The FIFA World Cup will be taking place in Qatar this November, and there was much hype surrounding the draw for the tournament's group stage. The World Cup draw takes each potential 32 teams and divides them into eight groups of four. Each nation is drawn from a pot based on its current world ranking and divvied accordingly. Only one of those gets to call itself the Group of Death.
Of the 32 teams, 29 qualified automatically. Australia, Costa Rica, and Wales rounded out the groups by winning their respective playoffs.
The debate constantly rages about the most brutal group going into the World Cup finals. The Group of Death is the most challenging group in each World Cup. It's usually the group without two powerhouse countries expected to move on to the second-round knockout stage. There are generally at least two groups that pundits call out, so let's take a look at each group and see how they rank in terms of being the Group of Death.
Group A comprises Ecuador, Senegal, the Netherlands, and Qatar, the host nation. This will be Qatar's first World Cup, and they're only part of it due to being the tournament host. Senegal and Netherlands would be my favorites to escape this group, but we certainly can't sleep on the Ecuadorian side. Fresh off dramatic wins in the Africa Cup of Nations and the AFC playoff to qualify, both over Egypt, Senegal will be flying high. I'd expect them to come out of this group on top, with Liverpool star Sadio Mane leading the way. For me, the Group of Death status only sits at about two or three.
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Group B will see England and the United States of America face off at yet another World Cup. In addition, Iran and Wales, who won the European qualifier against Ukraine, will round out the group. While the Group of Death status for Group B is not high in my mind, it will undoubtedly be interesting. England finished third in 2018 and found their way into the Euro final last summer, ultimately losing to Italy, who couldn't even find their way to Qatar this winter. The three lions are the clear favorite to get out of this group, but they always find a way to shoot themselves in the foot.
Iran is likely the sleeper of Group B. They amassed more points than any other Asian nation in qualifying and will be looking to make their mark. With the political history between them and the USA and all the current turmoil around the Iranian government's mistreatment of women, it should be interesting to see how they match up. For the US, they only could automatically qualify due to goal difference. They will try to take a deep breath before diving into what will be a continuation of the roller coaster they've been on for the past five years. If healthy, though, this team does have the pieces to potentially make some noise. That is if head coach Gregg Berhalter can get out of his way.
Wales needed to make their way through a problematic European playoff to book their ticket. After Russia's disqualification, Scotland and Ukraine put up a fight but couldn't quite get it done. Wales immediately makes this group more complicated than it otherwise would be. While Spanish media attempted to skewer Gareth Bale, he found his way out of Madrid and to Los Angeles, with LAFC fighting for the MLS Cup. The Welshman still has the talent to power his country into the knockout stages.
Group C holds Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Poland. Leonel Messi will be competing in what is undoubtedly his final World Cup, and that Argentine defense is frightening to come up against. Given that the South American outfit is the likely winner of this group, it becomes a dogfight to see who can get those two spots. The Saudis were solid in qualifying, but I can't see them getting past Robert Lewandowski and Poland. They eliminated Sweden in a playoff to grant their berth. He's too lethal. That then comes down to whether the speed of Mexico or the physicality of Poland can prevail. My money is on the Poles. Regardless, I wouldn't consider this to be a Group of Death.
Group D is the first potential contender for the Group of Death. The inclusion of both France and Denmark makes things interesting. And, though African countries tend to be written off entirely too often, Tunisia won't go quietly into the night. I feel for whichever intercontinental playoff winner gets into this group. I think the group stage could conclude in several ways if it's Peru. If it's Australia or UAE, I see it being more of a three-team race. No offense meant to the Asian playoff winner, but both teams were quite a drop in quality from the two above them in their respective groups.
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Spain and Germany headline Group E, with Japan and the winner of New Zealand and Costa Rica joining them. The two European outfits will be the favorites to get out of this group. However, Japan has an excellent side, which could cause some problems. Spain and Germany have been at their best in recent tournaments. If that continues, we could see some exciting things happen in this group. I think it's likely tougher if Costa Rica finds their way in. Whereas the Kiwis are basically a coin flip for me. I can't see them getting out of the group, but they may be able to shake things up a bit. Only time will tell.
Group F is another intriguing contender for the Group of Death. Belgium always operates at a high level and took third place in Russia in 2018. In that same World Cup, Croatia was the runner-up. That immediately sets up a one-two punch that should be hard to beat.
Despite missing out on the final, many favored Morocco to win the African Cup of Nations this past January. That team is scary, top-to-bottom. Canada is probably getting viewed as the red-headed stepchild of this group. However, they came out of CONCACAF on top. And they did it without Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, who has missed the past three months for both club and country with a COVID-related heart issue. If he can safely get back to full strength, that Canadian team will put up a fight. Personally, this group would rank one or two in my Group of Death ratings.
Brazil will lead and likely win Group G. It's the only nation in World Cup history to compete in every tournament. They will be hungry and looking to cruise through. Serbia is unlikely to find its way out, so it will be down to whether the Swiss can halt the momentum Cameroon brought into AFCON this winter. The host nation was a blink away from being in the final and will be looking to bring that same energy to the world stage. Switzerland is an exciting squad; they could get through to the knockouts with a low-key strong team. The question then becomes whether Granit Xhaka will be the force he can be without picking up a red, which would likely doom the Swiss to elimination in the group stage.
Group H is outright scary, top to bottom. Portugal can destroy either their opponent or themselves. It entirely depends on which side of the bed they woke up on. Ghana is a perennial knockout contender and will be hoping the time is now for them to fight their way to the quarterfinals and, maybe even the semi-finals. Though I wouldn't expect them to go that far.
However, Uruguay has something to say about that, with a strong midfield and lethal attack. Then there's South Korea. Son Heung-min is arguably one of the top attackers in world football, and the Koreans have found success in the past few years. This group is genuinely up for grabs, with any team easily able to finish as high as first or as low as fourth. High potential for the actual title of grupo de la muerte.
When it all comes down to it, I'd say three World Cup groups can genuinely vie for the official Group of Death title - Groups D, F, and H. For me, Group D is contingent upon Peru being the last member. Is Group F the Group of Death? They take the cake, with Group H as a close second.
I think it's important to note some teams that would otherwise be expected to be here but aren't. We're missing out on the fierceness of Nigeria and the kits gracing our televisions. Italy has tumbled out of qualifying for the second straight World Cup. The Italians may have been able to take the Euros, but they're struggling outside the continent. Chile has had teams good enough to compete at the top, but it seems they're on a downward trend. Add the fourth team to this trio, and you have a Group of Death contender comprised of teams that didn't even make it this far. Sounds a little backward, but it would be true.
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