This morning, the 32 teams for the 2010 World Cup were drawn in to their eight qualifying groups. There's always a lot of talk about a "Group of Death" for the World Cup, so I decided to try and analyze the draw a little mathematically.

I used FIFA's world soccer rankings, as well as Nate Silver's Soccer Power Index at ESPN. For each team, I averaged those two rankings, and then used that as a way to evaluate the groups.

The strongest group, from top to bottom, is group H. The lowest ranked team in the group is Honduras (31.5), and the average ranking for the four teams in the group is 17.5.

Here's the groups, in order of the average ranking of the teams in that group. Lower numbers mean stronger teams:

Average ranking of all teams in group
Group H: 17.5
Group E: 19.625
Group D: 20.25
Group C: 23.25
Group B: 26
Group G: 27
Group A: 29
Group F: 39.5

The Italians are the lowest ranked of the seeded teams, other than the host nation South Africa, but they get the easiest group overall in Group F.

But overall strength isn't the best way to evaluate the Group of Death. The top two teams from each group advance. So, which Groups have the biggest gap between the second and third ranked teams in the group?

Delta between second and third ranked team in group
Group A: 3.5
Group B: 5.5
Group C: 20
Group D: 5.5
Group E: 10
Group F: 18
Group G: 5.5
Group H: 12

A couple things pop out here. The USA was drawn in with England in Group C, but it a clear second ranked team in the group. The US team is ranked 15, and the Slovenia team is the third best in the group, at 35th. You'd hope that the US would be able to advance with that large a gap between second and third. Paraguay also has a big gap in Group F over the third-ranked Slovakia team.

How about another way to look at it? What's the ranking of the third-best team in each group?

Ranking of third-place team in group
Group A: Mexico, 17
Group B: Nigeria, 28
Group C: Slovenia, 35
Group D: Australia, 22
Group E: Denmark, 23
Group F: Slovakia, 42
Group G: Cote d'Ivorie, 12.5
Group H: Switzerland, 24.5

It's the Ivory Coast that's gotten the toughest draw this World Cup, by far. They've got the tenth-best ranking in my crude little system, but are third-best in their group, after Brazil and Portugal. In most other groups, they'd be a favorite to move on, but in Group G, it's going to be tough.

Want to play with the numbers more? Spreadsheet is up on Google Docs. Love to see more slicing and dicing in the comments!

AuthorMark McClusky
CategoriesSports, Wired