THANK YOU, SEPP BLATTER!!! The US could not have come away with a better draw. It's too much to ask for a draw with three weaklings at the World Cup, so the key is to avoid being in a group with two other quality teams. It doesn't matter if you have drawn 1970 Brazil because two teams are going through; you just want to avoid drawing two other teams who can beat you. With a group including the weakest teams in Pots C and D, this is an unmitigated success for the US.
Additionally, I don't see England as a bridge too far for the US for a few reasons. First, it's England at the World Cup and they aren't playing at home. Second, England are a relatively narrow team (they have no left wing and their best attacking players all come through the middle), so they won't be able to take advantage of the US's suspect left and right backs like, say, Holland would. Third, if the US is going to play on the counter, they will want to play against a defender who leaves his post. Ladies and gentlemen, meet England right back Glen Johnson. Landon Donovan, meet the acres of space that Johnson will leave behind him as he bombs forward. (I do realize that Johnson getting forward contradicts my notion that England are a narrow team. Just let me have my illusions.) In all three respects, England are a little like the Spain side that the US upset this summer, only they don't have half the technical ability of Spain's midfield.
The major counter to everything I've just written: Fabio Capello versus Bob Bradley. With both having months to prepare. I'm having flashbacks to Pete Carroll versus Lloyd Carr in Pasadena.
Tim Vickery did say that Brazil were due for a tough group. Tim is always right. Holy cow, I'm not sure that I've seen a group with three teams as good as Brazil, Ivory Coast, and Portugal, at least since the tournament expanded to 32 teams. Right now, the Portuguese look like the odd team out. Remember their exit from Euro '08 with Ricardo flapping at German crosses? There is no team in the world that presents a greater aerial threat from set pieces than the Selecao. And the Ivory Coast have Didier Drogba. Yeah, Portugal are headed out. F*** you, Ronaldo. This group will be interesting not just to see who comes out, but also because there will be a major incentive to finish first to avoid playing Spain in the Round of 16. Not that Brazil would be scared of Spain (or anyone), but they would rather not be playing a contender right out of the box in the knock-out stages.
Where is Sophia Loren when you need her? Conspiracy theories can be great fun, but FIFA did the hosts no favors by handing them one of the two toughest draws from two of the pots. Also, the idea that FIFA wanted to screw France went out the window when the France got the coveted South Africa draw. You'll hear the "no host country has ever failed to make the knock-out stages" stat a million times, but I can't remember a host side worse than South Africa. Even South Korea and Japan had better resumes and they also added fanatical support at home. Austria and Switzerland just hosted the Euros and neither came close to coming out of their groups. At the end, talent has to play a role.
I'm going to guess that Spencer Hall is annoyed. I watched the '06 Final with Spencer and he spent much of the time explaining why he hates Italy more than any other team. I found this bizarre, since France is so obviously more hate-worthy and there is hard evidence for that fact. (I'm just not sure what it is.) Anyway, Italy could not have done any better with their draw. (And yes, I know that Paraguay did well in qualifying.) They're famously slow starters, but it's hard to see complications against New Zealand and Slovakia. That said, I can also see a second-round match against Cameroon with the entire stadium rooting against the Azzurri.
Just so you know, the over/under on "don't get bogged down here with your bigger foe on the horizon" jokes from me when Germany meets Serbia: 427.
Stuff that only I care about: Argentina, Greece, and Nigeria were all drawn together at USA '94. The fourth team in that group was Bulgaria. Argentina bombed Greece (with Maradona's famously demented celebration after scoring) and then beat Nigeria 2-1 in an outstanding match. Then, Maradona was sent home for failing a drug test (Ephedrine, if I recall correctly. If you remember what he looked like at that stage, the idea of Diego taking diet pills is not especially surprising.), Bulgaria drilled Argentina in the last group game, and then Romania sent them home in the round of 16. Nigeria blew a late lead and were knocked out by Italy, and Bulgaria made the semis before losing to a pair of Roberto Baggio goals. And no, I didn't look any of that up.
If the seeds hold, then we'll get Germany and Argentina in the quarterfinals for the second straight World Cup. Maybe this time around, Argentina will see fit to play Leo Messi.