Sunday 26 November 2017, 10:40

Calculating the World Cup’s toughest draws

  • We calculate the toughest World Cup groups since USA 1994

  • FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking used to determine most difficult pools

  • Three winners, and one finalist, have emerged from six toughest groups

As soon as the pots are announced for any FIFA World Cup™ Final Draw, fans the world over scrutinise the nations involved in each to predict the toughest group. Debate continues during and after the draw itself as to who has been placed into the most difficult section, and who has the toughest draw.

Now, will try and settle some debates – and maybe start some new ones – by using the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to determine the most difficult group, by average ranking, at each World Cup since the ranking's inception in 1993.

USA 1994

Group E Mexico (17th in ranking) Republic of Ireland (13) Italy (1) Norway (5)

*Average FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking: 9*

Group B, which included eventual winners Brazil came close, with an average ranking of 13.25, but it was the group that included finalists Italy that comes out on top as the toughest. Mexico, Republic of Ireland and Italy all advanced, with the former pair falling at the Round of 16, while Gli Azzurri were famously defeated on penalties in the Final by A Seleção.

France 1998

Group G Romania (5) England (6) Colombia (9) Tunisia (23)

*Average FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking: 10.75*

The first 32-team World Cup threw up some intriguing match-ups, but by World Ranking, it was Group G which was the toughest. The group followed the ranking, with Romania topping the pool, England joining them in the knockout stage in second, with Colombia third and Tunisia bottom. Both teams who progressed were defeated in the Round of 16, Romania by eventual third-placed side Croatia and the Three Lions by Argentina.

Korea/Japan 2002

Group F Sweden (16) England (10) Argentina (2) Nigeria (40)

*Average FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking: 17*

England lined up in the most difficult group by ranking for the second consecutive finals, and progressed in second place again, behind Sweden, with Argentina shock casualties in third, and Nigeria finishing fourth. The Swedes were then defeated by surprise outfit Senegal in the Round of 16, with England falling to eventual champions Brazil in the quarter-finals.

Germany 2006

Group E Italy (12) Ghana (50) Czech Republic (2) USA (8)

*Average FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking: 18*

Having been drawn in the toughest group by ranking once again, Italy would go on to win the tournament for the fourth time. Debutants Ghana caused a surprise by reaching the knockout stages in second place in the group ahead of the Czechs in third and the Stars and Stripes in fourth. The Black Stars would be defeated by Brazil in the Round of 16, while Italy would defeat Australia, Ukraine, the hosts and France on their way to the Trophy.

South Africa 2010

Group H Spain (2) Chile (17) Switzerland (13) Honduras (35)

*Average FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking: 16.75*

For the second consecutive finals, the World Cup winner emerged from the most difficult group by average ranking. Spain, despite an opening defeat to the Swiss, progressed as group winners and defeated Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and the Netherlands to lift the Trophy. Chile joined them in the knockout stage, but were defeated by Brazil in the Round of 16.

Brazil 2014

Group G Germany (2) Ghana (23) Portugal (14) USA (13)

*Average FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking: 13*

For the third finals in a row, the eventual winners again emerged from the toughest group by ranking. Germany topped the group before seeing off Algeria, France, the hosts and Argentina to lift the Trophy. USA joined them in the knockout stages – to be defeated in extra time by Belgium in the Round of 16 – with Portugal third and Ghana fourth - meaning the final group standings followed the country’s pre-draw ranking.

Note: The most recent rankings which were partially used to determine seedings in 1994-2006 were from the edition of the FIFA Coca-Cola World Ranking that directly preceded the Final Draw (November of the year before the finals), and these are the rankings we have used to determine the toughest draws for those finals.

For 2010 and 2014 - as in 2018 - the sole determining factor of seedings was the October ranking from before the Final Draw, so we used those rankings to determine the toughest groups for those finals.