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Groups of Death: The nightmare scenario

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-World Cup draw could make or break Socceroos

The Group of Death, so named for the fear it inspires in fans of countries drawn in it. A group that could spell the premature exit of a giant and seem like a hopeless task to the minnow.

Australia, along with 31 other countries, will be hoping to avoid such a situation in Saturday morning’s World Cup draw.

With the pots now set in stone, the 2014 World Cup may well see a group featuring Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands and Italy. Or Argentina, Japan, Portugal and France.

On Thursday morning FIFA did its annual rehearsal of the draw that saw the Socceroos pitted in Group A with previous World Champions Italy and France along with five-time Champions and hosts Brazil in a group worthy of such a label.

The first notable Group of Death dates back to Sweden, 1958, as Pele’s Brazil, reigning Olympic champions the Soviet Union, 1954 World Cup third-place getters Austria and the formidable England were drawn together in Group 4.

Here is a look at some of the most notorious Groups of Death in World Cups gone by.

1982 – Group C (Round 2): Argentina, Italy, Brazil

A group featuring three former champions and three teams that placed in the top four at the previous World Cup. This by far is the toughest Group of Death ever. With the second round of the 1982 world cup split into four groups of three teams, only one team was to qualify to the semi-finals. Argentina, the reigning 1978 World Cup champions lost the first two games against Italy and Brazil. The final game of the group was the decider between Italy and Brazil. Brazil only needed a draw to qualify but a Paolo Rossi hat-trick led Italy to a 3-2 win in one of the greatest World Cup matches ever. The Azzurri went on to beat West Germany to be crowned World Champions for a then-equal record third time.

1994 – Group E: Mexico, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Norway

This group could not be any closer once all six games were played. All four countries finished on four points along with a goal difference of zero. On goals scored, Mexico got through on top of the table while the Republic of Ireland survived through their head-to-head record with the Italians. The Azzurri was given a lifeline as one of the best third-place teams while Norway, who only scored a single goal, was the unlucky team to be eliminated. Italy famously went onto the final against Brazil and lost on penalties through a Roberto Baggio strike that was blown over the cross bar.

2002 – Group F: Argentina, England, Sweden, Nigeria

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With Argentina, England and Nigeria all passing the group stage at France 1998 and Sweden being spear-headed by Fredik Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson, this was one of the most evenly composed groups in World Cup history. The glamour tie of the group was the bitter clash between Argentina and England after the South Americans controversially knocked England out on penalties in 1998 when David Beckham was sent off for kicking Diego Simeone. This time around it was a different story as Beckham struck home a penalty in a 1-0 victory and Argentina, along with the Nigerians with Taribo West’s flamboyant hairstyle, were sent home by the Europeans.

2006 – Group C: Argentina, Netherlands, Cote d’Ivoire, Serbia and Montenegro

All four teams would have fancied their chances before the draw in qualifying pass the group stage. However, with a draw like this, there were two that were guaranteed to be sent home early. Cote d’Ivoire was entering their first ever World Cup finals and had a squad containing Didier Drogba, Bonaventure Kalou and the Toure brothers while Serbia and Montenegro conceded only one goal in 10 qualifying games. However, by the final game of the group stage the qualifiers were known. Both Argentina and the Netherlands won their first two games with Argentina smashing six goals past the strong Serbian defence that included a-26 pass goal. This Group of Death also saw Serbia and Montenegro play their last international football match, a 3-2 loss to Cote d’Ivoire before splitting into two different national teams.

2010 – Group G: Brazil, Portugal, Cote d’Ivoire, North Korea

The latest incarnation of the Group of Death featured arguably the best team from South America and Africa along with a Portugal team featuring Cristiano Ronaldo. And then there was the unknown quantity in North Korea. Playing in their first World Cup since their shock quarter-final appearance at England 1966, North Korea managed an honourable 2-1 loss in their opening game against Brazil before being smashed 7-0 by Portugal and 3-0 by Cote d’Ivoire. With Brazil and Portugal just needing a draw in their last game, a 0-0 score line sent them past the group stage as Didier Drogba and Cote d’Ivoire were sent packing home in the group stages again.