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A group of death in a multi-stage tournament is a group which is unusually competitive, because the number of strong competitors in the group is greater than the number of qualifying places available for the next phase of the tournament. Thus, in the group phase, one or more strong competitors in the "group of death" will necessarily be eliminated, who would otherwise have been expected to progress further in the tournament. The informal term was first used for groups in the FIFA World Cup finals. It is now also used in other association football tournaments and other sports.
After the draw for a tournament has been made, debates often arise about which of the preliminary groups is "the" group of death. This happens for several reasons: in part, from more general debates about the relative strengths of the various competitors; but, additionally, because there is no exact definition of the term "group of death". Sometimes the term simply means the group with the strongest competitors, implying there is always precisely one such group; other definitions allow for multiple groups of death, and for none at all. The term is sometimes derided as a journalistic cliché or oversimplification.
The term "group of death" was coined (as Spanish grupo de la muerte) by Mexican journalists for Group 3 of the 1970 World Cup. This featured reigning champions England, favourites and eventual champions Brazil, 1962 runners-up Czechoslovakia, and Romania.
It was used again in Mexico for the second-phase Group C in the 1982 World Cup in Spain. This grouped defending champions Argentina, the eventual champions Italy, and Brazil. In 2007, The Guardian called this the deadliest-ever Group of Death.
It was popularized after the draw for the 1986 FIFA World Cup when Uruguay manager Omar Borrás so described Group E, which included Uruguay, West Germany, Denmark, and Scotland. As with the 1970 group, this was the only one with all four teams from Europe and South America. The label was widely repeated by the English-language media. By the 1986 tournament rules, two or three of the four teams in each group would progress to the knockout phase; in the event, Scotland was the only team not to qualify from the prototypical "group of death". Uruguay were criticized for persistent foul play in the decisive match with Scotland; Borrás was suspended for retorting, "The Group of Death? Yes, there was a murderer on the field today. The referee."
Tournaments are often seeded to provide an even distribution of strong and weak competitors across all preliminary groups. However, in association football, the ranking methods used for seeding may be crude. In the World Cup, the usual strategy is for each group to contain one seeded team and three unseeded teams, the unseeded teams picked from separate regional confederations. Some CONCACAF, African and Asian teams are significantly stronger than others. The net result is that some groups may have stronger teams than others.
The reigning champion and the host nation or nations are traditionally among the seeds. In the case of Euro 2008, this meant three of the four seeds were among the weakest teams in the tournament: hosts Austria and Switzerland, and surprise 2004 champions Greece. 2006 World Cup finalists France and Italy were unseeded and ended up in Group C with Netherlands and Romania. This was considered a "group of death" with Romania as underdogs against three of Europe's top sides.
In the World Cup finals, the European Championships, and the Champions League, each preliminary group has four teams, of which two qualify for the knockout phase. Some sources imply all four teams must be in contention for a "group of death"; others allow for three teams fighting for two places, with one underdog making up the numbers. In the latter case, the term gains an addition facet from the expected "death" of the weak team: Ally McCoist and the Glasgow Herald described Euro 1992 Group B as the "Group of Certain Death", because Scotland were grouped with Netherlands, Germany, and the CIS. More extreme still, Ian Paul suggested Semi-final Group B of the 1992–93 UEFA Champions League was a "group of death" for three of the four teams, with Milan almost sure to top the group and reach the final. (Milan did in fact win all six matches against IFK Göteborg, Porto, and PSV Eindhoven.)
In the case of UEFA qualifying tournaments, groups have deeper seeding and always feature some weaker teams. For example, Qualifying Group B for Euro 2008 was dubbed the "group of death" in Scotland because Scotland were drawn against Italy, France, and Ukraine, respectively champion, finalist, and quarter-finalist at the 2006 World Cup; the presence in the group of Lithuania, Georgia, Faroe Islands did not contribute to the label.
There is often an assumption that a tournament has precisely one Group of Death. In the 1994 World Cup, Group E (Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Norway) was often given the label; Brazil's coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said it was Group B (Brazil, Russia, Cameroon, Sweden); some reporters suggested both were "groups of death".
