Well, FIFA just announced the groupings for the 2006 World Cup and it looks like the United States has had the misfortune of getting placed in a tough one.
The U.S. is currently ranked eighth in the world, but missed being one of the eight seeded teams by just one point. Instead of getting a break like that, we wound up in an extremely tough Group E alongside the second-ranked Czech Republic, an always dangerous Italy, and Ghana, the first West African nation the squad will face. Some are already claiming our group is this year's Group of Death. I think it's certainly in contention, but at least we avoid Brazil, Germany and England in the first round. (That said, if the U.S. comes out of Group E in second, we'll get to face Brazil in the very next game. Terrific.)
Well, it's a tough draw, but it's not impossible. The U.S. squad has lots of experience, some great talent, and sharp coaching. They made it to the quarterfinals last time around, and have a lot of that squad coming back, stronger and surer than before.
In any case, I'm taking solace in the story of another band of underdogs who used their impressive soccer skills to escape a certain doom -- against Germany, no less -- and ride to victory. Of course, they had Pele on that team, so maybe it's not the best comparison. Still, I believe in miracles.*
(* Note to Al Michaels: As required by law, a check is in the mail for my use of this catch phrase.)