Looking for this World Cup’s ‘Group of Death’? It doesn’t exist anymore. Here’s why…

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Whenever the World Cup draw is completed, the immediate task is to decide which is the “group of death”.

But the boring answer is none at all these days. A change in the structure of the tournament means that the four true contenders are less likely to be seeded.

But this World Championship is a bit of an exception. To explain why, here’s a brief history of how the death squad gradually disappeared.

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There are three factors at play. The first factor is the widening of the race.

The term “group of death” was first coined in 1970, when there were only 16 teams in the tournament. (There were 24 teams from 1982, 32 from 1998 and 48 from 2026).

As a result, the quality has decreased. For this tournament, if it had been played when the concept of “group of death” was first defined, 50 percent of the sides would not have even qualified for this tournament.

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There are probably the same number of contenders for each World Cup; about eight to 10 sides with a real chance of winning the competition. Once they were divided into four groups, then into six and now into eight. The probability of getting two or even three people in a group has steadily decreased.

The second factor is the increase in prevalence in different confederations. It’s not just about expanding competition.

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Historically, the main contenders for the World Cup have been selected almost exclusively from Europe and South America.

No African country has reached the semi-finals. No team from Oceania has yet reached the quarter-finals. Only one Asian team has reached the semifinals – South Korea at home in 2002. And only one North American team has reached the semifinals, which was the USA in 1930.

Bobby Charlton


England’s Bobby Charlton fights Clodoaldo of Brazil in the 1970 Group of Death (Photo: Syndication/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

And while the South American contingent for each tournament has expanded roughly in line with the number of countries, the European quota has not.

UEFA countries in the World Cup

Competition UEFA countries

1930

31%

1934

75%

1938

87%

1950

62%

1954

75%

1958

69%

1962

63%

1966

63%

1970

56%

1974

56%

1978

62%

1982

58%

1986

58%

1990

58%

1994

54%

1998

47%

2002

47%

2006

44%

2010

41%

2014

41%

2018

44%

2022

41%

FIFA prioritized regional representation over quality. This, after all, A the world Bowl. But this also means that the overall quality is weaker; This means that Italy is not eligible while Saudi Arabia and Tunisia are eligible. That’s entirely fair, but it’s also fair to say that the reigning European champions would be the more obvious candidates for any possible group of death.

In fact, the deadliest group in a major tournament came not at the World Cup, but at Euro 96. It featured Germany (ranked second in the world), Russia (third), Italy (seventh) and the Czech Republic (10th) and also produced two finalists.

The third and perhaps the most relevant factor is the cultivation system.

Let’s go back to that first group of deaths in 1970. It was no coincidence that the 1970 World Cup produced this group of death, rather than 1962 or 1966. There was a draw for those two tournaments. But after no agreement was reached on the pre-1970 seeding process, the lot was opened.

The result? The last two winners of the competition – England and Brazil – played in the same group together with the second winner of 1962, Czechoslovakia. Romania was less of a threat in terms of reputation, although they beat Czechoslovakia and lost to England and Brazil by just one ball, so they barely missed out. FIFA has decided to never allow this to happen again and every draw has been sorted since then.

The seeds took many forms, but the system we were used to included Pot 1, the strongest sides in the world ranking (plus the host) and all placed in purely geographical pots (not seeded by rankings ).

It was therefore possible for a group to have an earlier seed, plus a strong European side, a strong South American side and a strong African side, even if they were all in the top 16 of the tournament.

That system was used until 2014. Since 2018, the situation has changed. The draw is now seeded worldwide and the pots are determined by world ranking rather than geography.

This meant that the potentially deadly group at the 2018 World Cup was significantly less deadly than in previous years. In fact, according to the world rankings, the third strongest side in the potential group of death was weaker than the fourth strongest group of potential groups of death in previous tournaments.

Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4

1998

Germany (1)

England (6)

Colombia (9)

Mexico (11)

2002

Spain (1)

Mexico (9)

England (10)

Paraguay (14)

2006

Brazil (1)

USA (9)

Netherlands (10)

Paraguay (15)

2010

Brazil (1)

France (9)

USA (10)

Cameroon (14)

2014

Spain (1)

Netherlands (8)

Chile (12)

USA (13)

2018

Germany (1)

Spain (8)

Costa Rica (22)

Nigeria (41)

2022

Brazil (1)

Mexico (9)

Senegal (20)

Wales (18*)

However, there is another problem with the 2022 World Cup – this asterisk shows.

As some qualifiers have been postponed due to the pandemic – and the war has delayed Ukraine’s play-off games with Scotland and Wales – the draw for the 2022 World Cup will take place before we know the identity of the three teams as they did not play in the play-offs. became matches Therefore, those play-off sides were included in Pot 4, regardless of their ranking.

This was especially true in the case of Wales, who beat Ukraine to secure their place. Had this play-off taken place before the draw, Wales’ 18th seed would have placed them in 3rd place (and indeed, 2nd cup if 51st-ranked hosts Qatar were not automatically in pot 1). . Instead, they were in pot 4.

So whatever group Wales were drawn into would be tougher than FIFA had originally envisaged. They played alongside England (5th), USA (15th) and Iran (21st). It’s not deadlier than in 1970, for example, but it’s actually much stronger than any of the previous four years – and that’s without taking into account the England-Wales rivalry and US-Iran tensions.

Whether you think a group is dead is a matter of opinion. But it’s probably the deadliest of any World Cup group, as we’ll see again due to the expansion to a 48-team World Cup from 2026, along with geographic spread.

FIFA intends to match the 48-team tournament using 16 groups of three, with two sides advancing to the finals. This has two implications for potential death groups.

First, on the (highly unlikely) assumption that the tournament includes the top 48 teams in the world and that the draw is totaled all the way through, each group will include a side ranked 33rd or below. Most likely, when you calculate the quotas of each confederation, it seems more likely that the average rating of the Pot 3 sides will be in the 50s and 60s.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, things are less deadly when two out of three sides from each group advance. A 67 percent chance of progress doesn’t feel terribly risky. By 2026, the group of death concept will be completely dead.

(Photo by Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)



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