Women’s Olympic Soccer: 2012 Draw Hypotheticals

(Update, 24-April-2012: The 2012 draw procedure has been announced. The procedure is as predicted, so the specific hypotheticals discussed in this post are valid. Skip down to the section entitled “The Possible Scenarios…” to avoid the now unnecessary-to-read sections regarding the methodology for predicting the draw procedure.)

The draw to determine the groups for the women’s soccer tournament at the London 2012 Olympics will be held on Sunday, April 24th at Wembley Stadium. Although the women’s field has been finalized, the draw procedure has yet to be released,  which is not out of the ordinary.* In the absence of an actual draw procedure, the next best thing is to figure out the most likely procedure. And, the past draw procedures for the Olympics provide a good roadmap for doing just that.

(Edit: Forgot to add a link to the 2008 draw procedure (PDF), which was in the “Past Draw Procedures” section, which I removed to a separate post.)

*In fact, this is the norm, as the draw procedure has usually only been released the day before the draw. Part of the delay is due to the fact that the draw for the men’s and women’s tournaments are held at the same time, and that there tends to be an inter-continental  play-off between two teams for the final field spot. This year, for the women’s tournament, all confederations were allotted whole slots, so no play off for necessary. This is also true for the Women’s World Cup, where the playoffs, if any, for the final spots, are usually held just days before the actual draw.


At the moment, all that is officially known about the draw is the date (April 24th), the twelve qualified teams, and the draw’s basic governing principle (Subsection 29.2 of the regulations pamphlet):

“The FIFA Organising Committee shall divide the teams into groups by seeding and drawing lots in public, whilst taking sporting and geographical factors into consideration as far as possible.”

That is the same language as for the 2008 tournament. In fact, it is the same subsection (29.2).

The twelve qualified teams are:

  • Great Britain (host, Europe)
  • Brazil (South America)
  • Cameroon (Africa)
  • Canada (North America)
  • Colombia (South America)
  • France (Europe)
  • Japan (Asia)
  • New Zealand (Oceania)
  • North Korea (Asia)
  • South Africa (Africa)
  • Sweden (Europe)
  • United States (North America)

In FIFA, there is no single Great Britain national federation, but essentially the Great Britain team will be the English women’s national team. (For all the details, use the team’s Wikipedia article as a starting point.)


For a review and comparison of past Olympic draw procedures, as well as recent Women’s World Cup draw procedures, please see this other post.

It is not necessary to read that, but the history of past draw procedures does reveal a consistent preference of geographic diversity, along with the best teams being seeded into separate groups. Also, the result of the draw for the 2000 Olympics, where the USA was grouped with its two main rivals at the time, China and Norway, is notable in that it likely led to a greater preference for the seeding of top teams, in order to avoid significantly unbalanced groups.


The rest of the article assumes that the basic rules for the current (2012) draw procedure will be the same as the rules of the 2008 draw procedure (PDF). The key differences from 2008 compared to the current tournament is that there is a different host nation, a different reigning WWC champion (Japan, instead of Germany), and a different allotment of slots. In 2008, Africa and South America each had 1.5 slots, with Ghana and Brazil as the .5 teams from their respective continents. (Brazil lost the final of the 2006 Sudamericano to the hosts, Argentina.) Brazil won the inter-continental play-off match versus Ghana, so South America had two spots in the final field while Africa only had one spot.


For the draw, the names of each of the twelve qualified teams are put into balls, which are divided evenly into into four pots, based on “sporting and geographic factors.” Besides the four pots which contain the team’s names, there are three pots — one for each group — which contain numbers, from 1 to 4, which correspond to the seeding inside each group.

The actual, physical draw process involves going through the team pots in order and selecting one team at a time. After a team ball is selected, a ball from a group pot is selected. The order of the group pots is specified in the rules.

For the purposes of this article, the specific seeding inside the group (e.g., E1, E2, E3, E4) is irrelevant, as that only affects when and where the teams will play each other.


In 2008, the host (then, China), the then reigning Women’s World Cup champion (Germany), and the defending Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Gold Medalist (USA), were all seeded in separate groups. However, only the host was automatically given the first slot in its group (i.e, “E1”). Each of the these three teams were technically placed into separate pots, but also put into red balls, signifying that they should be picked first out of the pot. The rest of the teams in each pots were placed into white balls.

