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The US is in the World Cup’s “Group of Death”…maybe

Background on World Cup Qualifying

The World Cup will take place in November-December 2022 in Qatar. Today, the 8 groups of 4 teams were selected for the World Cup. A common tradition when evaluating the groups is to see from which of these groups is it most difficult to teams to advance to the elimination phase. To advance to the elimination phase, you need to be in the top 2 finishers in your group.

One other complication is that there are still 3 teams to be decided:

  • Wales, Ukraine or Scotland or will play in Group B
  • Peru, Australia or the United Arab Emirates will play in Group D
  • Costa Rica or New Zealand will play in Group E.

Methodology for determining the Group of Death

To make this determination, I rated each group based on FIFA’s country ratings in terms of both it’s country world ranking and the points each country has. In the figures below, I use the country points ranking. Each group is evaluated based on 3 metrics:

  • Average FIFA points
  • Median FIFA points
  • Average FIFA points among lowest ranked 3 teams

The average and median give the typical quality of teams in the group. However, it could be the case where there is a group with one outstanding team that will be everyone but 3 relatively poor teams. In this case, the average or median score may not reflect how easy it is to advance. For this reason, I also calculate the average FIFA points among the 3 lowest ranked teams.

For this exercise, I initially assume that the highest ranked teams (i.e., Wales, Peru and Costa Rica) advance to the World Cup.

In baseline scenario, the US is in the Group of Death.

If Wales advances to the World Cup, the US is in the Group of Death (Group B). In this scenario, none of the 4 teams in Group B would be ranked worse than 21st in the world: England (5th), US (12th), Wales (18), Iran (21). The figure below shows the group statistics based on FIFA points among countries in each group. The result is similar if I do the analysis based on FIFA rankings rather than FIFA points.

In this case, the easiest group is group A across all 3 metrics. In fact, Group A is the easiest group by a wide margin.

Other scenarios

As there are still 3 World Cup places to determine, there are other scenarios to consider. If Scotland (World cup rank 39) qualified for Group B rather than Wales, group D becomes the group of Death.

However, group D only is the Group of Death if Peru (22) qualifies for its group. If instead Australia (42) or the United Arab Emirates (68) qualifies, however, than Group E or would generally be the Group of Death based median and average FIFA points; Group G would have a claim to the Group of Death based on Average FIFA points.

Group E as the Group of Death and Easiest Group?!?!

Group E is a difficult group with Spain (7), Germany (12) Japan (23) and likely Costa Rica (31). However, if New Zealand (101) beats Costa Rica in the playoff, it would be the lowest rated team in the tournament. If Scotland, the United Arab Emirates and New Zealand all made it to the world cup, we would have the odd case where Group E would be the Group of Death based on Median FIFA points, but would have the easiest group based on average FIFA points and average FIFA points among the lowest 3 teams.


See my workbook here for the calculations. Feel free to play around with it!

World Cup Draw (as of 1 April 2022).

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