's integrity intact. In fact already there are suggestions a bit more tweaking was in order, to separate out European countries that already play regularly. Against that is that Canadians were hoping to meet the Americans at the Cup, despite their annual clashes, so perhaps such wishes will vary from country to country and person to person anyway.

What do you think of the draw?

worldfootynews.com will look at the likely winners later and invite reader feedback, but right now we're welcoming discussion of the draw in general. Is it fair? How about all the teams in one division? Any countries you're particularly disappointed didn't make it? For those with no particular affiliation, is there a nation you're particularly looking forward to seeing? Users must be registered and logged in, or create an account, to comment on articles.

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Analysis of Cup draw | 11 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Ian Hill on Wednesday, July 16 2008 @ 04:06 pm ACST

Realistically two distinct divisions of eight would have been better but there were two problems with that. First, a few nations (Denmark, Sweden) may have been put out at being in Division 2. Second, the real "gaps" seem to be between 4 and 5, and 12 and 13. There is a clear top 4 (NZ, PNG, USA, Ireland), a clear bottom 4 (India, China, PPT, Finland). The eight in the middle are relatively experienced and evenly matched and to split those eight out with four in Div 1 and four in Div 2 would have been very problematic, and I think this was the key reason behind not going for two divisions.

Within the 4-8-4 split mentioned above, I don't see any great need to seed further, and the poolings should have been done geographically. It's good that the pairs of Denmark-Sweden, GB-Ireland, USA-Canada are split but a bit odd that neighbours Sweden and Finland are in the same pool and also with Ireland. With five European countries at the cup, surely it would have made sense to have the two most distant (Ireland and Finland) in the same pool and the other three in distinct pools. Also isn't pool A a bit Asia-Pacific centric? To that end I would have swapped Sweden and Japan and perhaps even Canada and Samoa to mix things up a bit.

The IC should be used to give nations who cannot often play against each other a chance to do so.

I also wonder about the notion of the "top 4". Recently GB have beaten Ireland and Canada have beaten the USA so it might be interesting to see if some assumed rankings might get challenged at this IC. To that end the Ireland v Canada match looks to be one of the most significant games in the group matches.

The 4 pools of 4 idea also means that only the top team in each pool goes to the semis which means it's almost certain that one loss means you're out. Given a limit of five games, two separate divisions would have meant the top two in each sub-pool of four would have gone on to semi-finals and made the whole thing much less cut-throat.

Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Aaron Richard on Wednesday, July 16 2008 @ 04:41 pm ACST

I agree regarding Finland and Sweden being in the one group.

The chances are that neither of their classification matches will be against other
European sides, but still it surely wouldn't be too hard to shuffle one or two
teams so that there weren't any neighbours in the same pool.

Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Eurofooty on Wednesday, July 16 2008 @ 04:45 pm ACST

Ian has a valid point in that it would have been nice to see a team from Asia/Pacific in the euro-centric Pool D. Sweden plays Finland every year twice which is great for both countries as it builds both rivarly on-the-field and cameradie off-the-field. But between cups, there is almost zero chance of ever getting to play China or India.

Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Christopher P. Adams, Ph.D. on Wednesday, July 16 2008 @ 10:21 pm ACST

Is Pool C the "group of death"?

I always wanted to say that. It looks to be pretty well seeded to me given the vageries of international football.

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Carna Revos!

Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Brett Northey on Thursday, July 17 2008 @ 12:13 am ACST

No doubt C looks toughest on paper. We'll have more on South Africa in the next few days. I had been thinking they wouldn't improve much until the FootyWild juniors come through, but it looks like they've found some good adult players already in the other provinces that are now getting involved, so they could be a real threat to the US.

And Denmark finished 4th in 2002, and since then all those Farum youngsters have grown up with the game, so they theoretically should be much improved. Their score in 2002 against NZ, who finished 3rd and then 1st in 2005, was New Zealand 3.7 (25) def Denmark 2.4 (16).

And I think we tend to assume the US will have improved, but some old hands have moved on, and they did have a loss to Canada, so like Chris referred to, the vagaries of international footy, it could turn out to be a very tough pool. Or not. 8)

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Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN

Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Brett Northey on Thursday, July 17 2008 @ 10:50 am ACST

On this thread and one of the others a few people have suggesed it is less than ideal for Sweden to play Finland, since they already do that regularly as neighbours. I think that's a reasonable point, except that the AFL did ask countries whether they would like to see certain match-ups at the tournament, provided it didn't interfere with the draw too much. I'm told by the AFL that Sweden and Finland REQUESTED to play each other at the IC, so you can't really blame them for drawing them that way. Having said that, in the end they didn't want to compromise things too much, so it was more chance (i.e. seedings) than design that put them in the same pool.

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Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN

Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Brett Northey on Thursday, July 17 2008 @ 11:18 am ACST

Nice to see the draw is getting coverage as one of the 4 featured stories in the main section of the AFL website at the moment. They've used the Elk logo from Sweden as the main image.

http://www.afl.com.au/tabid/208/Default.aspx?newsid=63478

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Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN

Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Ian Hill on Thursday, July 17 2008 @ 04:08 pm ACST

I think at one stage Denmark and Sweden were wanting to be in the same pool, too. But how stupid would it have been to have had all three in the same pool?
In the cases where neighbours wanted to be in the same pool, I think the AFL should pull a bit of rank and explain to those countries why it is not such a good idea. For heaven's sake let's take advantage of the fact that you've flown half way around the world and play someone else!!!

Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Eurofooty on Thursday, July 17 2008 @ 04:52 pm ACST

Brett said "..Sweden and Finland REQUESTED to play each other at the IC..".??!? Sources please.

The initial request to play Denmark was to take up an opportunity to play in Geelong. The Cats have been a long and active supporter of Scandinavian footy. Last year the reigning Brownlow Medalist Jimm Bartel visted Denmark, Finland and Sweden in the post-season. The AFL denied the request as they are fully entitled to, and we happily accept it.

For the record, we have no problem playing Finland, Denmark or anyone else anytime, anywhere. We are very satisfied with the AFL's match schedule and notified them of it as soon as it was made available.

Team Manager
Swedish Elks

Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Brett Northey on Thursday, July 17 2008 @ 05:02 pm ACST

As I said, the AFL told me. My source was international development staff at the AFL responsible for putting together the draw. They said it was requested, and I double-checked with them before making that post and they said yes, it was requested, but that in the end it was how the seeding resulted anyway.

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Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN

Analysis of Cup draw
Authored by: Brett Northey on Thursday, July 17 2008 @ 05:06 pm ACST

Perhaps there was a mis-communication or mis-understanding or mix-up in countries. I don't know. Just quoting what I was told.

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Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN