Why being in the World Cup Group of Death need not be a bad thing

by Steve

Incredibly out-of-date post shocker! Last Friday saw the draw for next summer’s World Cup. I won’t go into a group-by-group preview just yet, although I will say England got off with an awfully easy draw. No disrespect to the USA, Algeria and Slovenia, but if England fail to qualify for the second phase I’ll eat my hat.

However, not every nation got off so likely. As in every major international football tournament draw, talk inevitably fell to that old reliable subject, “What group is the Group of Death?”. What was the toughest group, with the strongest sides and the best chance to see a contender knocked out in the first round?

This World Cup we have two contenders. Group D pits Germany against Australia, Ghana and Serbia, while Group G sees Brazil face Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea. Whatever way you look at it, those groups are tough. But is it the end of world? Far from it.

I’d like to say that I’ve undertaken a rigorous statistical exercise, but I can’t lie to you folks. I just looked up Group of Death on Wikipedia (since edited, sadly), and unearthed (or is that over-egging the pudding?) something interesting. Should a country survive the so-called Group of Death, they stand a pretty good chance of progressing well in the competition, if not winning it all.

In 2006 Italy had to get past Ghana, the Czech Republic and the United States. That they did, and then they went on to win the World Cup. In years gone by Argentina in 1978, Brazil in 1970, England in 1966 and Brazil in 1958 all negotiated incredibly difficult groups on their way to winning the World Cup. So, for every major side that has failed to survive (Argentina in 2002, Spain in 1998), there is a side that has gone on and prospered.

I’d suggest that this is perhaps the footballing equivalent of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. If a team qualifies from a tough group it is already primed and ready for truly competitive football. Playing against other strong sides is a much better preparation for knock-out football than playing a minnow. What better way to build momentum?

And so, and boy am I going out on a limb here, don’t be surprised if Brazil do well next summer. And Germany too. Hah! You don’t get insight like that anywhere else, eh?