Although Germany and the USA are described as titleholders, they were also the top two best-ranked teams in the field, being #1 and #2, respectively, in the world rankings (March 2008).

Applying the same group seeding to this year, we get the following:

Host (Group E): Great Britain (WWR #9)
Reigning WWC (Group F): Japan (WWR #3)
Defending Olympic Gold Medalist (Group G): United States (WWR #1)

This avoids having Japan and the USA in the same group, which saves that possible match-up until at least the… quarterfinals. which could happen under two scenarios. First, if Japan finishes first in its group (“1F”)  and the USA finishes second (“2G”), then the two will meet in the quarterfinal match designated #19. Second, if the USA finish first in its group (“1G”) and Japan manages to only finish third (“3F”), then, depending how the third place teams rank, the two sides could meet in the quarterfinal match designated #22.

Also, for the host team, this seeding allows them to avoid two of the best teams during the group stage, which would hopefully for their sake, make it easier for the host team to progress out of the group.

With the above seeding, that means that Great Britain and the rest of Group E will play their first two matches in Cardiff, Wales, at Millennium Stadium (capacity 74,500, also has a retractable roof). Group F (Japan) will play their first two matches at Ricoh Arena (capacity 32,609) in Coventry, England (“City of Coventry Stadium” is the no free advertising name). For Group G, “G” stands for Glasgow, as the United States will contest their first two matches at Hampden Park (capacity 52,063) in Glasgow, Scotland.

For Group G, the teams seeded G1 and G4 will be matched up for their final group match, which will be held at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. The other two teams in Group G will contest their final group match at St. James’ Park in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Note: The group seeding is the one aspect that I could most see being changed around. Namely, with the USA and Japan either being randomly assigned to the other two groups, or the USA being placed into Group F and Japan being placed into Group G.


In 2008, there were four pots, each with three nations in each one. Three of the teams were seeded and placed in separate pots, as explained in the previous section. The remaining teams were divided primarily based on geographic regions, which corresponded rather well to relative rankings.

The four pots in 2008 (with 2008 world rankings):

Pot 1: China (host, WWR #14); North Korea (WWR #6); Japan (WWR #10).
Pot 2: Germany (WWR #2); Sweden (WWR #3); Norway (WWR #5).
Pot 3: USA (WWR #1); Brazil (WWR #4); Canada (WWR #9).
Pot 4: New Zealand (WWR #23); Nigeria (WWR #24); Argentina (WWR #29).

The key changes from 2008, outside of the host, are (1) that Africa now has two spots (Cameroon and South Africa) rather than just one (Nigeria), and (2) that the current two lowest rank teams (Cameroon, #52; South Africa, #65) are rated significantly lower than the two lowest teams from 2008 (Nigeria, #24; Argentina, #29). Also, although the current set of teams lack the second-best team overall, Germany, there is still the same number of top ten teams: eight.

Now, if a similar distribution of teams is used for 2012, then the two other European teams, France and Sweden, will placed in Great Britain’s pot; the top three teams in the Americas, the USA, Brazil, and Canada will all be placed in the same pot; while the Asian and African teams will each be together in the same pots. That leaves the remaining team from the Americas, Colombia, and the lone Oceania representative, New Zealand. New Zealand is the higher-ranked team of the two, and geographically closer to Asia, so the Football Ferns will likely be placed in the pot with Japan and North Korea. Thus, the three lowest-ranked teams, Colombia, Cameroon, and South Africa, will be in the same pot.

Pot 1: Great Britain (WWR #9); France (WWR #6); Sweden (WWR #5).
Pot 2: Japan (WWR #3); North Korea (WWR #8); New Zealand (WWR #24).
Pot 3: USA (WWR #1); Brazil (WWR #4); Canada (WWR #7).
Pot 4: Cameroon (WWR #52); South Africa (WWR #65); Colombia (WWR #28).


As mentioned in the “Seeding” section, each of the groups will have one pre-selected team: For Group E, host Great Britain; for Group F, reigning World Cup Champions, Japan; and for Group G, the defending Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Gold Medalist, the United States.

