World Cup for Dummies
Since this is World Cup for Dummies I have a simple question maybe you could answer.
I’ve read several times that the US is ranked 5th in the world. So how is it that they are paired to open in the same group with the Czech Republic (2nd) and Italy?
No doubt an excellent question. The short answer is to ignore the FIFA rankings, as the seedings are based on much more than them alone (including team's finishes at past tournaments).
For the full answer, I went to our resident football expert, Canada's own, P.J. McEvans.
"It is confusing, but here goes: Late in 2005, FIFA announced that the top seeds would be Germany, Brazil, Argentina, England, France, Italy, Mexico and Spain. They were mainly drawn based on merit, but also to ensure no one region would be over-represented in a group (it would be bad for Brazil, Argentina, France and England to be in the same group, because all four are good enough to win it, but only two would survive past the first round, whereas a randomly-selected weak group like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ghana and Trinidad would also send forward two undeserving teams).
"Those 8 teams were the basis of the different groups from A-H.
"Next, the remaining 24 teams were divided into 3 groups (again based on a combination of skill demonstrated at recent events, and geographical location). Let's call them divisions 2, 3 and 4. Each group (led by the big 8) are then assigned one member of groups 2, 3 and 4 at random to fill out the bracket.
"All in all, it's a decently fair system, I guess, but the fact is, evenly distributing 32 teams is a tricky business, so sometimes teams get screwed.
"So, to the reader who wonders how (FIFA #5) USA has the misfortune of being in the hardest division with (#2) Czech Rep. and (#13) Italy: They just got screwed, because somebody has to be. The real favourite in that division, at least in this tourney, is Italy."
Just to add to what Mr. McEvans is saying here: Part of what determines the four groupings is how teams have fared in recent World Cups, and the Czech Republic wasn't even a part of the tournament in 2002. That alone drops them out of that Elite 8 grouping, and means a pretty good European team is thrown in with someone.
This year, it's Italy and the U.S.
Here's a link that describes the grouping system in detail.