Here's a question: what do Armenia, Turkey, Estonia, Belgium, Bosnia and Spain have in common?
Think about it for a moment. Six countries, all in Europe... what does that suggest?
They're all in Group 5 (Europe) for the 2010 World Cup.
Brief summary for Americans: the World Cup is every four years. About 170 countries want to be in it, but there are only 31 slots. So for the next two years, that 170 will get relentlessly whittled down.
Those 31 slots? One is for the host country (South Africa) and the others are divided by region. So, Europe gets 13 slots, Asia gets five, and so forth.
There are 53 European countries competing for those 13 slots. So, those 53 teams have just been divided into nine qualifying groups - eight of six teams and one of five. The winners of each European group will qualify for the World Cup finals, and the best eight runners-up will play off for te other four berths.
It's complicated, but basically fair -- the draw for the qualifying groups is totally random. This can lead to interestingly weird situations, such as the occasional "Group of Death" when three excellent teams are squeezed together. And in this case, it's put Turkey and Armenia -- who don't have diplomatic relations and who, to put it nicely, don't much like each other -- in the same group.
The odds of this were about one in ten (once Armenia was drawn for Group 5, what were the chances of Turkey being in that group too? Five other slots in the group, 52 other countries -- 5/52, or about 9.8%), so it's not that surprising. But it means Armenia and Turkey will have to play each other twice... once at home, and once away.
This won't happen until next year, by which time we'll probably be gone. Still: riots and craziness, gestures of reconciliation, or just a couple of football games with unusually high security? Watch this space.
(BTW, this is sort of a Group of Death -- it has one international powerhouse, Spain, and two plausible contenders, Belgium and Turkey. Bosnia and Armenia... um, well. Figure that Spain will take first place, and whoever wins the Belgium-Turkey game will try to win one of the five second-place slots. This means that, if Armenia could somehow eke out a draw, they'd probably spike Turkey's World Cup chances. I'm guessing that, in the 24 hours since the draw, about 9 million Armenians have made that same calculation.)