The rest of the teams will be selected randomly, except that the selection must avoid having “more than one team from each geographic region” in the same group. The separation of the teams in the four pots eliminates this possibility, except in the case of the two South American countries, Brazil and Colombia. In 2008, the following rule was used for the two South American countries:

“If Argentina is drawn to a Group in which Brazil is already placed, the respective Group must be skipped to avoid two teams from the same continent in the same group.”

Thus, for this go-around, we can simply replace “Argentina” with “Colombia.”  Also, as Brazil must be in Group E or Group F, due to the USA’s placement in Group G, this rule will only apply if Colombia is picked first or second out of the final team pot.


Applying the “Draw Procedure” from 2008 to the current set of teams, the possible scenarios for the three groups, based on the predicted team pots, would be as such:

  • GROUP E: Great Britain; (North Korea or New Zealand); (Brazil* or Canada);  (Cameroon, South Africa, or Colombia*)
  • GROUP F: Japan; (France or Sweden); (Brazil* or Canada); (Cameroon, South Africa, or Colombia*)
  • GROUP G: United States; (France or Sweden); (North Korea or New Zealand); (Cameroon, South Africa, or Colombia)

*As mentioned above, Brazil and Colombia cannot be in the same group.

In Group E, host Great Britain will face at least one top ten team, either Brazil or Canada, and perhaps two, if North Korea is also drawn into the group. Great Britain also has a 75% chance of getting one of the two African teams. Great Britain’s toughest scenario would likely include having Brazil and North Korea in their group. However, if they avoid Brazil, the alternative top ten team is Canada, and it means that Great Britain will face the highest-ranked fourth team, Colombia, rather than one of the low-ranked African teams.

In Group F, Japan is guaranteed to face two other top ten teams: either France or Sweden plus either Brazil or Canada. The worst scenario, based on rankings, for Japan (WWR #3), would be Brazil (WWR #4) , Sweden (WWR #5), and Colombia (WWR #28). As with the first group, there is a 75% possibility that this Group (Group F) will have one of the low-ranked African teams.

In Group G, the United States will face at least one top ten team, either France or Sweden, and could face two, if North Korea is also selected. The United States has a 50% chance of getting Colombia in its group. Conversely, the USA has a 50% chance of being grouped with either of the African teams. The USA’s most difficult group, rankings-wise, would include Sweden, North Korea, and Colombia — Which is the same grouping the USA faced in the 2011 Women’s World Cup.


See this separate post for a list of all the ways the draw could go down, assuming the pots are as I have populated them. In addition to the full scenarios, the unique scenarios for the individual groups are listed separately, which is useful for comparing and reviewing all the potential group scenarios for one of the seeded teams.


1. The All-Commonwealth Group E: There are four scenarios where Group E could feature Great Britain plus three of the other four current Commonwealth Nations who have qualified for this tournament: Cameroon, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand.

Group E: Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa
Group E: Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Cameroon

Also, these two scenarios provide Great Britain with two of its least difficult paths out of the group, as there is only one other top ten team (Canada), New Zealand is ranked 23rd, and the two African teams are both ranked outside the top 50.

(Cameroon includes the former Southern Cameroons, which was a British colony before it united with Cameroon, which was formerly a colony of France.  Cameroon is both a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. And, no I did not know that before I typed up this article.)

2. Women’s World Cup Group Redux: One-eight of the scenarios result in the USA being in the same group as Colombia, North Korea, and Sweden.

Also, outside of the African teams, the USA has played all of its potential group stage opponents within the past year (from thee 2011 WWC, until now).

3. Canada and France, Again? One-fourth of the scenarios put Canada and France in the same group (Group F, with Japan). — Canada and France were in the same WWC group in 2011 and also faced each other in the 2012 Cyprus Cup final.

4. It Sucks To Be World Champions: As noted earlier, Japan will likely have the toughest group, as they will have two other top ten teams in their group

Potential Basic Scenarios for Japan’s Group (teams are listed in world ranking order, with the ranks of the top three teams preceding each list of teams) :

3-4-5: Japan, Brazil, Sweden, plus Cameroon or South Africa
3-4-6: Japan, Brazil, France, plus Cameroon or South Africa
3-5-7: Japan, Sweden, Canada, plus a Pot 4 team
3-6-7: Japan, France, Canada, plus a Pot 4 team

Note: Even if Japan’s and the USA’s placements are swapped, Japan’s and the USA’s potential group scenarios will be the same.

