Thirty-two pieces on a board, each engaged in a battle for worldwide supremacy, all trying to avoid elimination at the hands of merciless foes: You might think you were watching Game of Thrones or the scene in Bergman’s Seventh Seal in which the knight plays chess with Death. You wouldn’t be far off—the World Cup is as cutthroat as it comes, and this year the Americans find themselves in deadly company.
After Jürgen Klinsmann took the reins of the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2011, many fans (this writer among them) felt things were looking up. We had a coach who was familiar with international success, both as a player and a manager. Victories, including wins against Italy, Portugal, Germany, and Mexico; new talent (both homegrown and imported); and the resurgent form of the veterans gave fans a great feeling of momentum. Finally, qualifying first in their CONCACAF region suggested that this could be the year the Stars and Stripes would make it deep into the tournament.
And then came the group draw in December 2013. It was not kind: Germany came first, then Ghana, then the USA. That’s a tough group, we thought. Then came Portugal. Welcome, America, to this year’s Group of Death.
The term has been in use since the ’70s. It’s a nod to the bad luck of the team that gets stuck with the best of the best and to the collective might of the four teams in the group, two of which will be knocked out in the group stage. It’s a subjective moniker, and this year, other countries may well feel that they’re in the real Group of Death. Australia, which will face Spain, Chile, and the Netherlands, could contend that they have the toughest draw; so could Costa Rica, which will face Italy, England, and Uruguay. Still, no one could call the teams of Group G easy opposition.