On the other hand, after the draw for the 2010 World Cup finals, some commentators said there was no group of death. Sports Illustrated said Group G was the group of death because it had two of the FIFA top 5 in Brazil and Portugal and the second-ranked African team in Ivory Coast; it described fourth team North Korea as "unenviable underdog". On the other hand, Andrew Downie of the Christian Science Monitor said "No self-respecting Group of Death would be caught dead with North Korea in it ... As far as I'm concerned, there is no Group of Death in this World Cup."
The "Group of Death" may simply be the one with the strongest teams, or the most strong teams. Using FIFA World Rankings as a measure of the strength of the teams, The Guardian calculated in 2007 that the strongest "Group of Death" was Euro 1996 Group C. The teams (and world rankings) were Germany (2), Russia (3), Italy (7), and Czech Republic (10). This record was exceeded by the May 2012 rankings for Euro 2012 Group B, with Germany (2), The Netherlands (4), Portugal (5) and Denmark (10), but not the June rankings immediately before the tournament (3, 4, 10, 9 respectively) In women's football, 2007 World Cup Group B featured three of the top five teams in the FIFA Women's World Rankings entering the tournament —the USA (1), Sweden (3), and North Korea (5)— with Nigeria (24) being the "minnows".
There may be an emphasis on the "group of death" having a tight finish, with all four teams in contention. This was the case in Group F of the 1990 World Cup, in which five of the six matches were drawn, and in Group E of the 1994 World Cup, when all four teams finished level on points and goal difference.
However, the label is usually applied in anticipation of the tournament rather than in retrospect. Simon Burnton comments, "Inevitably, one of the big teams involved gets so scared about being in the Group of Death that they play really badly, meaning not only that they go home in disappointment and disgrace, but that the group turns out not to be so very troublesome after all.". David Lacey said, "Draws may nominate a group of death but results decide its real mortality rating. France and Argentina found this out in Japan." Lacey also said, "There are groups of death and groups of death wishes. In Euro 2000 Group D looked daunting but was shrugged aside by Netherlands, the co-hosts, and France, the eventual champions, with the Czechs, runners-up in 1996, and the Danes, winners in 1992, offering scant resistance. Group A turned out to be the killer."
Lack of consensus about which is the group of death can fuel debates among fans and journalists. In the 2002 World Cup, The Guardian called Group F (Sweden, England, Argentina, Nigeria) "the group of death" and Group E (Germany, Ireland Rep, Cameroon, Saudi Arabia) "The other Group of Death". South Koreans called Group D (Korea Rep, United States, Portugal, Poland) the "Real Group of Death". In the 2006 World Cup, both Group C (Argentina, Netherlands, Côte d'Ivoire, Serbia and Montenegro) and Group E (Italy, Ghana, Czech Republic, United States) were nominated as "group of death". In the 2014 World Cup, three groups were acknowledged in the media as "group of death": Group B (Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia), Group D (Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy), and Group G (Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States); Group G was considered especially difficult in the US, which had been eliminated by its "weakest" team, Ghana, in each of the past two tournaments.
Fans may describe as the "group of death" any tough group which contains their favoured team. George Vecsey says, "In soccer, every nation always thinks it has been stiffed into the toughest pool, the Group of Death." In this sense, David Warren comments that a "top seeding in a finals group gives a country a good chance to advance and the best chance to avoid a so-called group of death".
There's also a countermovement part of the debate. After the final draw of the 2014 World Cup, the Belgian media spoke of a "fortunate group" for the 'Red Devils', while the French media spoke of "the most affordable" group for 'Les Bleus'. Swiss media spoke of the national team, part of Group E, as "far from being [in] the group of 'death'". At the same time Vicente del Bosque, head of the Spanish national football team (part of Group B, considered one of the groups of death), insisted that "Spain [is] not in [the] 'Group of Death'. We have to define it as complicated but I don't believe this is the Group of Death. There are others very hard. But our group is difficult."
