One of the most exciting things about the World Cup draw is guessing who is going to be in the ‘Group of Death’ and which group that will be.
Usually, there is not one outright ‘Group of Death’ – as there are several candidates which can take this title.
Here, through analysing the various groups and the definition of the ‘Group of Death’, a decision will be made on what is most likely to be next summer’s ‘Group of Death’.
Teams: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay and France
South Africa were, fittingly, the first side to be picked in the World Cup draw.
As the hosts, South Africa will be expected to, at least, reach the second round of the World Cup – as this has happened to other unfancied sides in the past such as Japan (joint hosts of the 2002 World Cup) and the United States (1994 World Cup hosts).
South Korea, as joint hosts, also reached the 2002 semi-finals, and France (1998 World Cup) and Denmark (Euro 1992) won the competitions they hosted. Belgium (joint hosts of Euro 2000), Switzerland and Austria (hosts of Euro 2008) all produced disappointing displays, though, and made early exists in the group stages.
Despite an improvement in form during the Confederations Cup – where they reached the semi-finals and were cruelly knocked out by Brazil, after a last-minute free-kick from Dani Alves – South Africa’s form has been poor.
They had an appalling run of form under previous manager Joel Santana (losing eight out of his nine last games in charge including defeats at the hands of Norway and Iceland) and the return of former manager Carlos Alberto has done little to improve matters.
South Africa face far superior opposition than the likes of Iceland and Jamaica, during this group stage, and they need to utilise their home advantage fully, if they are to progress further in this competition.
France qualified for the World Cup, after a highly controversial play-off victory against the Republic of Ireland.
France entered the play-offs after an unimpressive performance in their qualification group – which included defeats by Austria, draws with Romania, and narrow 1-0 victories over Lithuania and the Faroe Islands.
A recent defeat at the hands of Nigeria is a result that is unlikely to inject confidence, in addition to the undistinguished play-off performances against Ireland.
Despite this, France performed beyond expectations in the 2006 World Cup and they will be labelled the underdogs again.
France boast an ageing squad, dubious tactics and the leadership of the much- criticised Raymond Domenech, and whether France can reach a second successive World Cup Final appearance is questionable.
Judging by Group A, a second round appearance would be an achievement.
Like France, Mexico made qualifying for the World Cup a turbulent task.
Under Sven-Goran Eriksson, Mexico put together a disastrous run of one victory in seven qualification matches that had put Mexico’s qualification bid in turmoil.
After Eriksson was duly removed from his post, new manager Javier Aguirre has brought a new-found confidence in the Mexico camp and steered Mexico to their fifth consecutive World Cup appearance.
Mexico qualified in style, after winning four of their final five qualifiers. Their attacking credentials also returned with the 5-0 thrashing of the United States in July’s Gold Cup Final.
Despite the draw, Mexico will hoping to translate their recent form and confidence into a second-round appearance.
Uruguay again qualified for next year’s World Cup, via the South American play-offs.
The only surprise was that they did not face Australia, in the play-offs, as they have now moved to the Asian qualifying zone.
Uruguay are a solid unit, with the ability to torment defenders and score plenty of goals.
Atletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan and Ajax’s Luis Suarez will be looking to continue their lethal and prolific goalscoring form during the competition, and they have a good chance of doing this in Group A.
If Uruguay can find some form of consistency, something that was sorely missing during qualification, then they can be confident of progressing in the competition.
Group A is a tough group and looks like being a scrappy contest, as all four sides are capable of qualifying.
South Africa are not the strongest side and have not produced good form of late, but they are on home soil. France are also on poor form, but they do have experience to make an impact.
Uruguay and Mexico are solid, if unspectacular, World Cup sides that are unlikely to embarrass themselves.
It is difficult to predict who can make it out of this group, but it cannot be considered as a “Group of Death”.
This is because none of the sides can be considered as “world class”, at the minute, and it is unlikely that any of the sides will progress further than the second round.
Teams: Germany, Australia, Ghana and Serbia
It is always been noted that no-one should underestimate Germany when predicting likely World Cup Finalists.
