It should come as little surprise that the World Cup groups are unbalanced. As I mentioned in a previous article, the lack of balance in place of geographical parity has led to groups that will either excite or bore depending on the country you most want to watch. What follows is a quick calculation to illustrate the lack of group parity, to evaluate group strength and to determine the true Group(s) of Death, plus to provide some insight on what to expect next summer.
Group A – Average Ranking of 24.25
Group A is a dream draw for Brazil. Following the unbelievable decision to draw a random European side into Pot 2, Brazil faced the possibility of being stuck with a top 10 European side. As it turned out, Brazil avoided the European side drawn into Pot 2, Italy, and further benefited from drawing a disoriented Mexican side and the weakest African nation, Cameroon. The group is weak and Brazil should easily progress into the Knockout Rounds. Do not be surprised if Mexico progress as well given the favorable schedule of playing Cameroon first and getting Croatia last – in a potential knockout match.
Group B – Average Ranking of 21
While it is understandable that the average ranking (21) does not reflect this group’s strength, it does reflect the parity problem. This group should be renamed the “Beat Australia or Go Home Group.” Any one of the top 3 sides who does not take 3 points from Australia will find themselves on a plane back home earlier than desired. Additionally, what an irony to see the World Cup 2010 Final replayed in the first tie of the group stage. Spain will be irate at the draw, and Chile may find themselves sneaking through if the Netherlands are unable to stay healthy leading up to the World Cup. While Spain and the Netherland should move on, the result of the Spain – Netherlands tie could cause the group to turn in Chile’s favor.
Group C – Average Ranking of 20.25
Ivory Coast (17th)
Like Group B, Group C appears to be a group in which the top 3 should get 3 points from the weakest side. However, Japan is far better than Australia even if their ranking does not show it. Having a decently respectable display at the Confederations Cup should warn Colombia, Greece and the Ivory Coast of the dangers Japan pose. Additionally, looking at these four teams, one thing is lacking in all of them – consistency. There are moments when Colombia look a real power (like drawing the Dutch and whipping Belgium last month), but at other times they struggle (getting dominated by Uruguay in September and Chile in the first half of their game in October). The Ivory Coast always seems to underachieve at World Cups of late and Greece never looks a real attacking threat against quality opponents. This should be one of the more interesting groups to watch as it is hard to really say what will happen.
Group D – Average Ranking of 14.25
Costa Rica (31st)
This is a group that could arguably be considered a Group of Death. Uruguay were unfortunately handed the misfortune of taking the ‘randomly selected’ European side from Pot 2, Italy, as well as a historical power in England. Furthermore, Costa Rica poses an interesting attacking threat with the likes of Bryan Ruiz, Rodney Wallace, Alvaro Saborio and Joel Campbell. Additionally, given the inconsistencies of Italy this past year (dominating their Qualifying group, but drawing to Nigeria, Armenia and Haiti), Uruguay may truly look the favorites to walk out of this group. England will be tested as their first two games are Italy and Uruguay making points critical for their hopes of progression. This group still looks safe to assume Uruguay and Italy will emerge.
Group E – Average Ranking of 22.75
If there is such a thing as the Group(s) of Death, this group will certainly fall into the category of the Group of Life. This group will certainly be entertaining to watch because any one of these teams (and yes, that includes Honduras) could emerge on top. Switzerland coasted into the World Cup playing Cyprus, Iceland, Norway, Albania and Slovenia. Ecuador has looked promising at times, but relied heavily on early success to ensure their qualification having only won 1 of their last 6 qualifiers. France should not have even made the World Cup, but yet again referees gifted them a critical goal (see the second goal in the second leg and how far offside Benzema was prior to scoring). Overall, I recommend viewers tune into this group for it might yield the most surprising final results of the tournament.
Group F – Average Ranking of 26.25
Unlike Group E, this is not a true Group of Life, but rather a group of battling for second. Argentina will coast in this group (likely taking 9 out of 9). Bosnia is not good away from home and did not have a difficult group in Qualifying (Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Greece and Slovakia). Iran is an unknown here as North Korea was in 2010. Nigeria have always had talent, but winning an AFCON title does not mean much as Egypt has taken numerous AFCON titles without qualifying as did Zambia two years ago. Second place is up for grabs and should give viewers a reason to tune into Iran-Nigeria in the first set of fixtures.
Group G – Average Ranking of 11.25
Group of Death. This will be the headline for each of the respective countries in this group. All four countries do have a chance to get out of this group and all four could also be embarrassed by the other three teams. Yes, that includes the United States. It is time for the rest of the world to face the facts. The United States has some depth and is not afraid to compete. I mentioned in a previous article that countries did not want to draw them because it likely meant the Group of Death and the USA was basically the only strong member of Pot 3. Ask Ghana, Germany and Portugal if they now agree. Furthermore, the average ranking is actually a massive understatement. Ghana is far better than half of the European nations ahead of them in the FIFA rankings and much more consistent in global tournaments than the Ivory Coast (the top ranked African side). Germany and Portugal speak for themselves. Storylines abound here with the Boatengs facing off, US-Ghana history, Ronaldo carrying Portugal, Germany vs. Klinsmann, etc. This will easily be the most watched group in the tournament.
Group H – Average Ranking of 28.25
Korea Republic (54th)
The World Cup youth and inexperience for Belgium will not matter much with a group this easy. Algeria have some experience with World Cup 2010 and South Korea always seem to play well during the World Cup, but this is going to be more of a battle for second as Belgium should take at least 7 of 9. Thoughts are Russia should come out second given the youth of South Korea and the lack of historical success with Algeria, but anything is possible. The Russia-Korea game in the opening fixture could prove vital for determining who takes second in this group.
1) There are 2 Groups of Death!
Group D and G are both viable Groups of Death. This is not just based on average ranking, but also due to the eye test for each of the teams. Costa Rica could prove a surprise as well as Ghana. Both groups will be highly entertaining.
2) Global Parity Needs to Stop!
The global parity has created group disparity. There is no reason why in a tournament field with such quality there are only 2 groups with an average ranking of less than 20. Additionally, with 2 groups having an average over 25 makes the tournament unbalanced. It warrants FIFA reconsidering the format of dividing pots by region. Why not simply rank the teams 1 to 32 and then divide them into 4 pots accordingly? Parity makes for better viewing pleasure and gives those countries that have deserved to be a top 8 nation more of an opportunity to progress.
3) There Should Never Be a Group of Life!
Group E is an absolute joke. As mentioned with respect to parity, Group E provided teams like France and Honduras a chance to advance to the Knockout Round when few other groups would have allowed such an opportunity. Yes, it is the World Cup and anything is possible. But, can you honestly say it is fair and desirable to have nations working four years to be a top contender to find they may need to win 2 out of 3 just to reach the Knockouts? Additionally, should there really be groups with no one favored because no one is genuinely a World Cup Title contender?!
4) MUST WATCH FIRST FIXTURES!
It is hard to recall so many quality fixtures happening the first week: Spain vs. Netherlands, England vs. Italy, Germany vs. Portugal, USA vs. Ghana, Brazil vs. Croatia and Colombia vs. Greece. Talk about a reason to stay tuned even though there is such disparity among the groups! It used to require just a decent showing over three games to progress if you were a quality side. But, with games like these being first for these countries, their fate could be sealed after a single game. World Cup 2014, here we come!