England fans are feeling pretty smug about their draw for the 2022 World Cup.
While there is so no such thing as an easy group in football’s biggest tournament, the general consensus is that the Three Lions should be pretty satisfied with what came out of the hat on Friday night.
Gareth Southgate’s men were one of the top seeds for the draw at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, duly ending up as the lead nation within Group B.
England learn their World Cup group
In a rerun of the infamous clash at the 2010 finals in South Africa, the United States of America were the first team to be drawn alongside England as arguably the weakest nation from Pot 2.
Next up were Iran, which was once again perceived to be a favourable match-up, before England’s final dance partner turned out to be the victor of the final European qualifying matches.
Southgate and co will have to wait until the summer to find out whether they’ll be locking horns with Wales, Scotland or Ukraine with the possibility of an all-British derby looming large.
Wait, is England’s group the hardest?!
So, all in all, England are feeling pretty satisfied with a group that looks – on paper – to give them a much easier run to the round of 16 than other contenders to go all the way have on their hands.
But what if that’s not actually the case? What if we’ve all been duped into thinking that England have been given an easier draw when actually it’s much, much harder than it looks?
Well, believe or not, there’s actually some evidence to suggest that’s the case because some fascinating research from journalist Nick Harris found that England’s group might genuinely be the hardest of all.
As crazy as that might sound, Harris calculated that Group B actually had the highest average position in the FIFA World Rankings, meaning that the teams in the group were statistically the very strongest.
As @clarkgraeme1 pointed out, I should have used Wales's rank in Group B, not Ukraine's. So here is a re-do. Group B, (by FIFA rankings) still hardest. And without seeds: also hardest. pic.twitter.com/onzDhEghgT— Nick Harris (@sportingintel) April 1, 2022
In the case of the play-offs, the highest-ranked team was taken, giving England’s group an average of 14.75 with the Three Lions in 5th, the USA in 15th, Wales in 18th and Iran in 21st.
The group is even the hardest when you exclude England’s ranking from the average with the subsequent score of 18 still ducking below the next hardest group, which is headed up by Spain.
Take it with a pinch of salt
Now, of course, the elephant in the room here is that the FIFA World Rankings aren’t the be all and end all, nor are they necessarily the best metric for establishing the strongest international teams.
You only have to look at the fact that Belgium have been classified as the world number one for great swathes of the last few years to establish that they’re not necessarily all they’re cracked up to be.
Harris himself even clarified in a further tweet: “And no, of course I don’t think England have the hardest group. If they don’t breeze through that then it will be embarrassing. Think it’s a toss up for Groups D, E and G for actual hardest.”
Nevertheless, the fact that England’s group is ranked as the hardest in any metric at all still goes to show that the trio of the United States, Iran and Wales/Scotland/Ukraine isn’t quite as easy as it first seemed.