This is in addition to reaching several finals of recent European Championships (being runners-up in 1992 and 2008, and winning the tournament in 1996).
Under Joachim Low,
Germany have followed in the footsteps of predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann by continuing his strand of highly technical attacking football.
There, however, have been criticisms of Low’s rigid tactics and they could find themselves unstuck (like they did, as losing finalists, in the Euro 2008 final with Spain) against stronger attacking teams. Germany are likely to have a strong team ethic, however, due to the tragic death of the highly-rated Robert Enke.
It is likely that Germany will progress far in this competition but they could find themselves facing a difficult second round clash – if they do not analyse the strengths of Ghana, Serbia and Australia.
It has been shown, in the past, that Germany’s weaknesses can be ruthlessly exposed.
Although the Ivory Coast were seen as the African group to avoid, during the draw, only a fool would be happy to face Ghana. They became the first African side to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, after comfortably winning their qualifying group with style and flair.
Boasting a fine midfield in Sulley Muntari, Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien, Ghana should not enter this group in fear.
Although they face a difficult group, Ghana progressed into the second round in the 2006 World Cup after facing an equally difficult group.
Despite losing to eventual winners Italy, Ghana produced excellent victories over the much-fancied Czech Republic and United States to qualify for the second round from Group E.
If Essien maintains his form as Ghana’s lynch-pin, they have the ideal opportunity to progress again in a very competitive group.
Similarly, it be foolish to write Serbia off after their fine form in the past 18 months and they could be one of the surprise packages this summer.
Although the presence of Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic is a necessity for Serbia, if they are to repeat their defensive displays during the 2006 World Cup qualifiers (as Serbia and Montenegro they conceded only one goal and finished above Euro 2008 winners Spain), they have built a renaissance during the past year with a focus on free-flowing attacking football.
As well as topping their qualifying group (which included France), they notched up several excellent victories over tough opponents including South Korea, Austria (twice), Sweden, Bulgaria (a 6-1 rout) and Romania (a 5-0 thrashing).
Serbia have built this success by effectively utilising an attacking midfield that is full of goals – including the likes of Milan Jovanovic, Dejan Stankovic, Milos Krasic and Nenad Milijas.
Striker Danko Lazovic’s excellent form for PSV this season is also something that should worry Serbia’s opponents greatly.
Traditionally, the surprise teams in the World Cup are those that have played creative football with great flair (see Croatia in 1998; South Korea and Turkey in 2002), so it is important not to underestimate Serbia as they increasingly look like a force to be reckoned with.
Serbia certainly have the potential to top this group and, if they face the right side in the second round, it would not be a surprise to see them in the latter stages of the competition.
Australia could be seen as the least-fancied side in this group, despite the presence of Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell.
Although initially struggling in their new Asian qualifying group, due to the change in climate and location, Pim Verbeek’s men eventually qualified for the 2010 World Cup with ease.
This was due to a well-organised defence, to the extent of only conceding one goal and remaining unbeaten during the fourth round Asian qualifiers.
While not as technical as the other sides in Group D, Australia will be a hard side to beat and could qualify for the second round if they manage to keep clean sheets.
Australia do not look like a side with a lot of goals in them, but they could progress if they utilise their strengths effectively.
Group D does feel like the “Group of Death”, here, as it will be very difficult to predict who will qualify for the second round.
Several shocks are certainly in store as, although Germany will be the favourites to qualify, they need to ensure that Ghana and Serbia do not catch them on the break with their energetic play.
In what promises to be a classic group, Australia could also qualify if they grind out results and frustrate their opponents.
The unfancied Australia could be the surprise success of the tournament, as it looks like being a very competitive group.
Teams: Brazil, Ivory Coast, North Korea, Portugal
Brazil will enter the 2010 World Cup as one of the overwhelming favourites to win the World Cup.
This is not surprising, given recent displays. Although coach Dunga has received criticism for not allowing Brazil to play their famed style of free-flowing football, there is no denying that the squad is the most organised it has been for years.
The team is strongly balanced in both defence and attack, and the team can counter-attack with devastating effect.
