Group of death

Group of death is an informal sobriquet used in football and other team sports to describe a situation that often occurs during the group stage of a tournament (such as the first round of the World Cup), where:

* all the teams present in one group are considered to be roughly equal in skillor
* one or more of the underdog teams plays the kind of football that may shock a better team

The key element is that "any" team could plausibly qualify and "any" could plausibly be eliminated. It is, in other words, the most unpredictable group of the tournament.

Typically, a Group of Death will see an unusual match-up of heavyweight sides, due to a quirk in the seeding system.


The term was coined (in Spanish as "el grupo de la muerte") by the Uruguay manager Omar Borrás at the 1986 FIFA World Cup to describe Group E, which included West Germany, Denmark, Scotland and Uruguay. This was the only group where all of its teams came from the traditionally strong regions of Europe and South America.

The term was widely picked up by the media, and subsequent tournaments have provoked the question, "Which group is the Group of Death this time?" The answer is complicated by the lack of a precise definition of the term. Most definitions rely on subjective ideas of which teams are (or will prove to be) stronger, providing further scope for debate.

Commentators will speak of "salivating at the prospect" and the games are often titanic struggles, rather than the tamer more conservative efforts usually posted by major teams in the early stages.

The term is also used retroactively in historical contexts (i.e. for tournaments that precede 1986).

In a BBC Radio interview on 7th June 2007, Russia coach Guus Hiddink referred to his team's qualifying group for Euro 2008 as a "Group of Death", with four teams in contention in a group seven-strong with only 2 qualifying positions.

Variety of definitions

Since only two teams usually qualify out of a four-team group, the term is sometimes used when three out of the four teams are particularly strong, in which case the word "death" is also a reference to the situation faced by the group's weaker team, which will be perceived to have very little chance of finishing in the top two. This did not apply in 1986, when 3 of the 4 teams progressed from Group E. The word "death" can also apply to one of three strong teams, which tournament rules may eliminate from competition much earlier than if it had been drawn into a separate group.

Most fans only use the term "group of death" in cases where the group's evenly-matched teams are among the stronger teams in the tournament.

Sometimes the term simply means the group with the strongest teams, implying there is always precisely one such group; other definitions allow for multiple groups of death, and for none at all.

The name Group of Death can be applied in anticipation of the matches, as well as during and after the tournament. The term is occasionally applied in hindsight when a group turns out far more evenly matched than it had looked when it was drawn.

World Cup

In the draw for the FIFA World Cup, only one team per group is seeded based on ability; the unseeded teams are distributed based on continent, regardless of strength. Thus the "luck of the draw" does not ensure even distribution of strong teams between groups.

2006 FIFA World Cup

FIFA World Rankings showed that the combination of Ghana, USA, Czech Republic and Italy in Group E was most competitive, with an average ranking of 17th. This was demonstrated in the group stage results, as no team was eliminated prior to all of their matches being played. In the end, the Czechs and Americans returned home, in a very tight finish. The Italians went on to win the Cup.

Final Group E Table

Result: USA (third place) and Korea DPR (quarterfinals) progressed.

Other World Cup Groups of Death

* 1958 FIFA World Cup
**Group 4: England, Brazil, USSR, and Austria (Brazil and USSR progressed; Brazil went on to win the cup)
*** Brazil 3-0 Austria, USSR 2-2 England
*** Brazil 0-0 England, USSR 2-0 Austria
*** England 2-2 Austria, Brazil 2-0 USSR

* 1966 FIFA World Cup
**Group A: England, Uruguay, France, and Mexico (England and Uruguay progressed; England went on to win the cup)
*** England 0-0 Uruguay, France 1-1 Mexico
*** Uruguay 2-0 France, England 2-0 Mexico
*** Mexico 0-0 Uruguay, England 2-0 France

* 1970 FIFA World Cup
**Group 3: England, Brazil, Romania, and Czechoslovakia (Brazil and England progressed; Brazil went on to win the cup)
*** England 1-0 Romania, Brazil 4-1 Czechoslovakia
*** Romania 2-1 Czechoslovakia, Brazil 1-0 England
*** Brazil 3-2 Romania, England 1-0 Czechoslovakia

