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Group of Death? Korea Face Germany, Mexico, and Sweden at Russia 2018


It came down to the penultimate ball. Either Korea or Japan would end up in Group H, probably the easiest group to get out from alive. The other country would face the world champions in group F. When the words 'Korea Republic' appeared on the screen, it seemed as if Korea's World Cup dreams were already over.


When I asked the normally mild-mannered Matt Binns for his thoughts on Korea's group, his comment was too strong for me to write down here. He did add that Son Heung-min not being too tired for the Asian games could be a silver lining for Korean fans.

But it could have been much worse. Korea avoided the Group B double header of Spain and Portugal, as well as a tricky Group G encounter with Belgium and England. As one of the teams in pot 4, Korea were always going to have a tough group, but it isn't impossible.

ESPN gives Korea an 18% chance of getting out of the group. But they do have a chance. Sweden might have knocked out Italy in the World Cup playoffs, but in the words of the New York Times, they are 'hard-working but limited'. In qualifying, they lost to Bulgaria, and only finished ahead of the Netherlands because of high-scoring wins against Belarus and Luxembourg. Korea play Sweden in their opening match in Nizhny Novgorod on June 18th in what is effectively a knock-out match for the two sides. If Korea can get a good result in that game, they have a chance.

After that, they face Mexico in Rostov-on-Don on the 23rd. Mexico are easily the best team in North America, but they are probably behind Spain, England, Croatia, Uruguay, and maybe Colombia out of the teams in pot two. If Mexico lose to Germany and Korea beat Sweden then the pressure will really be on Mexico in this match, which could work to Korea's advantage.

For Korea's final game, they take on Germany in Kazan on the 27th. Playing Germany last may help Korea if Germany win their two other games and rest some players or take their foot off the gas (although Germany's substitutes bench is better than many of the sides in the World Cup). If there's any silver lining to Korea's draw, it is that the order of the fixtures is the best that Korea could have hoped for.

Korea's group probably feels harder because of what might've been. The direct comparison to Japan's group of Poland, Senegal, and Colombia makes it seem like Korea's group is a 'group of death'. At the end of the day, if Korea played like they did in Brazil 2014, every group would be a group of death. But before anyone gets their hopes up, if Korea somehow negotiate Group F and finish second, they'll face the winners of Group E in the knockout round, and the odds are that Group E will be won by Brazil.

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