The United States came within a point yesterday of being one of the seeded teams for next year's World Cup in Germany.

"I thought all along the draw is going to be difficult. The field is extremely strong," U.S. Coach Bruce Arena said. "I think it's considerably stronger than what we saw in 2002."

There's a good chance the Americans will get two European opponents and one from South America or Africa in the first round of the tournament.

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 each).

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).

The Netherlands, a two-time World Cup runner-up, failed to make the seedings despite being third in the FIFA rankings.

For the rest of the draw, FIFA decided to place the teams as follows:

* Pot Two: Angola, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Tunisia (Africa); Ecuador, Paraguay (South America); Australia (Oceania).

* Pot Three: Croatia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine (Europe).

* Pot Four: Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea (Asia); Costa Rica, United States, Trinidad and Tobago (North and Central America and Caribbean).

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

-- From News Services