International tournaments have a habit of producing so-called “Groups of Death,” often in which three or more top sides have been drawn together thanks to a quirk of seeding.
There isn’t an obvious group that can take that mantle at this year’s World Cup, but there are a few that could be interpreted that way.
Group D features a lineup of Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria and Euro 2016 surprise package Iceland, while Group F pits defending champions Germany against Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. Group H lacks a star team, but Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan will all have an eye on reaching the knockout phase.
Here’s a reminder of all the groups, per Eurosport UK:
Football blogger Roy Nemer believes Group F is best deserving of the “Group of Death” moniker:
Roy Nemer @RoyNemer
Mexico getting Germany, Sweden and South Korea. Should they somehow manage to make it to the Round of 16, they’ll likely play Brazil (Mexico finish second, Brazil first). Group F arguably the group of death for me.
While four-time champions Germany stand out and will most likely claim top spot, each of the other three teams are capable of qualifying and can make it a tricky time for Die Mannschaft, who will need to be on their toes.
Mexico have reached the round of 16 in each of the last six World Cups, while Sweden—one of the strongest sides in Pot 3—saw off Italy in qualifying, and South Korea boast Premier League talent in the form of Heung-Min Son and Ki Sung-Yueng.
The quartet should be able to produce some exciting matchups, so here’s a closer look at the clashes to watch out for:
Germany vs. Mexico
Germany take on Mexico in the opening match of Group F, and facing Die Mannschaft in their first match is perhaps Mexico’s best chance of catching them cold.
El Tri are Germany’s closest rivals in the group, so if any of the teams are capable of punishing Germany if they make a slow start, it’s Mexico.
A number of Juan Carlos Osorio’s side come into the tournament on the back of successful domestic seasons, per ESPN’s Ivan Canada:
Iván Cañada @Ivanjo88
Hirving Lozano: 🏆 Eredivisie 🇳🇱 Diego Reyes, Héctor Herrera, Tecatito: 🏆 Primeira Liga 🇵🇹 Carlos Salcedo, Marco Fabián: 🏆 DFB Pokal 🇩🇪 Ahora se concentran para el Mundial.
PSV Eindhoven winger Hirving Lozano, 22, was particularly impressive, per OptaJohan:
25 – Hirving Lozano (17 goals & 8 assists) has now been directly involved in 25 Eredivisie goals this season, at least seven more than any of his teammates at @PSV. Productive.
He and Javier Hernandez—who has 49 goals in 101 appearances for Mexico—will be their primary threats, but they also spread their goals around the team.
El Tri netted 29 times in 16 qualifying matches ahead of the tournament, losing just once in the process. Despite racking up so many goals, Lozano was their top scorer with four, so they’re not overly reliant on him.
It will be a difficult early test for Germany as they look to defend their title, and it should be well worth a watch.
Germany vs. Sweden
Germany will follow up their clash with Mexico against Sweden, and the last two meetings between the pair have produced eight goals apiece.
They’ve not met since qualifying for the previous World Cup, but both their games were memorable.
The first was a 4-4 draw, in which Sweden came from 4-0 down in the final half hour, while the second was a 5-3 victory for Germany, who battled back from 2-0 down with the help of a hat-trick from Andre Schurrle.
JONAS EKSTROMER/Associated Press
Sweden will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Russia. There’s no denying that their side will contain far less talent in his absence, but they are arguably a more cohesive unit without him.
Germany will be strong favourites for this match, but if recent history is anything to go by, it could be a thriller.