In 2008, Group F was also a difficult group with: Germany (WWR #2), Brazil (WWR #4), North Korea (WWR #6), and Nigeria (WWR #24). Brazil and Germany finished the group tied with 7 points, but Germany only scored 2 goals in three matches (0:0 draw with Brazil, two 1:0 victories versus North Korea and Nigeria), so it finished second on goal differential as Brazil was at +5. North Korea was the third placed team, with three points, via a single win versus Nigeria.

Also, on the day of the final group matches, Group F plays first, at 14:30 local time, while Group G plays next at 17:15 local time, and Great Britain’s group, Group E, plays last at 19:45 local time. Thus, the teams in Group F have the least advantage as far as knowing what minimum result allows a given team to qualify for the next round, e.g., as a third place team.

On the positive side, whoever wins Group F does not have to face the first place teams from the other two groups until the gold medal match. Also, if the top two teams advance to the semifinals, their semifinal match will be at Wembley, so if they advance to the gold medal match, which is also at Wembley, the team will not have a travel day, which will allow more time for regeneration and practice.

5. New Zealand In New Territory? By putting New Zealand in the same pot as Japan, the Football Ferns avoid the difficult Group F and have a decent shot at finishing in one of the top two third place spots, if not higher. In this respect, one could argue that New Zealand benefits from having an extra African side in the tournament.

Essentially, New Zealand’s best route out of the group stage involves it being in a group with one of the two African nations, which are each ranked outside of the top 50. Even if New Zealand is drawn into a group with 28th ranked Colombia, instead of one of the African sides, the Ferns could probably escape the group stage as well, but that may be more of a challenge.

The following are a couple example scenarios. Brazil and Canada can be switched around, as can France and Sweden, along with the African nations.

Group E: Great Britain, Canada, North Korea, Colombia
Group F: Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Cameroon
Group G: United States, France, New Zealand, South Africa

Group E: Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Cameroon
Group F: Japan, France, Brazil, South Africa
Group G: United States, Sweden, North Korea, Colombia

If New Zealand can defeat an African side and tie one of the other squads in its group — which will be a top ten team — then, New Zealand will have 4 points. Then, if the third-placed team in Group F ends up with 3 points or less (e.g., in a 9-6-3-0, 9-4-3-1, or 7-7-3-0 points scenario), then New Zealand will be one of the third-placed teams that qualify for the group stage. Even if the third-place team in Group F also has 4 points, New Zealand could still advance on goal differential.


Bracket Summary:

  • In the quarterfinals, the winners of Group E and Group G each plays one of the two best third-place teams, with the stipulation that the Group winner and the third place team cannot be from the same group. The winners of those matches play in a semifinal, with the winner of that advancing to the gold medal round.
  • In the other two quarterfinal matches, the winner of Group F plays the second best team in Group G, while the two second place teams in those groups play each other. The winners of those matches play in the second semifinal, with the winner advancing to the gold medal round.
  • The semifinal losers from both matches, then play for the bronze medal.

(At this time, there are two many potential variations, so I will only point out a few of the more interesting notables. Once the actual draw is announced, I’ll probably dig deeper into some of the potential scenarios. )

1. If All Goes To Plan: If the USA and Great Britain both win their groups, then the two sides will meet up in a semifinal match at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. The USA could also meet England in a quarterfinal, if one team wins their group while the other squad finishes as one of the two best third-place teams.

Likewise, if Japan wins their Group (Group G), then this could mean a potential gold medal match with the USA. And thus, a repeat match-up of last year’s WWC final.

2. Early Exit Possibilities: For the USA, a quarterfinal match-up versus either Japan or Brazil is a fair possibility: If one of those two teams finishes first in Group F and the USA finishes second in Group G; or if the USA finishes first in Group G and one of those teams finishes as one of the two best third-place teams.

Similarly, if Sweden, the fourth highest-ranked team in the field, is in Group G and finishes second, then they could face Japan in a quarterfinal, which would be a rematch of their 2011 WWC semifinal.

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