LEIPZIG, Germany (AP) – The United States came within a point Tuesday of being one of the seeded teams for next year’s World Cup.

Under the draw procedure approved by the FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee, the U.S. team wound up just behind Argentina and Italy.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena wasn’t surprised to miss out.

“I thought all along the draw is going to be difficult. The field is extremely strong,” he said. “I think it’s considerably stronger than what we saw in 2002.”

The Americans can’t meet a team from Asia in the first round of next year’s tournament in Germany. There’s a good chance they will get two European opponents and one from South America or Africa.

While the draws for the 1998 and 2002 World Cups took into account performance in the three previous tournaments along with FIFA’s rankings, the formula was changed slightly for Friday’s draw and was based on the prior two World Cups and the rankings.

Defending champion Brazil was first in the new formula with 64 points, followed by England (51), Spain (50), Germany (48), Mexico (47), France (46) and Argentina and Italy (44 apiece).

Those eight seeded teams will be placed together in Pot One for Friday’s draw, and they can’t meet each other in the first round.

The United States, a quarterfinalist at the 2002 World Cup, was ninth with 43 points, followed by the Netherlands (38).

FIFA put Serbia-Montenegro in a special pot because of its low ranking (47th). To avoid having a group with three European nations, Serbia-Montenegro will be placed in a group with Argentina, Brazil or Mexico.

Because they are from the same confederation, the United States can’t be drawn into a group with Mexico.

Since returning to the World Cup in 1990 following a 40-year absence, the Americans are 3-10-2 in the tournament, including 1-8-1 against European teams.

“It’s likely that we have two teams from Europe. I’m not going to worry about it one way or the other,” Arena said.

While the U.S. team could be in group with Brazil, the Netherlands and Paraguay, it also could be together with Spain, Angola and Australia. The Americans are ranked eighth in the world, down two spots from August.

“Any group we’re going to be in is going to be a tough group,” Arena said.

Host Germany will head Group A and Brazil will top Group F, allowing them to play in Berlin, Munich and Dortmund, the three biggest stadiums. Jim Brown, FIFA’s director of competitions, said “economic factors” played a leading role in that decision.

Despite the lobbying, Dutch coach Marco van Basten expected his team to be omitted from the top eight.

“The Netherlands wasn’t there at the last World Cup in 2002,” he said in a statement. “So I think it’s logical that we’re not among the top seeds this time.”

FIFA’s new formula based seeds half on the last two World Cups, with 2002 given twice the weight of 1998, and half on each team’s FIFA ranking in 2003, 2004 and 2005, with each weighted equally.

FIFA said the World Cup winner will earn $18.75 million. Each team will be guaranteed at least $1.5 million per first-round game, assuring each nation a minimum of $4.5 million.


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