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World Cup draw

Five of the best Groups of Death

December 4, 2009
By Tom Adams

The more morbid football fans amongst us use the build-up to the World Cup draw as an excuse to speculate over which teams will comprise the so-called Group of Death.

David Beckham
GettyImagesDavid Beckham shakes hands with Juan Sebastian Veron in 2002

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On Friday in Cape Town, that argument was easily settled by a Group G containing five-time champions Brazil, Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and Ivory Coast, Africa's finest team. Oh yes, and North Korea.

But how does this collection of football superpowers, and North Korea, stack up against Groups of Death from history? Here are five of the toughest groups to have been drawn in the World Cup.

1958 - Brazil, Soviet Union, England and Austria

Eventual winners Brazil were forced to tackle a Russia side that boasted legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin and an England team that included Tom Finney, Bobby Robson and Billy Wright. Despite drawing 0-0 with England, Brazil won the group after unleashing Pele and Garrincha in the final group game against the Soviet Union. The latter side followed them through at the expense of England, who failed to win any of their games.

1978 - Italy, Argentina, France and Hungary

Group One included the two teams that were to finish first and fourth in the World Cup held in Argentina. It was the Azzurri who beat the host nation in the group stages when Roberto Bettega scored after 67 minutes, ensuring a 100% record for the Italians, but Argentina were to have the last laugh when beating a stylish Holland side in the final thanks to a Mario Kempes double. Italy lost the third-fourth play-off to Brazil. France, with Michel Platini, failed to make it through at all.

1990 - Argentina, Soviet Union, Romania, Cameroon

Defending champions Argentina were expected to coast through their group but soon ran into trouble when sensationally losing to Cameroon in their opening game. A 2-0 victory over Soviet Union and a 1-1 draw with an emerging Romania side was just enough for them to progress in third. Cameroon topped the group despite losing 4-0 to the Soviet Union as they wowed the watching public, and just two points separated all four sides in a tight finish. Romania lost to Ireland in the last 16, Cameroon were defeated by England in the quarter-finals and an Andreas Brehme penalty saw West Germany beat Argentina in the final in Rome.

2002 - Sweden, England, Argentina, Nigeria

England may have been highly fortunate in the 2010 draw on Friday night but Sven Goran Eriksson was left cursing his luck eight years ago. England were drawn to face a highly-rated Argentina side, the best team in Africa and Eriksson's own home nation. The pivotal result was a 1-0 victory for England over their old foes Argentina as David Beckham's penalty proved enough in Sapporo. Sweden's win over Nigeria and draws with England and Argentina saw them progress while the South American side surprisingly departed after taking only four points from three games.

2006 - Argentina, Netherlands, Ivory Coast, Serbia and Montenegro

Yes, Ivory Coast were in the group of death four years ago as well. It did not start well for the Elephants as they lost 2-1 to Argentina, who went on to draw with Holland and hammer Serbia and Montenegro 6-0 to top the group. Holland finished in second thanks to another 2-1 win over Ivory Coast while Didier Drogba and Co ended their first ever World Cup finals when coming from 2-0 down to defeat Serbia and Montenegro 3-2 thanks to two goals from Aruna Dindane and another from Bonaventure Kalou. Holland were knocked out by Portugal in the last 16 while an Argentina side that seemed destined to challenge for the trophy succumbed to a stormy penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of Germany in the quarter-finals.