group of death
From JEA’s Sports World


What is the “Group of Death”?

  1. A heavy metal band from Hamburg
  2. A recently discovered novel of youthful enthusiasm gone wrong by J. D. Salinger
  3. A designation for the group in a multi-staged sports tournament perceived to contain an outsized level of strong teams
  4. All of the above

That’s right. The answer is “c”. In the first round of a tournament, you’d rather have an easier time before you get into the more competitive rounds. The “Group of Death” is the group said to have no easy wins, so you don’t want to be in that one. Granted, this designation is purely subjective and has no bearing on the tournament themselves. This is how the English newspaper, The Telegraph, describes it:

The “group of death”, a concept that sounds like it was named by an 11-year-old child listening to emo for the first time, was actually coined by Mexican journalists to describe Group 3 at the 1970 World Cup, which contained the defending champions England, the favourites Brazil, the two-time finalists Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Since then, the term has been much used, misused and very possibly overused to describe a group with a lot of good football teams in it, of which only two can qualify.

In the upcoming Rio Olympics, The Groups of Death in the men’s football (soccer) teams are in Group B, and in the women’s teams are in Group G.

Here’s how the sports internet site Vavel describes the two groups of death:

group of death men

Men’s Group of Death

This group is the Group of Death for this year’s Olympic Games. This group is composed of Sweden, Colombia, Nigeria, and Japan, loads of big-hitters in the U-23 game. Nigeria, Japan, and Sweden were all first-time winners of their respective confederation championships, making the competition fierce for one of the two qualification spots in this group. Colombia qualified by defeating the United States in the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL playoff after failing to meet automatic qualification by finishing second in the South American Youth Football Championships.

group of death women

Women’s Group of Death

It’s called Group G for a reason. Why? This is the Group of Death. The lowest-ranked team in this group is Colombia at 24, and they’ve given the United States, the top team in this group, their fair share of battles over time. New Zealand, the OFC champs, are actually ranked higher than Colombia at 16. France is second-highest ranked team in the group, ranked third and is one of two teams from UEFA to qualify for the Olympics via the World Cup. 

Fans remained inside the Stade de France after the soccer game between France and Germany amid confusion caused by the attacks in the area. Credit Christophe Ena/Associated Press
Fans remained inside the Stade de France after the soccer game between France and Germany amid confusion caused by the attacks in the area. Credit Christophe Ena/Associated Press

A suicide bomber, who had a ticket to the football match between France and Germany at the Stade de France on the evening of Friday the 13th, was denied entry to the stadium after a frisk search. Moments later, he detonated his bomb, one of three to go off outside the stadium in Paris where the Prime Minister of France sat as a spectator. On a most unfortunate day, that perhaps was a bit of fortune.

Inside the stadium, according to this New York Times report, the game went on.

The coaches for both national teams decided not to inform their respective teams about the horrifying occurrences taking place nearby, probably because the events were just unfolding and they were unclear regarding the extent of the violence in Paris. When added to poor cell reception due to the concentration of people at the football game, and possibly also the increased data traffic as a result of the terrorist attacks, people on the pitch and the stands remained in enough of a fog to allow their focus to stay on the game.

The beginning of the New York Times video demonstrates the confusion at the stadium.

NY Times Video on Paris Attack

France won the game on a late goal. By that time, the reality of the terrorist attacks had become clearer and the players were informed. But as the NY Times reported, the atmosphere during the game was surreal. “It was so weird,” said Cyril Olivès-Berthet, who was covering the match for the French sports newspaper L’Équipe. “The players were running and doing their game, and the fans were chanting their normal chants, ‘Aux Armes, Aux Armes,’ a typical chant that is a warrior thing about taking arms and going to war. When France scored the second goal late in the game, they all waved their flags and the players celebrated like they always do.”

It can be debated endlessly whether the coaches made the right choices to inform the players, or whether officials made the right choice to allow the game to continue. That is not important. Showing strength in the face of adversity, effectiveness in uncovering the culprits, and wisdom in decisions related to retaliation or reaction – that is important.

