On Monday, US Soccer announced their 30-man preliminary roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Jurgen Klinsmann has until June 2 to narrow that list down to 23. A stiff test will be awaiting the Americans, as they have been drawn into what many are calling the dreaded "group of death." In the spirit of all things World Cup, and to inject a little bit of that good ole-fashioned American positivity into the USMNT's chances in Brazil, today's Wave takes a look at some of the more unlikely teams that have advanced from World Cup groups of death. For the sake of continuity, I'm only including World Cups from 1986 to present. (Prior to 1986 the World Cup had two group stages.)
1994 World Cup: Group E--Italy, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Mexico
Much like this year's tournament, the group of death is often a debated title. The same was true in 1994 when groups E and B both had their backers as the Cup's deadliest foursome. Group E, however, is still the only World Cup group where every team finished the stage even on points (4). Despite having the lowest ranking of the four teams, our neighbors from the south, Mexico, finished atop the table based on "goals for." It's less of an upset story and more about being in the right place at the right time. Mexico did their job and beat the team closest to their level in Ireland. Then they were narrowly defeated by 6th ranked Norway 1-0 before drawing eventual tournament runners-up, Italy. As luck would have it, that was enough for first in the group.
2002 World Cup: Group F--Argentina, England, Sweden, Nigeria
The 2002 World Cup saw a number of upsets in the group stages (USA-Portugal, anyone?). Championship favorite France finished last in Group A, and Group F saw another one of the tournament's favorites--Argentina--just miss progressing to the knockout round. Sweden, after managing draws against the two powerhouses of the group, finished first thanks to "goals scored." Henrik Larsson led the "Blågult" attack with a brace against Nigeria. Following closely behind was England who defeated an Argentinian team that featured Diego Simeone and Javier Zanetti.
1986 World Cup: Group E--West Germany, Uruguay, Denmark, Scotland
The 1986 World Cup is actually when the term "group of death" was coined by then Uruguay manager, Omar Borras. It also marked Denmark's first appearance at the world's tournament, and they received what was perceived to be a harsh welcome in Group E. Featuring favorites West Germany and a physical Uruguayan side (Scotland was no pushover either), few had the debutantes making it to the second round. They did more than just make it, however, as the Danes were a perfect 3-0-0 in their group, scoring 9 goals can conceding only 1. Six of those goals came against one opponent (Uruguay) with Preben Elkjaer Larsen scoring a hat trick.
1990 World Cup: Group B--Argentina, Romania, Soviet Union, Cameroon
Argentina, featuring one Diego Maradona, came into this group as heavy favorites and reigning champions. Behind them were Romania--a team with the 5th spot in the World Football Elo Rankings going into the tournament and featured the "Commandante" himself, Gheorghe Hagi. There was also the Soviet Union who--playing their final tournament as a country--were on the heels of a second place finish at the Euro Championships two years prior. Finally, there was Cameroon. Anyone familiar with a World Cup knows never to take the eternally dangerous African team lightly, but rarely are do they progress beyond the group stage. And by rarely, I mean once... in 1990. Appearing for only their second time, Cameroon finished first in Group B on the back of wins over Argentina and Romania. They didn't stop there though, as the Indomitable Lions went all the way to the quarterfinal--a task that, to this day, marks the farthest an African team has progressed in the World Cup.
2014 World Cup: Group G--Germany, Portugal, United States, Ghana ???
Whether you think it is the group of death or not, it is unarguably a group with top-class talent and strength to boot. Should the US find a way to progression it will be a monumental accomplishment, while also paving the way for further glory (read #1). For the US in Brazil, a win against Ghana, a draw against Portugal, and a loss against Germany is a distinct possibility. It's no guarantee to progress but, as Mexico showed in '94, anything can happen in the World Cup.
Was your favorite group of death underdog featured above? Were any left out? If so, discuss it in the comments section below. Feel free to include World Cups prior to 1986 as well!