It’s three words no international soccer fan wants to hear.
Group. Of. Death.
There’s one in every major tournament. One group stronger than the others, sure to knock deserving team out of a potentially deep run. With eight teams added to this year’s EURO final, the G.O.D. won’t be as soul-crushing as in past years, but is still bound to cut a team’s EURO dreams short.
At EURO 2012, Group B had the honorable distinction of the Group of Death label. Germany and Portugal advanced, but not after close matches with Netherlands and Denmark. All six Group B matches finished with a one-goal differential.
Germany and Portugal were paired again in 2014, this time in Group G at the World Cup in Brazil. Once again the two teams were placed in the tournament’s toughest division, this time matching up with USA and Ghana. This time it was Portugal on the short end, missing the Round of 16 to the United States based on goal differential.
After the draw, Group E might be the tightest of the six. It was understood that whichever group Italy landed in would make things difficult, but they aren’t the only challengers to top-ranked Belgium. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden are a dangerous side, and Ireland are battle-tested. The Irish survived qualifying in the same group as Poland and Germany, and have been known to spring upsets behind a rowdy legion of supporters.
It might be the last international tournament for Ibrahimovic, which could perhaps spur a deep run from Sweden. Ibra is a second-son of host nation France, where he has been the top striker for Paris Saint-Germain since his arrival in 2012.
It’s a tall order for Belgium, a young team looking to make the deepest run in their nations history. They are matched up against three veteran squads, and will have no easy games during group play.
Italy and Ireland are no strangers, as they were paired in group play at EURO 2012. Italy defeated Ireland 2-0 then, and went on to defeat England and Germany but fall in the final to Spain. After a disappointing showing in Brazil, Italy has made a turnaround under Antonio Conte, and is once again poised to contend for a EURO title.