Which will be the deadliest Group of Death at the 2014 World Cup?

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2014 World Cup - The Three Groups of Death

Even before the World Cup draw had finished, debate was raging across the Internet about which was the true Group of Death.

There's always one. Who can forget England being lumped in with Argentina, Nigeria and Sweden in 2002?

Or for those of a certain age, the 1982 World Cup second group stage trio of Italy, Brazil and Argentina getting drawn together?

And then there's the granddaddy of them all, which led to the phrase being coined in the first place: the 1970 World Cup grouping of Brazil, England, Czechoslovakia and Romania.

For the 2014 World Cup, however, there are three Groups of Death.

First up there's England, who have drawn Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D.

Then there's Group B, in which champions Spain face the Netherlands in their opening game and also play Chile and Australia.

Finally, there's Group G, containing Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the USA.

But which is the toughest?

There are all sorts of argument. Australia's presence makes Group B seem instantly slightly weaker than the others, while Costa Rica's presence shoring up Group D makes England's task appear slightly easier - despite the Central American nation's excellent record in qualifying.

That suggests Group G is the hardest - until you think about the best two unseeded teams in each group. If you were putting together a 'rest of the world XI' to be parachuted into the tournament for some reason, would you rather your men faced Portugal and USA, Netherlands and Chile or England and Italy?

We reckon you're probably thinking what we're thinking. You'd take your chances with Portugal and USA, and bribe every FIFA official you could find in order to avoid the other two groups.

But there's another way to look at it as well: which group would you look at and wince the most at the thought that only two teams can go through?

You know what we're getting at here: that feeling you had when Portugal drew Sweden in the qualifying play-offs, the initial excitement of anticipating a great clash followed by the sinking realisation that the tournament would be denied one of Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

And when looked at through that lens, the answer seems obvious: it's an awful shame that one of England, Italy and Uruguay won't be in the last 16, whereas nobody outside of the affected nations will be too bothered about waving goodbye to two sides each from Groups B and H.

Is that an Anglo-centric statement? Of course it is. Any such judgement will always rely on subjective, and therefore illogical, feelings. Is there an alternative to take out that element?

One answer to that problem is provided by Irish newspaper The Journal, who came up with the idea of adding up the FIFA rankings positions of all the teams from each group. For example, Group A contains Brazil (ranked 10th), Cameroon (51st), Mexico (20th) and Croatia (16th) for a tally of 91 points.

The idea is that that lowest total score would indicate the toughest group, and on that basis the article concludes that Germany's Group G is the hardest with 45 points, followed by England's Group D on 57.

But their numbers are made to look silly by the suggestion that Group C (Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece) on 81 points is harder than Spain's Group B on 84, which is self-evident nonsense.

Pitchside has blogged in the past about the insane vagaries of FIFA's ranking system, which penalises teams for all sorts of things: simply playing friendlies, even if you win, is almost always bad for your ranking, for example, while picking up easy rankings wins against teams in the world's top 50 will see you zoom up the charts far quicker than impressive draws against sides in the world's top 10.

So we decided to use The Journal's system, but with a twist: using the ELO world rankings system, which uses slightly different criteria to decide the toughness of each match, emphasising the importance of results against the best teams in the world.

The results are fascinating: Germany's Group G rises to a total of 57, while England's Group D is right behind on 58.

But the bigger story is what happens to Spain's Group B using the ELO ratings: it's aggregate now comes out at 49, making it the true Group of Death.

As for that Group C anomaly? The ELO rankings push it back to fourth hardest once more on 67 points, which feels much more accurate.

So after all that which is the toughest? Whichever way you cut it, groups B, D and G all look pretty brutal.

But with a gun to its head, Pitchside would say the following: Group G has no weak links but only one incontrovertibly world class team in Germany; Group B contains the last two World Cup finalists, but just can't be considered a Group of Death given that it includes Australia and Chile as well; and so by default that leaves Group D's collection of England, Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica as this year's Group of Death.

Disagree? Please do so in the comments section down below. But play nicely!

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