Five of the most lethal World Cup groups of death


The 2018 World Cup finals draw takes place in Moscow on Friday, with England hoping to avoid a so-called ‘group of death’ against tough opponents who could feasibly end their interest in the tournament after three games.

Here Standard Sport looks at five other such groups in World Cup history…

1970 (Brazil, Czechoslovakia, England, Romania)

The term ‘grupo de la muerte’ was coined for this group by journalists in the host nation Mexico. England were world champions at the time, Brazil had won it in 1958 and 1962 and the Czechs were the team Brazil beat in the 1962 final. England were defeated 1-0 by Brazil in the searing heat of Guadalajara, in a match famous for Gordon Banks’ incredible save from a Pele header (below), Bobby Moore’s sublime tackle on Jairzinho and the image of Moore and Pele swapping shirts at the end.

Photo: Allsport Hulton/Archive © Provided by Evening Standard Limited Photo: Allsport Hulton/Archive

England made it out of the group but West Germany exacted revenge for 1966 in the quarter-finals. Brazil won the World Cup for a third time, and the line-up that thrashed Italy 4-1 regularly wins ‘greatest team of all time’ polls.

1982 (Argentina, Italy, Brazil)

Slightly different to all the other groups featured here, as this one came in the second stage of the finals in Spain. It pitted a free-wheeling Brazil side featuring the likes of Zico, Falcao and Socrates against an Argentina team featuring Diego Maradona, plus eventual winners Italy.

Photo: Bongarts/Getty Images © Provided by Evening Standard Limited Photo: Bongarts/Getty Images

Italy and Brazil both beat Argentina and their head-to-head encounter was a classic settled by a Paolo Rossi hat-trick. The Azzurri advanced to the semi-finals as group winners and beat West Germany in the final.

1986 (Denmark, Scotland, Uruguay, West Germany)

Photo: Michael King/Getty Images © Provided by Evening Standard Limited Photo: Michael King/Getty Images

Alex Ferguson’s Scotland faced a daunting task in Mexico as they took on 1982 runners-up West Germany, the great ‘Danish Dynamite’ side featuring star names such as Michael Laudrup and Preben Elkjaer and reigning South American champions Uruguay.

Denmark topped the group by winning all three of their matches, including a 6-1 hammering of Uruguay, but the Germans went the furthest by again reaching the final – this time losing to Argentina. Scotland led 1-0 against West Germany as Gordon Strachan tried – and failed – to vault an advertising hoarding in celebration but ultimately lost 2-1, and took their solitary point against Uruguay, who had Jose Batista sent off in the first minute.

2002 (Argentina, England, Nigeria, Sweden)

Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images © Provided by Evening Standard Limited Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

David Beckham and England were pitted against Argentina – the team against whom Beckham had been sent off in the previous World Cup and who had knocked England out. An opening draw against Sweden heaped extra pressure on the game against Argentina, which was settled by a Beckham penalty.

England drew their final group game with Nigeria and got through to the quarter-finals, where they were undone by Ronaldinho’s free-kick for eventual winners Brazil.

2014 (Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay)

​Greg Dyke, the Football Association chairman at the time, famously made a throat-slitting gesture at the time this draw came out, and it ultimately proved lethal for England who were out after defeats to fellow former world champions Italy and Uruguay. Playing Italy in the extreme humidity of the Amazon jungle in Manaus didn’t help Roy Hodgson’s men.

Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images © Provided by Evening Standard Limited Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Uruguay also fell by the wayside and star striker Luis Suarez sank his teeth into the shoulder of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in their final match and was given a nine-match international ban.


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