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Only fools believe in a 'Group of Death'

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Group àô of àô Death

noun: an unfortunate, lazy term used to describe a particular bracket of teams at a football tournament.

One of the more tiresome aspects of World Cup draws, if you discount the plastic hosts, the dictatorial president and musical numbers that lean more toward the eccentric than artistic, is the reckless abandon with which the term "Group of Death" is tossed about.

As Sportsnet host Gerry Dobson rightfully pointed out ahead of Friday's draw in Costa do Saupe, Brazil, it was the Spanish who inflicted this regrettable expression upon the world in the run-up to the 1970 tournament (the initial Grupo de la Muerte included England, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and Romania), but if it was ever a helpful descriptor is has almost certainly outlived its usefulness.

There is no such thing as a Group of Death, plain and simple, and to suggest there is either bloats the competitiveness of a particular team -- typically a European one -- or fails to recognize the reality that aside from a handful of powerhouse nations the World Cup provides a mostly level playing field.

At present the experts are debating whether it is Group D or Group G that qualifies as the Group of Death for 2014. That there is such a debate only makes the whole thought process all the more ridiculous and causes one to wonder what qualified them as "experts" in the first place.

Here's what they're missing.

Group D, which consists of Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy, is not the Group of Death because England will be little more than a speed-bump as Uruguay and Italy race into the Round of 16. Costa Rica won't be a player.

And Group G, populated by Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States, is only being made the Group of Death by some -- mostly Americans -- who have an inflated valuation of two teams in the bracket -- neither of which are Germany and Portugal, the clear favourites.

If what the "Group of Death-ers" are after is an unpredictable foursome where any of the quartet could conceivably progress to the next round, they'd do better to examine Group C (Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan) or Group H (Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea).

But as neither possess a marquee European name they are non-starters, and we end up back where we began: with no Group of Death.

Ranting aside, here are a few words on each of the eight groups drawn on Friday.

Group A (Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon): Brazil's reward for winning this group will be a Round of 16 match against one of Chile, The Netherlands or Spain.

Group B (Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia): Chile have the potential to really shake up this bracket.

Group C (Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan): A favourable draw for Ivory Coast, who have underachieved internationally since winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 1992.

Group D (Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy): The England-Italy match in Manaus on June 14 will be pivotal.

Group E (Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras): Switzerland and Ecuador might just do enough to put France out at the Group Stage for a second World Cup in a row.

Group F (Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria): We'll know the runners-up to Argentina after Nigeria face Bosnia-Herzegovina in Cuiab° on June 21.

Group G (Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States): The United States will be traveling more than 14,000 kilometres during the Group Stage. It would be like driving from Lisbon to Moscow and back, and then back to Moscow.

Group H (Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea): Belgium are rightfully among the consensus darkhorse sides.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter: @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2013 C8

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