Looking for this World Cup’s ‘Group of Death’? It doesn’t exist anymore. Here’s why…

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When the World Cup draw is over, the immediate task is to find out which is the “team of death”.

But the boring answer is that there isn’t one at the moment. Changes in the structure of the competition mean that four real contenders are less likely to be grouped together.

But this World Cup is a little different. To explain why, here’s a brief history of how the Death Squad slowly disappeared.

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There are three factors in the game. The first reason is the expansion of competition.

The phrase “team of death” was first coined in 1970, when there were only 16 teams in the tournament. (Since 1982 there have been 24 teams, since 1998 there have been 32, and from 2026 there will be 48.)

As a result, the quality is depleted. For this tournament, the concept of “Group of Death” is defined as 50% of the teams will not qualify for the tournament.

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There may be the same number of competitors for each World Cup; Eight to 10 teams with a chance of winning the tournament. At one time they were divided into four, then into six, and now into eight. The probability of finding two – or three – in the same group has steadily decreased.

The second reason is that it is distributed in different confederations. This is not the same as competitive expansion.

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Historically, the only real contenders for the World Cup have been from Europe and South America.

No African country has reached the semi-finals. Not a single Oceania team has reached the quarter-finals. Only one Asian team has reached the semi-finals – South Korea at home in 2002. And only one North American team has reached the semi-finals, the USA in 1930.

Bobby Charlton


England’s Bobby Charlton He fought Brazil’s Clodoaldo in the original ‘Team of Death’ in 1970 (Photo: Syndication/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

And while the South American team has expanded in line with the total number of nations for each tournament, the European quota has not been reached.

UEFA countries at the World Cup

Competition UEFA nations

In 1930

31%

In 1934

75%

In 1938

87%

In 1950

62%

In 1954

75%

In 1958

69%

In 1962

63%

In 1966

63%

In 1970

56%

In 1974

56%

In 1978

62%

In 1982

58%

In 1986

58%

In 1990

58%

In 1994

54%

In 1998

47%

2002

47%

In 2006

44%

2010

41%

2014

41%

2018

44%

2022

41%

FIFA has prioritized regional representation over quality. This is above all a the world cup, but this means that the overall quality is poor; When Saudi Arabia and Tunisia enter, Italy is not enough. That’s entirely fair, but it’s reasonable to say that the European champions would be the more obvious candidates for any group of death.

Indeed, the deadliest team in a major tournament came not at the World Cup, but at Euro 96. They included Germany (ranked second in the world), Russia (third), Italy (seventh) and the Czech Republic (10th) and produced the two finalists.

The third reason, and perhaps the most important, is the caste system.

Let’s go back to that original Death Squad in 1970. It was no accident that he produced that team of death in the 1970 World Cup, not 1962 or 1966. However, this lot was opened after an agreement could not be reached on the pre-1970 race process.

The result? The tournament’s most recent winners, England and Brazil, have been drawn in the same group as 1962 runners-up Czechoslovakia. Romania didn’t have much to fear in terms of reputation, although they were rarely out of position despite wins over Czechoslovakia and only one goal loss to England and Brazil. FIFA was determined not to repeat this and every draw since then has been seeded.

The seeds have taken various forms, but the system we’re used to consists of Pot 1 as the world level (plus hosts) and everyone else into geographic pots (rather than spreading more seeds through the levels).

So a team with a top seed plus a strong European side, a strong South American side and a strong African side would be able to place in the top 16 nations of the tournament.

That system was used until 2014, since 2018 things have changed. Now the drawing is spread by race, and the pots are determined not by geography, but by the world level.

This means that the deadliest team for the 2018 World Cup was significantly lower than in previous years. In fact, according to the world rankings, the third strongest team was weaker than the fourth strongest team.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4

In 1998

Germany (1)

England (6)

Colombia (9)

Mexico (11)

2002

Spain (1)

Mexico (9)

England (10)

Paraguay (14)

In 2006

Brazil (1)

America (9)

Netherlands (10)

Paraguay (15)

2010

Brazil (1)

France (9)

USA (10)

Cameroon (14)

2014

Spain (1)

Netherlands (8)

Chile (12)

America (13)

2018

Germany (1)

Spain (8)

Costa Rica (22)

Nigeria (41)

2022

Brazil (1)

Mexico (9)

Senegal (20)

Wales (18*)

But there is another complication with the 2022 World Cup – indicated by that asterisk.

Because some qualifiers have been postponed due to the pandemic – and the war has delayed Ukraine’s play-offs against Scotland and Wales – the draw for the 2022 World Cup was made before we knew the identity of the three teams who failed to make their qualifiers. Matches therefore, those qualifiers are placed into Pot 4 regardless of their ranking.

This was especially important in the case of Wales, who beat Ukraine to secure their place. Had that play-off been made before the draw, it would have put Wales in the 18th-placed Pot 3 side (and indeed would have put them in the Pot 2 side if 51st-placed Qatar had not been in Pot 1). . Instead, they were in Pot 4.

So whichever category Wales are placed in will be much more difficult than FIFA had originally thought. They are tied with England (ranked fifth), USA (15th) and Iran (21st). It may not be as deadly as it was in 1970, for example, but it’s stronger than anything four years ago – and that’s without taking into account the rivalry between England and Wales and tensions between the US and Iran.

Whether you consider Death Squad is a matter of opinion. But perhaps the expansion to 48 World Cups starting in 2026, combined with the geographical spread, could be more lethal than any World Cup team we’ll see again.

FIFA intends to adjust the tournament to 48 teams, using 16 teams, using three teams, and two teams advancing to the group stage. This has two implications for death groups.

First, the (highly unlikely) assumption that the tournament consists of 48 of the world’s top-ranked teams and the draw is seeded throughout, with each team ranked 33rd and below. In all likelihood, once you account for quotas from each confederation, it seems highly likely that the average rating of the Pot 3 sides will be in the 50s or 60s.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, when two of the three sides advance from each team, things get deadly. A 67 percent chance of growth simply doesn’t seem too risky. In the year By 2026 the team of death concept will be dead for sure.

(Photo by Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sports Images/Getty Images)



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