The hype before a World Cup generally kicks off about 6 months before the actual tournament, once the draw is announced. Teams find out their groups and begin to strategize for the big event. One popular talking point after the draw is the “group of death.” Such a group is a result of simply too many good teams in the world, and usually one group getting screwed over because they have two world class teams as opposed to the usual one. The idea behind the group of death has been around since the 1958 World Cup, in which there was a group that consisted of Brazil, England, Soviet Union, and Austria, and was deemed as the battle of the giants. The Mexican press coined the term in 1970 as a result of Group 3, which featured Brazil, England, Romania, and Czechoslovakia.
This past World Cup, there was some debate as to which group was the outright group of death. Many journalists hailed Group G as the group of death because it contained world giants Brazil and Portugal, and the best African nation, Ivory Coast. But what heavily brought down the group was its fourth member, North Korea, which was making its first World Cup appearance since 1966. Others, including myself, believed that Group D was the real group of death since it held Germany (the clear leader of the pack) and three other very solid teams (Ghana, Australia, Serbia). Group A was no easy task either because Uruguay, Mexico and France were all supposed to be solid, and South Africa was the host (before this World Cup, the host nation made it out of their group every time).
Once the World Cup is over, the official tournament team rankings are published. These are rather black and white since the rankings are based off how well the teams did in the tourney, and things such as points, goals scored, and goals allowed are used as clear-cut tie breakers. WC 2010’s rankings can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_FIFA_World_Cup_statistics#Team_rankings. Because we now have this data, one can calculate the so called “group of death” once the World Cup is over. The calculations are simple: you just add up the rankings of each group’s teams and the group with the lowest value is the toughest, and the group with the highest value is the easiest. Here’s what you get:
#1 – Group D (Germany, Ghana, Australia, Serbia): 3 + 7 + 21 + 23 = 54 (Group of Death)
#2 – Group H (Spain, Chile, Switzerland, Honduras): 1 + 10 + 19 + 30 = 60
#3 – Group A (Uruguay, Mexico, South Africa, France): 4 + 18 + 20 + 29 = 61
#4 – Group B (Argentina, South Korea, Greece, Nigeria): 5 + 15 + 25 + 27 = 63
#5 – Group E (Netherlands, Japan, Denmark, Cameroon): 2 + 9 + 24 + 31 = 66
#6 – Group G (Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast, North Korea): 6 + 11 + 17 + 32 = 66
#7 – Group C (USA, England, Slovenia, Algeria): 12 + 13 + 18 + 28 = 71
#8 – Group F (Paraguay, Slovakia, New Zealand, Italy) : 8 + 16 + 22 + 26 = 72 (“Group of Life”…. F must stand for fail)
After conducting the calculations, I thought that the list looked more or less correct. And it looks like I was right… Group D was the hardest group. At first it may seem to be natural to divide each number by the number of teams in each group (4), but because each group has the same amount of teams, it wouldn’t make a difference to do this. Some interesting things that can be seen here was that Group G fell a lot as a result of North Korea’s poor showing. Also, the groups that didn’t have anyone making it to the quarter-finals were the two worst: Group C and Group F. Also, this list confirms that the US had a rather easy group and that Group F was in fact the easiest (and Italy somehow didn’t get out…).
Obviously you can make some legitimate arguments for why this calculation wasn’t “proper” and that it doesn’t tell you the “real” group of death. But what this calculation does tell you is the toughest group of the tournament based off of how they did in the competition. And usually (and I guess obviously) the better teams do better in the World Cup, which is why you can make the case for the group whose teams did the best, the actual group of death. Also if you have the urge you can play around with the numbers even more and find each group’s average ranking in the tournament and you can also find each group’s “easiness’ with respect to each team by using a team’s ranking as the index (something like that…haven’t really thought it through all the way).
If you’re interested in reading about other ways of calculating the group of death, check this out.