The label "group of death" has been used in other sports than association football; for example:
"Group of death" has occasionally been used to characterise a qualifying group in some other way. The southern section preliminary round Group 5 of the 1990-91 Leyland DAF Cup had lowly teams replaying poorly-attended matches; after many postponements, Robert Pryce commented: "The Leyland Daf Cup Southern Section preliminary round's Group of Death has achieved almost total rigor mortis."
Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh described Euro 1992 qualifying Group 2 as a "group of death" in a different sense because of the lack of a glamorous opponent "to get people out of the house and into Hampden Park." The group combined Bulgaria, Romania, San Marino, Scotland, and Switzerland.
The Asian final qualifying group for the 1994 World Cup featured two sets of militantly hostile neighbours: Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia; and North Korea, South Korea, and Japan. This was called the "group of death" for black humour.
A similar quip was made of the UEFA qualifying group 1 for the 1998 World Cup:
|“||The toughest group in the World Cup qualifying competition is the Group of Death. For the 1998 qualifiers, group one takes the title with ease. Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia were drawn in group one. . . . There was, mercifully, no Serb-dominated rump Yugoslavia drawn in the same group. But there was, as far as the others are concerned, the next worse thing: the Greeks. They share the Orthodox religion with the Serbs, and give them strong diplomatic support. Pity Denmark, the reigning European champions, who make up the group.||”|
Occasionally, alternatives to "group of death" are proffered. Javier Clemente said of 1998 World Cup Group D, "This is not the group of death, as some people have said. It is the group of heart attacks" John Harrell said of 1994 World Cup Group E, "The characterization might be a bit harsh. Perhaps the 'Group of Surprises' is a better term."
Sometimes the excitement of a close contest between high-quality teams has suggested the positive "group of life" is more appropriate than "group of death". Of 2002 World Cup Group F, Paul Wilson said, "England's group is not so much the group of death as the group of life, for few others promise any drama" Of 2006 World Cup Group C, Gary Lineker said after Argentina's demolition of Serbia and Montenegro, "Argentina produced one of the great performances in recent World Cup history. The group of death has become the group of life."
However, "Group of Life" has also been used as the opposite of "Group of Death", to mean an easy group with weak teams: examples include 2002 World Cup Group H; 2006 World Cup UEFA qualifying Group 6; 2006 World Cup Group D; and 2010 World Cup Group C. Chuck Culpepper wrote of 2006 World Cup Group B, 'If each World Cup draw brings a "Group of Death," anointed for its incomparable rigor among the eight groups, England 2006 surely occupies the Group of Life, or the Group of Tranquillity, or the Group of So Few Worries We Spent All Day Yesterday Following the Metatarsal Melodrama Rather Than Worry About Trinidad and Tobago.'
Before the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament draw, financial writer Chris Sloley coined the term "Group of Debt" for a possible group comprising PIIGS indebted countries; in the event, three of these (Spain, Italy and the Republic of Ireland) were grouped together with Croatia in Group C, while Greece and Portugal were in other groups.
Group G in the 2013-2014 UEFA Champions League, competed between Barcelona, A.C. Milan, Ajax and Celtic, was coined by many as the "Group of Champions" due to the four teams having won the European Cup/Trophy 16 times between them.
If that notorious nickname of 1986, "The Group of Death," which was used to describe Scotland's section in the World Cup finals in Mexico, was the child of an over-enthusiastic hack, three of the teams in Group B of the Champions' League would consider it a mild moniker for their section.
American television, leaving no cliche unturned, promptly christened it the group of death.
Many refer to Group E at this summer's World Cup as the "Group of Death." It's the strongest by far of the six four-team alignments, and at least one well-regarded team thus will not advance to the second round. The characterization might be a bit harsh. Perhaps the "Group of Surprises" is a better term.
The Group of Death has always been an ugly misnomer, although as every big tournament now seems obliged to identify its corpses early, the World Cup has to have one.
Saldanha had no argument with the journalists who quickly christened the Group of Death.
Group of Death - The term 'Group of Death' was first coined by the Mexican press in 1970 to describe Group 3
Se puede decir que el primer "Grupo de la Muerte" en la historia lo fue el 3
Only the top team in this group of death would qualify for the semi-finals.
