EVER the diplomat (well, ever since France 98), David Beckham said after the World Cup draw: "As a country we're just happy to be playing a part in an historic event."
Happy? We're ecstatic! England came out of the hat as planned in Group C, with their carefully planned trips to Rustenburg's Bafokeng Sports Palace complex coming up trumps, surprise, surprise. They've been organising it for months, almost like they knew all along they were going to get drawn to play USA in Rustenburg first.
Then they'll pop down to the coast to play Algeria and Slovenia, keeping their high-altitude conditioning as they were advised by the rugby medics who are accustomed to South African conditions.
Whether every element of the draw was fixed, who knows? Suffice to say, we've got the USA, the highest ranked but not-too-scary side from Pot 2, Algeria, who needed a play-off against Egypt to make it to Pot 3 and, best of all, the weakest team from dangerous Pot 4, Slovenia, who lost all three games in 2002.
Alan Shearer, on the Beeb, said: "I think Fabio Capello will be absolutely delighted. If you'd have said that beforehand, he would have snapped your hand off."
There is already talk of England being moved to a bigger stadium for their game at Port Elizabeth. It's going to be massive! But what about the other 28 nations?
Group D looks a tough one. Serbia, Ghana, Germany and Australia. None of them are pushovers. Michael Essien, Ghana's guiding light, will come up against his Chelsea team-mate, Michael Ballack, the German captain. May the wrestle in peace.
Group A was always South Africa's and when they came out with Mexico and Uruguay, who needed a play-off against Costa Rica (who are as unhappy as Ireland about the way they went out) the hosts were happy enough despite their lowest-ever host ranking of 86th. But then France popped out to finish the group and the battle is on, hopefully with Thierry Henry suspended for his handball against the Irish in Paris last month (sorry to harp on, but it WAS cheating).
Group B puts Argentina just where they want to be, at altitude as they planned when they booked Pretoria University's sports academy this week. Should have put money on that one too. They play twice in Johannesburg and once in Polokwane, no big trips, and they're with Nigeria, South Korea and Greece. Diego Maradona always said the balls were warmed to suit the big nations. It looks that way for the Argies.
Group E sees Holland, Denmark, Japan and Cameroon doing battle with Group F featuring Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand - with all their 'stars' from Plymouth, Halifax and Worksop - plus dangerous Slovakia.
But if it's a group of death you want, try Group G. Brazil were drawn first, North Korea are unknown, but Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal came out next. Ouch. I'm going for Ivory Coast and Portugal - with Brazilian Deco - to survive.
Group H sees Spain, perfect in qualifying, up against Switzerland, Honduras and Chile. If Spain don't make it out of the group, I'll run naked across Soccer City before the final on July 11.
The bookies agree. After the draw they go Spain 4-1, Brazil 11-2, England 13-2, Argentina 10-1.
England could play Germany, then France in the quarters and Brazil in the semi-final. If things go according to plan. They certainly have so far. But then David Beckham's nickname has always been the clue. Golden Balls. They certainly were tonight.
Labels: england, south african world cup draw, world cup 2010