Group of Death?

Typically, when the Healthcare Economist talks about death, it deals with sad topics: mortality rates, preventable deaths, etc.  Today, I will discuss a happier death-related topic: the feared “Group of Death”.

The World Cup Groups were unveiled today and popular press is claiming that the U.S. team is placed in the Group of Death.  There is no doubt that the U.S. draw is formidable: Germany, Portugal and Ghana.  However, is the “Group of Death” label appropriate?

I did my own calculations to find out.  I used a number of different measures of the quality of a World Cup group based on 3 rating measures: FIFA rankings, ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI) Ranking, and each country’s SPI score.  Using these metrics, I calculated group quality as follows:

  • Average Ranking
  • Median Ranking
  • Average Ranking among Top 3 teams
  • Median Ranking Among Botton 3 teams in group
  • Geometric Average Ranking

As shown in this spreadsheet, according to the FIFA rankings, the U.S. almost certainly falls in the Group of Death.  Group G (the U.S. group) tops the Group of Death along all metrics.

If we use ESPN’s SPI, however, Group G is not the most difficult: Group B or Group D is seen as the Group of Death.  Group B has three of the top 10 teams in the SPI rankings: Spain, Chile and the Netherlands.  Thus, Group B is the Group of Death based according almost all SPI score rankings except the averge ranking among the bottom 3. The reason is that Group B also has Australia, which is the 2nd lowest ranked team in the tournament.

Group D is another contender for the Group of Death.  This group has Uruguay, England, Italy and Costa Rica.  Only 1 of these countries is ranked in the top 10 in the world according to SPI (Uruguay #8), but the top 3 teams are all in the top 13 (England #10, Italy #13) and the worst team, Costa Rica (is ranked #25).

Yet even according to SPI, Group G is a difficult one.  It ranks between the 2nd and 4th most difficult group (out of 8) on all SPI metrics.  Further, consider the SPI rank of the worst team in each group.  Ghana (#24) has the highest SPI and highest FIFA ranking of any group’s worst team.  In other words, the U.S. has no easy wins on its schedule.

In any case, next summer should be a blast as the World Cup only comes around once every 4 years.

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