World Cup 2010: Group of Death?

[New York. December 10, 2009.]  After the groups were chosen for the 2010 World Cup, immediately, soccer (a.k.a. non-US football) fans and commentators  commenced the “Group of Death” argument.  As in prior years, the debate ended fast, with little controversy.  Few have chosen to disagree with the football brass on this issue.  (Note the usage of the term “football”; I do not know of any soccer brass.)  They have all dubbed Group G the Group of Death (such group includes  Brazil, North Korea, Cote d’Ivoire and Portugal).  Since this is the World’s game and means more to most than politics, we shall examine.

FIFA-2010

First, the basics.  World Cup football begins with eight Groups.  Each Group has four teams.  An elaborate selection process is used to determine which teams are placed into each Group.  This process seeks to offer the Groups parity, but, like everything else in sport, true parity cannot be achieved.  Each Group member plays the other three teams once (three points for a win and one for a draw).  The top two teams in each Group by points move on to the “knockout” round (essentially a quarterfinal).   At the December 4, 2009 selection “event,” Charlize Theron told us that the 2010 World Cup groups would be made up as follows:

Group A:  South Africa (86) / Mexico (15) / Uruguay(19) / France (7)
Group B:  Argetina(8) / Nigeria(22) / South Korea(52) / Greece(12)
Group C:  England(9) / United States(14) / Algeria(28) / Slovenia(33)
Group D:  Germany(6) / Australia(21) / Serbia(20) / Ghana(37)
Group E:  Netherlands(3) / Denmark(26) / Japan(43) / Cameroon(11)
Group F:  Italy(4) / Paraguay(30) / New Zealand(77) / Slovakia(34)
Group G:  Brazil(2) / North Korea(84) / Cote d’Ivoire(16) / Portugal(5)
Group H:  Spain(1) / Switzerland(18) / Honduras(38) / Chile(17)

What are  the numbers in the parentheticals?  They are the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, which I will use to analyze the Groups.   For those that do not follow soccer, FIFA is the International Federation of Association Football, is the international organization that governs various tournaments, including the World Cup.  Of course, it is known by its French acronym, FIFA.

FIFA, along with its good friends Coke [NYSE:KO], issue internation team rankings, and the last such rankings were released on November 20, 2009.  Spain is number 1 in the world, Brazil is number 2, and so on.

The analysis I will use involves three components to determine which, if any, of the Groups is the “Group of Death” (in the soccer world, this is the most difficult group to get out of — reminder, only two of the four teams in each group advance).  Each component will rank the eight Groups from most difficult (1 point) to easiest (8 point); then, a weighted-average of each Group’s three components will give a final tally.  Of course, at TRP, we love our math.

Component 1 (25%):  The sum of each team’s FIFA rankings for each Group.  For example, Group A, with France (FIFA Ranking 7), Mexico (15), Uruguay (19) and South Africa (86), has a total of 127.  This is the second highest of all eight groups — so Group A will get a ‘7′ for this component.

Component 2 (50%):  The same calculation as Component 1, but using only the top three teams in each Group.  For example, Group B, with Argentina (8), Greece (12), Nigeria (22) and South Korea (52), has a total of 42.  In my opinion, this is the most relevant component, so it is given double the weight of the two others.

Component 3 (25%): Since the third-place team in each Group does not advance, the FIFA ranking of that team will be used.  For this component, “third-place” means the third highest ranked team in the Group.  For example, Slovakia, in Group F, has the highest ranking of all third-place teams — so Group F will get a ‘8′ for this component.

Based on this analysis, the Groups are ranked as follows:

Group F (8.000) (easiest)
Group C (6.000)
Group D (5.125)
Group B (4.875)
Group A (4.500)
Group E (3.500)
Group G (2.250)
Group H (1.750) (most difficult)

There you have it. Are you confused? Let me try to make this clearer through another example, using the potentially strongest group:  Group H has the least total FIFA ranking of all eight Groups with a 74 (so they get a ‘1′ for Component 1); it has the second lowest total FIFA ranking for its top three teams with a 36 (a ‘2′ for Component 2); and it has the second lowest seeded third placed team with the Swiss 178 (a ‘2′ for Component 3). Now, do the math: 1 x 25% + 2 x 50% + 2 x 25% = 1.75.

Although Group G has been presented to the world as the obvious Group of Death (thanks to Brazil, Portugal and Cote d’Ivoire — three top 16 teams), the analysis above results in a Group H of Death.  Clearly, the reason is that Group G’s North Korea is 84 in the world, whereas, Group H’s weakest team, Honduras, is 38.  I have no doubt that Spain (number 1 in the world) would much rather be in Group H, than in Group G.  However, in Group G, the would get the guaranteed win against North Korea, whereas, Honduras is no guarantee.  With that said, I think we can take the following from the above analysis:

  • Groups G and H can share “Group of Death” status;
  • Groups A, B, D and E are actually evenly matched; and
  • Groups C and F are very weak at the bottom.

If you back U.S., English or Italian soccer, get ready for the knock-out round or for some tears.

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December 10th, 2009 at 10:27pm Brian

Entry Filed under: International, Random, Sport

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. FIFA565  |  December 14th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Agreed. Although, Spain does appear to have a much easier time through than Brazil.

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