World Football’s governing body FIFA’s decision to hand out seedings ahead of the draw for the 2014 World Cup on the basis of world rankings rather than reputation has been a subject of much controversy.
It meant Uruguay, Belgium, Colombia and Switzerland, were all seeded while football thoroughbreds like Portugal, Italy, France, England and Holland weren’t.
There were fears that this seeding system would lead to a complicated draw: top teams possibly running into one another in the group phase. This was confirmed on December 6, the day of the draw. Spain was drawn to play Holland in Group B – this was a rematch of the 2010 final! This group had Chile too. Another tough group had Italy, England and Uruguay. The most intriguing of the eight groups was Group G which sees Germany, Portugal, USA and Ghana pitted against each other.
Consider this: the current USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann was not only one of the finest strikers to have played for Germany but also their coach in their run to the semi finals in 2006. There is also a degree of fraternal rivalry too, as German defender Jerome Boateng could come up against his brother Kevin-Prince Boateng who plays in midfield for Ghana.
However, the quality of competition in this group makes it potentially entertaining. In the past three Cups, USA and Ghana have proved to be teams of which the big guns would be wary. Portugal have first-hand experience of their 2014 opponents, in that their highly fancied 2002 team comprising Luis Figo and Rui Costa were shocked by the Americans in their opener, a result that played a big part in their surprisingly early exit from the tournament.
Even in their forgettable 2006 campaign, the Americans gave a hard time to the eventual champions Italy drawing 1-1 in the group phase. In the 2010 World Cup, they relegated England to second place in their group, a factor which contributed to England’s early exit as they were thumped in their second round match by Germany.
Ghana is also a tricky team. They were, as many will remember, only a penalty kick away from reaching the semi finals of the 2010 World Cup. That Ghana can upset the applecart was evident in the 2006 World Cup, when a fancied Czech Republic side, which had Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky, were sent packing in the group stage by the Ghanians.
Germany is a big favourites to win the 2014 World Cup. It has been in terrific form over the past eight years. While they are expected to win the group, the competition could throw up strange scenarios. The Germans should know this: in the midst of thumpings given by them in 2010 to England and Argentina, they put themselves in danger of being eliminated in the group stage following a defeat to Serbia. Despite their difficult group, the probability of a repeat isn’t very high.
Portugal is another team that might be looking at their draw with a degree of anxiety. Despite the presence of 2013′s World’s best player Cristiano Ronaldo in their line-up, the team would be turning the clock back to 2002. That was when USA and a resurgent host nation South Korea who brought its campaign to an early end. Their task in 2014 is tougher because they will have to contend with Germany as well as two slippery customers in Ghana and USA.
But is such a tough and complicated group necessarily a bad thing? ‘Group of Death’ can be a double-edged sword – it can either create uncertainty or could sharpen the teams for the bigger games in the knockout stage. Could Germany or Portugal come up trumps after the baptism by fire in the ‘Group of Death’?