Omar Borras, who managed the Uruguayans in the 1986 World Cup, went into the tournament remarking that their first-round draw with West Germany, Scotland and Denmark was "the group of death"
West Germany will play in Group F, dubbed The Group of Death because of the strength of its four teams. The others are Uruguay, Scotland team and Denmark.
Uruguay is part of the demanding Group E — known as the Group of Death — along with West Germany, Denmark and Scotland.
Group E, comprising Denmark, Scotland, West Germany and Uruguay, has been labeled the "Group of Death" because of the strength of the teams.
Group E (Queretaro, Nezahualcoyotl) This has come to be known as El Grupo de la Muerte (The Group of Death) because three of the top 10 teams are in it.
The game featured two teams from the Group of Death, so called because of the quality of the four squads. But the term assumed more sinister connotations as one tackle followed another.
Then there was Alex Ferguson of Scotland, whose team had the misfortune of competing with Denmark, West Germany and Uruguay in what became known as the "Group of Death."
The Scots would be extremely unlucky to get a 1990 equivalent of Mexico's 'Group of death' when they found themselves facing Uruguay, West Germany and Denmark.
Romania are the unlucky team to be in Group C, the inevitable "Group of Death"[dead link]
We should back the underdog - Romania is in the group of death with France, Italy and the Netherlands, and they need all the help they can get.
Group E was the "Group of Death," a group with no weaklings, a group in which any of the four teams could, on a given day, beat any other.
Group E - dubbed the "Group of Death" because of its top-to-bottom competitiveness
We've jumped out of what they called the group of death in 1986 into the group of certain death.
It was said before Scotland's participation in the finals of the 1986 World Cup that, having been drawn with Denmark, Germany and Uruguay, they had been placed in the Group of Death, but this time it could be said they are in the Group of Certain Death.
a tough Euro 2008 qualifying group which will see his side face France, Italy and Ukraine
Group of Death: A regular visitor to the language of football, this nice piece of hyperbole appears whenever World Cup draws are held, but can make an intermediate appearance at European Championships or other regional tournaments too. It is so familiar that commentators promptly debate which of the groups drawn might be the Group of Death, as though it were a title which has to be assigned to one of them
Every soccer tournament has one
Reyna ... has maintained all along that the Americans were drawn into this year's Group of Death at the World Cup, even though Argentina and the Netherlands were drawn together in a different group. And the tangled results in the United States' group seem only to prove his point. ... The group is the only one of the eight four-team clusters to have all four teams in contention entering the final games.
By definition, every World Cup draw must have a Group of Death, a phrase translated into virtually every language — the Todesgruppe, they were calling it around here.
The draw with Mexico left the Italians in third place in the so-called Group of Death.
Group E, otherwise known as the "Group of Death," lived up to its name. All four teams in the group - Mexico, Ireland, Italy and Norway - had a 1-1-1 record and four points each.
Group E, dubbed the 'group of death' because of the high calibre of its teams.
the traditional nickname, "Group of Death"
The danger of Group E was recognized as soon as it was announced at the tournament draw last December. Italy, Ireland, Norway and Mexico were immediately dubbed members of "The Group of Death." The name stuck.
There are six first-round groups in the World Cup tournament. It has been a tournament tradition to look at the assignments and to refer to one of the six as the "Group of Death."
Mexico will play in the World Cup's Group E, which includes Italy, Ireland and Norway and is known as the "Group of Death" because three teams are ranked among the top 15 in the world.
Group E: Italy, Ireland, Norway, Mexico. Probably the toughest group. Some analysts already are calling it the group of death, as all four teams are capable of advancing to the later rounds.
Some are calling it the "Group of Death," if only because at most three of the four can advance to the second round. Meaning: At least one of them won't.
Already, it's being labeled the Group of Death. Group E contains three of the top 10 teams in the current world ratings — No. 2 Italy, No. 4 Norway and No. 10 Ireland. Meanwhile, Mexico won the CONCACAF Gold Cup over the summer and made a very good showing at the Copa America.
Brazil were drawn in the world cup group which coach Carlos Alberto Parreira called 'the group of death'. Brazil plays Russia, Cameroon and Sweden in Group B."
