With qualifying and now the draw behind us, we can finally turn our attention to the best part of the World Cup: the games.
Friday’s draw brought good news to some teams (like Uruguay, which got lucky with Russia as its seed) and terrible news to others (Portugal, which drew Iberian Peninsula neighbors Spain). But due to the new rules guiding which teams were placed in which pots—apart from Russia, which automatically went into Group A as the hosts, the pots were determined purely by FIFA World Ranking position for the first time—there is no clear “Group of Death” as there have been in years past.
This is by design; the new system in theory makes it impossible for the world’s best teams to be drawn into the same group. Still, each group has to have a cut off somewhere, and this year’s cut off put Spain in Pot 2. That’s how they ended up with Portugal.
The most balanced group from top-to-bottom might be Group F, which pits defending champion Germany against Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. Germany is sitll the heavy favorite to win this group, but Mexico was really impressive in qualifying and will be full of confidence.
Sweden is fresh off an upset playoff victory over Italy, while South Korea had some difficulty in qualifying but just beat Colombia’s full side in a friendly. Group D also presents no walkover games, with Argentina, Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria.
As far as teams from Pot 1 go, Portugal got the rawest deal by drawing Spain, but Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. should have no trouble getting past Morocco and Iran.
While there isn’t a clear-cut Group of Death, there is one group that jumps off the page as being the easiest—the “Group of Life,” so to speak. Group A features host Russia, by far the worst team from Pot 1, along with Uruguay, Egypt and first-time participants Saudi Arabia. This is a remarkably fortuitous development for the hosts, who now have a solid chance of reaching the Round of 16, though Egypt and Uruguay will be favored.