Brazil Seeks To Survive Group Of Death

By Dialogo
April 30, 2010

Omar Borrás was nearly speechless. The Uruguay coach described his team’s draw for the 1986 World Cup, when it was picked along with soccer superpowers West Germany, Denmark and Scotland during a blind draw to form Group E, in four words: “grupo de la muerte.” His phrase, “group of death,” is as relevant today as it was nearly a quarter century ago. That’s because the media, coaches, players and fans have continued to apply Borrás’ label to the group in each World Cup they claim is strongest. And considering the top two teams in each of the eight groups advance to the tournament’s single-elimination portion, just one loss – even to an elite opponent – can mean an early “death.” Next month in South Africa, the consensus is the group of death is Group G, which features third-ranked Portugal, 27th-ranked Ivory Coast, 106th-ranked North Korea and top-ranked Brazil, the favorite to win an unprecedented sixth title. Brazil has advanced from pool play in each of the past 10 World Cups and conceded 11 goals in 18 CONMEBOL qualifying games to secure a spot in this year’s field. Here are highlights for teams in Group G of the World Cup, which has drawn the nickname "group of death." Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea are in the group. “I don’t like all that 'group of death' stuff,” said Brazil coach Dunga, according to FIFA. “If you look at the draw, you’ll see that all the groups, perhaps with the exception of Spain’s, are very even. North Korea is, in theory, a weaker side, but it’s tricky playing against a team you don’t know much about. For us, our opening game is the most difficult one.” Portugal has advanced to the semifinals in two of its four all-time World Cup appearances: in 1966 with legend Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, and in 2006, when it finished fourth. “Deep down, I hope that we’re already qualified [for the round of 16] by the time we face Brazil in our third match,” said Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, according to FIFA. “When one of the teams in the group is Brazil, which has won five world titles, I have no hesitation in saying they’re the favorites.” Ivory Coast, led by spectacular forward Didier Drogba, returns to soccer’s grandest stage after its debut in 2006, when it didn’t advance past pool play. “Brazil is one of the favorites and Portugal is one of the best teams in Europe,” said Ivory Coast coach Sven-Göran Eriksson, according to FIFA. “There is a lot of hard work ahead of me, but I like that – in fact, I love it.” North Korea, which hadn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1966, when it reached the quarterfinals, allowed five goals in eight qualifying games to earn a spot in the 32-team field. “Before I turned on the television for the final draw, I had hoped to avoid the likes of Brazil and Portugal,” said North Korea midfielder Anh Yong-Hak, according to FIFA. “But when the results were clear after the draw, my second thoughts told me that [it couldn’t be better than] to play the top teams in the world's most prestigious soccer competition.” Well, it could be better – much better. And if history is any indicator, Yong-Hak should have wished for another draw. Simply look at two of the toughest “groups of death” during the 1990s. In 1990, Group F – England, Netherlands, Ireland and Egypt – saw five of six games end in draws, with England beating Egypt, 1-0, for the only victory. In 1994, Group E – Mexico, Italy, Ireland and Norway – saw each team finish with a 1-1-1 record and an even goal-differential. The difference? Mexico won the group by scoring a group-high three goals. Brazilian midfielder Gilberto Silva expects a similar situation this year. “I think it’s justified to call ours ‘the group of death,’ but this team’s already lived through a lot of adversity and is ready to face this situation,” he said, as reported by FIFA. “Everybody wants to beat Brazil.”