In the mega-events, teams 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, until 2018 the usual strategy was for each group to contain one seeded team and three unseeded teams, with the unseeded teams picked from separate regional confederations. Some North American, African, and Asian teams are significantly stronger than others.
The net result was that some groups may have had stronger teams than others.
From the 2018 edition onwards this system has been changed, with a distribution of teams based on the FIFA World Rankings introduced, but with continental limitations still to be retained.
In the FIFA World Cup – each preliminary group has four teams, two of which 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 additional facet from the expected “death” of the weak team!
There would be very few people available in modern-day who is not familiar with the term “Group of Death”. Whenever the greatest show on earth takes place every four, the focus of the world remains whether their team falls in the Group of Death or not. Even though, there exist some teams, who always try to portrait their team’s group as the toughest despite being in company with weak sides.
Very few know about the history of the origin of the term “Group of Death”.
The Final Draw of the World Cup 1970 took place in Mexico City on January 10 in the Maria Isabel Hotel, which served as FIFA’s headquarters during the competition.
Although it was reported in the build-up to the final draw that seedings would be used, as had been the case at the previous two World Cup Finals, the FIFA Organizing Committee ultimately announced that there would be no seeding of teams.
Instead, the 16 teams were divided into four ‘geographical groupings’, which also took into account the teams’ strengths and even political considerations; the system ensured that Israel and Morocco would not be drawn to face each other after Morocco had earlier threatened to withdraw from the tournament, as they had done from the Olympic football tournament two years earlier if that were the case.
The teams were drawn into the four groups, which had their locations defined in advance: Group 1 being staged in Mexico City, Group 2 in Puebla and Toluca, Group 3 in Guadalajara, and Group 4 in León. It was predetermined that the hosts Mexico would be in Group 1 and so based in the capital city and that England as holders would be based in Guadalajara, the tournament’s second-largest stadium.
The 10-year-old daughter of Guillermo Cañedo, President of the Mexican Football Federation and the Local Organising Committee, drew out the teams from four silver cups.
England were pitted against Brazil, Czechoslovakia, and Romania in Group 3.
“You may as well meet the bull at the beginning as at the end, “Brazil coach Joao Saldanha, later replaced by Mario Zagallo, said upon being notified of the draw for the 1970 World Cup. It was a view echoed by the England manager, Sir Alf Ramsey, “If we have to meet Brazil, we may as well meet them like this”.
Group 3 was termed as “Grupo de la Muerte” or “Group of Death” by the local journalists and since then this term is being widely until today.
The term was used yet again in Mexico 12 years later when Brazil were pitted against Italy and Argentina in Group C of the knockout stages. Until today, that group remains one of the toughest ever as it killed the dreams of many and ended Joga Bonito.
As The Guardian suggests, “Before the ranking system came into existence in 1993, the title surely must go to Argentina, Brazil, and Italy being drawn together in the second group stage of the 1982 World Cup, with only one to qualify. This system was only used once … perhaps because it killed off big teams rather too quickly”.
Grupo de la Muerte or the Group of Death originated in Mexico 70 and fifty years later the term is still alive and kicking – giving the experts and fans plenty to talk about and for some, it provides joy while for others it becomes a tragedy.
Note: Information gathered from Wikipedia