The "Group of Death" moniker may be a bit of a cliche at this point, but US men’s national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann thinks there may be a reason: multiple groups difficult enough to earn the distinction.
While seeding in recent World Cups has been based on a formula that weights each team’s performance in previous editions of the tournament, the seven teams that will join hosts Brazil as seeded teams for the upcoming tournament will be determined by the much-maligned FIFA world rankings. The system, which does not include margin of victory or match venue in its calculations, will seed Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay (should they qualify) and Switzerland.
That method's not to Klinsmann's liking, especially since it fails to reward previous success on the sport's biggest stage.
“Looking at Pot No. 1 and the seeding of the World Cup, it kind of makes you think a little bit if this is the right way to do it,” Klinsmann told USSoccer.com. “When you have a Pot No. 1, you expect countries in there that really proved it in World Cups, in the history of the World Cup. Now you see teams that haven’t really done that much in previous World Cups, and you wonder, ‘Why is it that way now?’”
Several previously used formulas would likely have penalized Colombia and Belgium, who missed both of the last two World Cups, and Uruguay, which did not qualify in 2006. It might also have rewarded teams that reached the elimination round in both – the Netherlands, England, Portugal (should they qualify), Ghana, Mexico (should they qualify) – and 2006 finalists Italy and France (should they qualify).
“The consequence is that you will have a couple of groups getting drawn on Dec. 6 in Brazil that are Groups of Death that will be killer groups; there’s not even one easy team or whatever,” Klinsmann continued. “Then you will find maybe two or three groups that are much easier, at least on paper easier. It’s unbalanced now with the seeding procedure, and it will cause a lot of question marks, a lot of discussion and debate once the groups are finalized. It is what it is, but I’m not very happy with it.”
The United States have tied the last three seeded teams they faced: host South Korea in 2002, eventual champion Italy in 2006, and England in 2010. In other modern World Cup matches against seeded teams, the US lost to host Italy 1-0 in 1990 and lost 2-0 to top-ranked Germany in 1998, including a 64th-minute goal by – you guessed it – Jurgen Klinsmann.