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Who really received the toughest World Cup draw?

FIFAWorldCupDrawUSA4 (Getty)


Plenty has been discussed about the U.S. Men’s National Team’s difficult draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but did they really come off worst out of all 32 nations heading to Brazil?

British newspaper The Guardian’s did its best to answer that question, and evaluated each nation’s strength of schedule, strength of group, and the strength of each individual group stage match.

The results, which use FIFA’s November world rankings points total for each team, aren’t very positive for the USMNT, but they fared better than some other nations bound for Brazil.

The Guardian’s findings show that the U.S. ended up with the third-worst draw, behind Ghana and Australia. Australia has to contend with powerhouses Spain, the Netherlands, and Chile. The findings also state that Group G is in fact the strongest group in the World Cup and that two of the USMNT’s group stage games (against Germany and Portugal) are among the seven strongest matches.

At the other end of the spectrum, statistics showed that Argentina received the easiest draw, followed by Belgium, which is in the weakest group, and Switzerland. And while Spain’s opening match against the Netherlands is rated as the strongest in the group stage, Iran vs. Nigeria and South Korea vs. Algeria are considered the two weakest.

Go check out the interactive piece from The Guardian and come back here and share your thoughts in the comments section below.


  1. Much of this is based on the reputation and perception, not teams’ actual strengths. For example, Russia finished ahead of Portugal in their qualifying group, yet Portugal is referred to as a heavyweight, one of the tougher matchups, while Russia is dismissed as one of the weaker European sides.

  2. Errgh! Another in-depth look at the World Cup based on universally-ridiculed FIFA rankings. Analysis can only be as good as the data its based on, which in this case is nearly worthless. Could we have an in-depth interactive analysis based on the predictions of a German octopus please?

    If that weren’t already bad enough, the other serious flaw in this kind of analysis is that it ignores the actual schedule of the matches and other compounding factors (e.g., travel time, crowd support, etc.). The later is more difficult to quantify, but the former is not: how badly does team A have to win their 3rd match versus team B? Will team C play for a draw against team D in their first match, or go for the win?

    • “how badly does team A have to win their 3rd match versus team B? Will team C play for a draw against team D in their first match, or go for the win?”

      Obviously, you can’t analyze that first question until after the games start. And the second one is hard to analyze this far ahead since injuries will very likely affect all the teams and that will affect their philosophy.

      As for which group is tougher, it’s irrelevant. The US is stuck with it. As best as I can tell this USMNT edition is not that good at being conservative, going for the draw. Of course they were set up conservatively against Italy with D. Williams in midfield to prevent the Italians from overrunning the midfield as they like to do and it worked but this US team generally is best being aggressive. However if conditions are hot and humid they can’t be going for it all the time as they would like.

      It will be interesting.

  3. Top to bottom, group G is the toughest. Germany are a tournament favorite and arguably the best team in Europe. The USA is the best team in CONCACAF and Ghana is the best team from Africa. Portugal,…on top of being a strong team has,…arguably,…the best player in the world.

    Based on the way the pots were constructed,….this is pretty close to being the complete nightmare scenario.

  4. Depending on if other nations see the United States and Portugal as strong teams, then Group G can be considered a Group of Death. The other groups B and D have 3 strong teams plus countries they consider to be minnows (Australia and Costa Rica). Though we know that the Costa Ricans shouldn’t taken lightly. But, in our group we have Ghana, which is not a elite team per se, but I would consider them to be tough and the strongest Africa can offer. I’d say that there are 3 groups of death, with ours being the most balanced. I see the group D teams capable of reaching the semis but not reach the final. Group B has both 2010 wc finalists and Chile, a side that even Del Bosque of Spain said that he did not want to face.

  5. You don’t have to go too far back to find a group that was at least as strong as group G. In Euro 2010, group C had Germany, Portugal, Netherlands and Denmark. Both groups have Germany and Portugal. Netherlands is much stronger team than either US or Ghana, and Denmark is roughly comparable to Ghana (they are next to each other in FIFA rankings). My ultimate group of death is the three team group at WC1982, which had only one team advancing. The group included the defending champion Argentina (with young Maradona), Brazil (Zico, Socrates, Falcao, etc) which was perhaps the most talented team in the tournament, and the eventual WC82 winner Italy (with Rossi, Zoff, Gentile, etc).

  6. Groups B, D, and G all fit the bill for what qualifies as a typical “Group of Death” in my book. I don’t know why we can’t just say we have multiple Groups of Death since that’s pretty much what we have and honestly most people knew that could happen going in. All three groups are going to be crazy.

    Groups B and D are your more typical Groups of Death (3 powers fighting for 2 spots plus a relative minnow that could play spoiler) but I can’t remember a group in any tournament that has the depth 1-4 that G has. You have one of the top 3 teams in the world, a traditionally strong European team that would shock no one if they made a deep run in any tournament and just happens to have one of the best 2 players in the world, a very strong African team, and the current North American champions. People might like to scoff at the US and Ghana but I don’t think there’s a team in the world that would want to play either of them over Australia or Costa Rica. People seem to keep forgetting that all four teams in G advanced out of the group stage in 2010 and while I can’t speak for Ghana I’ll guarantee you the 2014 USA team is deeper and better than the 2010 team. (And yes I know there’s no way to prove that, but c’mon…)

    • Well, based on FIFA ratings we are #14 and Ghana is #24. The article IS based on those ratings. If you look at the players for the two teams this gets much more complicated. In reality it will simply come down to who has a good day on June 16! Klinsi better have us ready. Let’s hope there are no significant injuries, especially at the last minute to throw off our plans.

