Euro 2020 group of death: A history of a dying concept

Netherlands 3-1 England Euro 88 - Euro 2020 group of death
(Image credit: PA Images)

June 23, 2021. Portugal versus France, the 89th minute. Antoine Griezmann slips by two defenders before firing past Rui Patricio to seal a dramatic last-gasp 3-2 victory that gives Les Bleus a place in the last 16 as group winners. Germany will go with them as runners-up, while Portugal – the 2016 winners – will be joining Hungary on the first flight home. Moments after the final whistle, Cristiano Ronaldo & Co trudge off the pitch; in the media mixed zone, there’s one phrase on everybody’s lips. Portugal have just become the group of death’s latest victim. 

This is a fictional scenario, of course, but one that could be played out at Euro 2020 this summer. Certainly, these scenarios have claimed many scalps in the past. The forerunner of a now-omnipresent phrase can be traced back to the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Then, the local press labelled Group Four, with Brazil, England, the Soviet Union and Austria, as ‘Giganernas Kamp’ (‘The Battle of the Giants’). The specific phrase ‘group of death’ was first coined at the 1970 World Cup by a Mexican journalist who dubbed Group Three – with eventual winners Brazil, reigning champions England, 1962 finalists Czechoslovakia and Romania – as the ‘Grupo de la Muerte’. 

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