There is always one "group of death" in soccer's World Cups. In the US next year there may be two. making Brazil's Group B and Italy's Group E potentially the toughest.
TWO "groups of death" emerged from the Nevada desert in yesterday's soccer World Cup draw. [...] The draw made Brazil's Group B and Italy's Group E the toughest.
He believes that there is no Group of Death but singled out Group G as a major battlefield.
At the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup, they call Group B the Group of Death because its quartet of high-ranked and unpredictable teams are capable of defeating any opponent. . . . But after Tuesday's pair of gloomy, rain-drenched opening ties [i.e. draws], Group B has suddenly become sudden death.
The Group of Death, as the Italians call the World Cup group confined to the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, promises to come to the most dramatic conclusion of the first round. The four teams are inseparable and, whatever the results this weekend, the permutations cannot be fully unravelled until the closing fixtures on June 21.
People love talking about groups of death at European Championships, World Cups and even the Champions League.
Compared to England's group of death, this [sc. Group H] is a group of life.
No World Cup is complete without either a Group of Death or a sticker album, and Group C delivers both items
China was 17th at Barcelona and slotted in what coach Jiang Xingquan calls the group of death, against three teams China has never bested.
Georgetown and Maryland, of course, is in that Group of Death Midwest region where you've got Tennessee, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, a totally known but damn good Iowa State team. Why the NCAA Tournament would stack the region where the overall No. 1 is I don't know
the Midwest bracket, dubbed "The Group of Death" by those who follow World Cup soccer
The Shockers did earn a No. 1 seed with an undefeated season. But they were given the "Group of Death" bracket with No. 8 Kentucky (if it gets past Kansas State), No. 4 Louisville, No. 3 Duke and No. 2 Michigan. Wow.
Carling insists that England's pool is "the group of death", rather than the section containing Australia, South Africa, Canada and Romania which already has been given that lurid tag
[Ireland] are in the so-called Group of Death with Argentina and the host nation.
If Ireland is in the inevitable group of death alongside France and Argentina, then England's is the group of attrition
Wales tackle France in our opening fixture in what has chillingly been dubbed the Group of Death.
'A' is the group of death - Australia, New Zealand, England and Papua New Guinea
Having survived the “group of death” in the opening round, the West Indies find themselves in a similar position at the super eight stage
Meanwhile in Group G at Oslo — the hotly contested “Group of Death”
I called this the group of death because there wasn't a big country to brighten it, to capture the imagination, to get people out of the house and into Hampden Park. Romania and Bulgaria have outstanding talents but they are not a draw. The Swiss are the same, emergent and improving, but not attractive. A France, an Italy, a Germany, even an England in our case, was needed to lift the thing. But we have one last chore and the Scotland team I wanted is here.
Western commentators dubbed the 13 day tournament in Qatar the "Group of Death" since fate had brought together six potentially volatile elements.
The Iraq and Iran footballers have been breakfasting together, chatting even, part of a bizarre logistical cocktail in which the so-called 'group of death' - also including Saudi Arabia, North and South Korea and Japan - have been billeted in the same hotel.
The six have been nicknamed the Group of Death, writes Mark Skipworth in The Sunday Times of London. Three of the six - Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia - have recently been at war and two others - North and South Korea - have never officially ended their state of conflict. (The sixth team is from Japan.)
what had turned out to be the World Cup’s Group Of Life. The supporters of all four competing nations would have woken up in various cities in Germany yesterday morning with dreams of further glory in their minds.
Tipped to make it through to the knockout stages in only their second World Cup thanks to a very favourable draw into the ‘Group of Life’
a qualifying pool so benignly unthreatening it might have been known as the Group of Life
If Group C is the 'Group of Death' then this is the 'Group of Life'
Lucky England secure place in 'group of life' in football 2010 World Cup draw
the Mexicans also gave a title to 1986's Group Six. England, Poland, Portugal and Morocco, the locals in Monterrey were fond of saying, was the `Group of Sleep'.[dead link]
the dreadfully dull "Group of Sleep"