My thoughts go out to all impacted by the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Japan beats Argentina with Coach Cramer on the right in black, from the book "Tokyo Olympiad 1964, Kyodo News Agency"
Japan beats Argentina with Coach Cramer on the right in black, from the book “Tokyo Olympiad 1964, Kyodo News Agency”

He is second from right, in the black coat, running onto the field to celebrate with his team – Japan’s victory over Argentina in a preliminary soccer match at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games.

Like so many sports, Japan was playing catch up. In the case of soccer, the then President of the Japan Football Association, Yuzuru Nozu, thought that Dettmar Cramer was the man to coach the national Japan team. So the West German coach worked with the Japan team for four years, and in their very first match, they defeat Argentina 3-2 in what was considered an upset.

Japan beats Argentina 2

Cramer would go on to be an advisor to the Japan team that went to Mexico City, and incredibly, Japan won the bronze medal. As he is quoted in this Japan Times article, striker Ryuichi Sugiyama said Cramer was a true inspiration. “Before the bronze medal (match) he told us ‘show me your yamato damashii (Japanese fighting spirit)’. As a trainer, he was fantastic but he was also engaging as a human being.”

Cramer passed away on Thursday, September 17 at the age of 90. His life was dedicated to soccer, leading Bayern Munich to victory in the European Champions Cup in 1975 and 1976. In Japan,

Wearable Devices_GPSports

In Major League Baseball today, entire stadiums are decked out with sensors so that the movement and speed of the baseball can be tracked real time the moment it leaves the pitcher’s hand, and the moment it comes into contact with the bat, to the moment it lands in a fielder’s glove or in the stands. (Click on link below for examples.)

Measuring health indicators are becoming the routine for health conscious people who wear consumer devices like Fitbit or UP. When I first wore my Microsoft Band, I appreciated learning about my heart rate while exercising but was surprised to learn how many calories I used while sleeping. (Around 350 to 400!)

At the organizational sports level, teams are using companies like GPSports, Catapult and Adidas to track the movements of their soccer, ice hockey or rugby players, primarily with an aim to understand the correlation of movement and injury. According to this New York Times article, the wearable devices for athletes, which is commonly a tracking device placed at the top of the back held in place by a compression shirt, provide data on the exact movements and conditions of a player. Presumably that data can be correlated to moments of injury, which is explained in greater depth in this Sports Illustrated article on how this data is used in ice hockey.

In the Age of Enlightenment, Europeans learned to better control their environment, and got a better picture of how much Man, not God, controlled one’s destiny. Of course, the scientific mind can get carried away with measurement. Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, developed machinery that could measure the degree to which a meeting was boring by counting the number of times a person fidgeted (perhaps an idea before its time!)

Frederick Winslow Taylor, credited with developing Scientific Management over 100 years Frederick-Winslow-Taylorago, would divide female party-goers into two sets (attractive and unattractive), and use his stopwatch to make sure he spent equal time with both.

Based on such dweebish behavior, it’s understandable people are ambiguous when faced with number-crunchers, particularly those calculating what might be considered incalculable – like a person’s morale, one’s decision-making ability, quality of service, or the return on investment of a training program.

But if truth be told,

Peru Argentina Soccer Riot on May 25

  • Eleven Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the Summer Games in Munich in 1972.
  • Dozens of protestors were said to have been killed by soldiers in Mexico City 10 days prior to the start of the 1968 Olympic Games.
  • But in 1964, no violence visited the Games of Tokyo, often cited as the last “innocent” or “pure” Games. Security was relatively lax, and athletes enjoyed freedom of movement amidst a population most friendly and cooperative.

And yet, a little over 4 months before the start of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, an Olympic qualifying soccer match turned into a brutally bloody affair.

The match was in Lima, Peru, on May, 25, 1964. Argentina and Peru faced off, and the winner would go on to compete in Tokyo. With time running out and Argentina leading 1-0, Peru equalized. But the referee from Uruguay disallowed the goal, sending the 40,000 people in the stadium into an uproar. A mob rushed the field, police fought back with tear gas and dogs, people were trampled, fires were set – total chaos.

In the end, Argentina went on to compete in the Olympics in Tokyo, drawing once against Ghana as well losing to host Japan 3-2. But one could only imagine their psychological state after leaving South America, where some 200 to 300 people died on that terrible day in May.

Here is a grainy video report from that tragic match.