  7. switch Portugal and Bosnia or USA and Iran and both group G and F look more reasonable..

    instead of the ping pong ball lottery they should allow the Federations to draw themselves.. kind like a draft. Pot by Pot the team pick which group they would like to play in based on opponents and venues.. just an idea..

  8. With a headline like this, I fully expected the article to say that Group G is NOT the group of death. Alas, I just wasted 5 minutes of my time relearning that yes, the USA is in the group of death.

    A few tidbits:

    – “Despite being widely recognized as the “group of death,” Group B has lower average ranking points than Group G.” Always thought G was widely recognized.

    – G has the entire group in the top 9 of strength of schedule

    – G has 4 of the top 10 toughest matches

    – We didn’t learn anything.

    • a Group of Death is a group where there are 3 or 4 teams that are equally strong with no clear favorite to be at the top, group G isn’t a GOD simply because Portugal and Germany are vastly superior to Ghana and the US.

      • Germany, yes.

        Portugal, no.

        It is really easy to envision a scenario where GHA or USA go through instead of Portugal. Heck… If GER has a stinker of a match, they could be needing points on the final match day to go through. Hope not though…

      • From 2004 onward, Portugal has made the knockout round in every tournament they have been in. They are due for a bad tournament. Every team has a stinker now and then (well, except maybe Germany and Brazil who always make it deep into the tourney).

        Given that the tournament is outside Europe and under hot weather conditions, I don’t think it is absurd to think that Portugal could have a slipup and go out in the group stage.

      • I hope people continue to sleep on the US’ chances, it only adds fuel to the fire! I never understood how folks make these silly predictions about outcomes in the sport of soccer, where anything can happen and in a tourney like the WC where teams play tighter! If history means anything the US should do well against the likes of Portugal and even Germany….Ghana, now that’s my worry!!!

      • In the October rankings, the ones used for the world cup because of the skewed nature of the November rankings, Portugal was exactly one place behind the USA. To say that Portugal is miles ahead of the USA is not true and likely a sign of eurobias

    • Wow – really? Thanks HoboMike – I found this informational and fun – Its nice to see something written about the groups from an outside source to see how they judge the groups as well.

      Even though I knew – say that the Netherlands/Spain game would be the toughest of all group games – its nice to see the logic behind why it is and what it compares to.

      To the SBI staff – thanks for the article – it was a much enjoyed view into the groups.

    • That is true about Australia. We are in a “Group of Death” because all of the teams involved are all strong teams, with an edge given to the Germans and Portuguese because of their higher FIFA ranking, players, and the overall history of their programs.

      • Perhaps but how conditions could effect the European teams could play as a factor. You can’t have a slow start in this group and there’s zero room for mistakes, even for a team like Germany.

      • Most European teams, if not all, are not used to playing in the hot and humid tropical weather that is the case Brazil. Still, I do believe overall team strength is more important. All four teams have a legitimate chance of advancing. Germany, on paper, has the best squad from their usual starting eleven to their backup players. Portugal, is a dangerous team with Ronaldo, without him they are an average team at best but could still challenge. Ghana is a athletically gifted squad but they can be neutralized if we can possess the ball well. I would like for the U.S. to win every game but realistically we can beat Portugal and Ghana. The Germany game could be anyone’s guess.

      • Our games are so close to the equator that “winter” has absolutely no meaning. It is going to be hot and humid as can be and that is a good thing because our guys have experience playing in those conditions.

      • Germany plays in Salvador, Fortaleza, Recife. No winter there.

        Portugal plays in Salvador, Manaus, Brasilia. Only Brasilia has a reasonable winter climate, albeit very dry.

        Ghana plays in Natal, Fortaleza, and Brasilia. See Portugal.

        No one in Group G is playing in Curitiba or Porto Alegre, all will need to adapt to heat and humidity.

      • True but we will be playing at the north end of the country which is getting close to the Equatorial line, so don’t expect any snow or cold 😀

      • I live in Brasil as reference, it is winter in the south, but in the north where we are playing all our games there isn’t really winter, it’s pretty close to the equator all things considered for all of our games. It will be hot average high temps in Manaus in June are around 90.

      • You clearly don’t know Brazil if you think that winter is going to make Brazil cold. Maybe if we were playing in Curitiba…yes, but we will be playing in the very north of the country where it’s always “one degree less hot than Dante’s Inferno”, but with slightly more humidity. 🙁

        Remember, we are talking about the Amazon rainforest people. HOT.

        The team in the group that it won’t be a problem for is Ghana. They play in these conditions all the time.

        Germany is going to suffer the most and since we play them last there is a snowball’s chance in Manaus that we could actually win if they have already qualified and are resting players.

      • The good thing is that the U.S.has a late evening game against Ghana, I believe, and the City of Natal is nothing compared to the heat of Manaus; Both Portugal in Manaus and Germany in Recife will be played in the afternoon in the scorching heat and humidity. This should help the U.S. in the 15 minutes of the game or maybe even sooner. It will be very interesting how Portugal and Germany deal with this type of heat.

      • Thank god we have faired so well playing in these conditions in the past (ie: our qualifiers this time around). Oh wait…. Cue doom and gloom again.

      • Playing in Manaus in front of a largely American crowd will be significantly different than flying all our guys in from Europe to play a hostile crowd on a field full of divots in Costa Rica. That doesn’t guarantee a win by any means, but we will be much more used to these conditions than Germany and Portugal.

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