They have the ability to close defences down, whilst being able to beat defences at the most unpredictable moment.
They have also proved that they can beat the very best, after comprehensively beating World Cup holders Italy twice, in the past year, as well as Argentina and an under-strength England side (although Brazil were also without key players in this match).
Recent results have certainly been most impressive.
They are certainly one of the teams to watch and should be the team to beat. It would be one of the great World Cup shocks, if they failed to top this group.
On the other hand, Portugal – also famed for their exciting brand of football – ensured that they qualified the hard way.
Despite their struggle to qualify – which included losing against Denmark, and embarrassing draws at Albania and Estonia (albeit, with an under-strength side) – Portugal have the obvious attacking talents to progress in this competition.
However, Carlos Queiroz needs to ensure that he gets the best out of his players.
There certainly has been a lack of team ethic and spirit, with players like Cristiano Ronaldo often playing for themselves rather than the team. This was seen in their draw with Albania.
Queiroz has a reputation of just falling just short of what is required, in his managerial history, and needs to use his coaching qualities to get the team playing together as a team.
Otherwise, Portugal could be outplayed by Brazil and Ivory Coast.
Ivory Coast came into the World Cup draw, as the most feared African nation. This is not surprising, seeing that the Ivory Coast are finally looking like the finished article.
With a strike force containing Bakari Kone, Aruna Dindane and Abdul Keita, the Ivory Coast are looking like an attacking force to be reckoned with.
While many are tipping Portugal to be competitive in this group, due to the undoubted talents of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Ivory Coast up-front have the in-form Didier Drogba at their disposal.
If Drogba can translate his fantastic form for Chelsea, during the World Cup, then he could be the potential player of the tournament.
It is still unknown, though, whether Drogba, alone, can fire the talented African side to the latter stages.
Unlike Portugal, the Ivory Coast gelled well as a team during the qualification process. They were unbeaten during qualification and notched up several impressive victories, including 5-0 thrashings of Malawi and Burkina Faso.
If the Ivory Coast can continue their slow improvement, and if Portugal remains as inconsistent as ever, this group could be easy to predict.
The final team in Group G is North Korea. North Korea qualified for the World Cup, after knocking long-time World Cup whipping boys Saudi Arabia out on goal difference.
This is following an undistinguished final qualifying round record of three draws, three victories and two defeats.
While Kim Jong-Hun’s side have some talent, and whilst there is a chance of them causing an upset, it seems highly unlikely that North Korea will qualify to the second round – especially when they are facing the likes of Portugal, Brazil and the Ivory Coast.
FC Rostov ‘s Hong Yong-Jo needs to continue his fine goalscoring record of 9 goals in 11 games if North Korea are to make their second foray in the World Cup a success.
Whilst this group is widely seen as the “Group of Death”, its argument for this is weakened due to the inclusion of North Korea.
Generally for a group to be classed as “The Group of Death”, all four teams should have some chance of making it through to the second round
Due to North Korea’s comparable lack of talent to the other sides, qualification seems highly unlikely.
Portugal’s downturn of form, coupled with an ageing squad, makes this group less competitive than it may first seem. Unless Portugal start to play more as a team, their stay in South Africa could be short.
The Overall Verdict
Group A is looking very tight but, considering that France may not be considered as a major contender any more, it is looking far inferior than a “Group of Death” would normally look like.
Even if the teams are of equal ability, the absence of a ‘world-class’ side means that Group A is unlikely to be the “Group of Death”.
Group G could also be considered as the “Group of Death”, but this depends on Portugal’s form as it is looking less likely that they will make a big impact this summer.
However, like France and Germany in the 2006 World Cup, they may outperform expectations.
At the minute, though, Brazil and the Ivory Coast are looking likely candidates to qualify.
All three groups will be closely fought and could be considered as the “Group of Death”, but Group D could well be this summer’s deadliest group.
All of the four sides are strong and they all have the potential to make a positive impact – even if Serbia, Ghana and Australia are not massive footballing nations.
The “Group of Death” does not look as deadly as it could have been, but this old phrase will not be made redundant this summer.