* 1978 FIFA World Cup
**Group 1: Argentina, Italy, France, and Hungary (Italy and Argentina progressed; Argentina went on to win the cup)
*** Italy 2-1 France, Argentina 2-1 Hungary
*** Italy 3-1 Hungary, Argentina 2-1 France
*** France 3-1 Hungary, Argentina 0-1 Italy

* 1982 FIFA World Cup
**Second Round, Group C: Argentina, Brazil, and Italy (Italy progressed; Italy went on to win the cup)
*** Italy 2-1 Argentina
*** Argentina 1-3 Brazil
*** Brazil 2-3 Italy

* 1990 FIFA World Cup
**Group B: Argentina, Romania, Cameroon, and USSR (Cameroon, Romania and Argentina progressed. Argentina advanced to the final, where they were defeated by Germany 1-0)
*** Argentina 0-1 Cameroon, USSR 0-2 Romania
*** Argentina 2-0 USSR, Cameroon 2-1 Romania
*** Argentina 1-1 Romania, Cameroon 0-4 USSR

* 1994 FIFA World Cup
**Group E: Italy, Ireland, Mexico, and Norway (Only Norway failed to progress, having scored fewest goals. All teams finished level on points and goal difference. Italy advanced to the final, where they were defeated by Brazil on penalty kicks.)
*** Italy 0-1 Ireland, Mexico 0-1 Norway
*** Italy 1-0 Norway, Ireland 1-2 Mexico
*** Italy 1-1 Mexico, Ireland 0-0 Norway

* 1998 FIFA World Cup
**Group D: Spain, Nigeria, Paraguay, and Bulgaria (Nigeria and Paraguay progressed).
*** Spain 2-3 Nigeria, Paraguay 0-0 Bulgaria
*** Spain 0-0 Paraguay, Nigeria 1-0 Bulgaria
*** Spain 6-1 Bulgaria, Nigeria 1-3 Paraguay

* 2002 FIFA World Cup
**Group F: Argentina, Nigeria, England, and Sweden (England and Sweden progressed).
*** Argentina 1-0 Nigeria, England 1-1 Sweden
*** Argentina 0-1 England, Nigeria 1-2 Sweden
*** Argentina 1-1 Sweden, England 0-0 Nigeria

European Championship

Under the current system, before the draw, four levels of seedings are decided basically based on ability (recent performance), each containing four teams. However, there are still some teams known as strong being put at a lower seeding, either due to not enough top seeding spaces or disappointing recent performance. Therefore, like World Cup, "strong teams" may not be evenly distributed to different groups.

Examples of groups of death at recent European Championships:

* Euro 96
**Group C: Germany, Czech Republic, Italy and Russia (Germany and Czech Republic progressed, with Germany defeating the Czechs in the championship final).
* Euro 2000
**Group A: Portugal, Romania, England and Germany (Portugal and Romania progressed; Romania was eliminated in the quarterfinals, Portugal made the semifinals).
**Group D: Netherlands, France, Czech Republic and Denmark (Netherlands and France progressed; both made the semifinals, and France won the championship).
* Euro 2004
**Group A: Portugal, Greece, Spain and Russia was the group with the two finalist (eventual champions Greece and finalist Portugal) and the two teams that were not beaten by the champions Greece (Russia and Spain), meant that East Europeans Russia and accomplished UEFA team Spain were eliminated in the first round whilst underdogs Greece went on to win the Euro 2004 in the final against Portugal.
**Group C: Sweden, Bulgaria, Italy and Denmark meant that Bulgaria and Italy were eliminated in the first round.
**Group D: Czech Republic, Netherlands, Germany and Latvia (Czech Republic and Netherlands progressed, both losing in the semifinals).
* Euro 2008 "qualifying"
**Group A: Portugal, Serbia and Poland, three 2006 World Cup qualifiers, were in this group (FIFA officially considers Serbia the successor of the Serbia and Montenegro team that participated in the 2006 World Cup). Finland was an unexpected challenger for a Euro 2008 berth, after a win at Poland and a bittersweet draw against Portugal in Helsinki. Poland and Portugal ultimately qualified; Serbia finished third, level on points with Finland, and thereby stayed home.
**Group B: France, Italy and Ukraine were all in the same group, despite all of these teams having progressed to at least the quarter finals of the 2006 World Cup. The first qualifying match between France and Italy (which France won 3-1) meant a quick rematch for the 2006 World Cup final, which Italy won on penalty kicks. Scotland, Lithuania, Georgia and the Faroe Islands were also in this group. Scotland's subsequent impressive start to the group, followed up by a 1-0 away win over France, added a further element of intrigue, leading to the possibility that two of the top three teams could fall at the first hurdle. As it turned out, Italy and France qualified. Ukraine were well behind in fourth, behind the surprising Scots, who would have qualified had they beaten Italy in their final match instead of losing.
**Group F: Spain, Sweden and Denmark. These teams participated in Euro 2004 and, except for Denmark, also in World Cup 2006. In addition, Northern Ireland had impressive performances, beating both Spain and Sweden in Belfast, making the group even tougher than expected. In the end, Spain and Sweden qualified, while Denmark finished in fourth place, six points adrift of their Scandinavian neighbours and rivals and level on points with Northern Ireland.
* Euro 2008
**Group C: The Netherlands, Romania, France and Italy. The first two, as well as the latter, met in two of the most recent three stages of tournaments (2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, 2006 FIFA World Cup (with Italy and France being finalists) and UEFA Euro 2008 qualifiers). In addition, France and Romania will meet in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. All except Romania were previous winners of the trophy. With three impressive wins The Netherlands progresed as group winners, with Italy finishing runners up. [cite news|url= | title=Italy come up against France again |publisher="" |date=2007-12-02 |accessdate=2007-12-30] [cite web|url= | title= France to meet Italy in Group of Death] [cite web|url= | title= Germany happy to miss 'Group of Death' |] [cite news|url= | title=España evita el grupo de la muerte | language=Spanish |publisher="Informativos Telecinco" |date=2007-12-02 |accessdate=2007-12-30]

European Cup

Group D of the UEFA Champions League 1998-99 featured three of Europe's biggest club sides, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Barcelona.

Although Chelsea and Barcelona advanced to the knockout stage, they both lost to Liverpool FC later on: Barcelona in the Round of 16 on the away goals rule and Chelsea in the semifinals on penalties.

Group E in the UEFA Champions League 2007-08 season contained Spanish giants FC Barcelona, six-time reigning French champions Olympique Lyonnais, German champions VfB Stuttgart and Scottish runners-up Rangers.

Barça finished atop the group, while Lyon won a showdown with Rangers in Glasgow on the final matchday to claim the second available place in the knockout stages.

Copa Libertadores

Groups of death have also been common in South American top competition, Copa Libertadores. For instance, the A group of the 1978 semifinals can be considered a real group of death, for having both Argentine top teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate, against a then powerful Atlético Mineiro, which featured Toninho Cerezo, Reinaldo and João Leite, among others.

In other sports

Although the term "group of death" originated in football and is most closely identified with that sport, it can be used in any sport with a tournament structure similar to that of the FIFA World Cup. For example, Pool D in the 2007 Rugby World Cup (union) was called a "group of death" or "pool of death" [cite web|url= | title=Ireland to face pool of death | |date=2006-11-27] due to the presence of three teams who were rated in the top six of the IRB World Rankings at the end of the 2006 Test season—RWC hosts nrut|France (second), nrut|Ireland (third) and nrut|Argentina (sixth), [cite web|url= | title=IRB World Rankings 27/11/2006 | publisher=International Rugby Board] with only two able to advance to the knockout rounds. Ultimately Argentina and France qualified, both teams losing in the semi-finals. The teams met a second time in the third-place match, with Argentina winning over France for the second time in the tournament.

Notes and references

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