Everyone talks about it, no one wants to be in it, and it may not even really exist.
The answer to this riddle? The Group of Death.
You can bet that immediately as soon as the draw is concluded, fans and journalists will pick the group that has the strongest teams and dub it the Group of Death. There is one every four years, a quartet in which danger lurks at every turn and where hand-wringing is the most common pastime.
And even if the groups wind up fairly evenly matched, the punditocracy will pick a Group of Death. It seems to be mandatory. Sometimes there is disagreement, which will allow for weeks of spirited debate about games that are still seven months away.
Perhaps the most famous Group of Death — in Spanish, the even more colorful grupo de la muerte — came in the second group stage in 1982. Argentina, Brazil and Italy all wound up in the same group, from which only one team could advance. Italy won and went on to take the whole tournament in an almost anticlimactic semifinal and final.
One possible Group of Death this year? Imagine a group with France, the defending champion; the Netherlands, an always strong European team; Senegal, the African champion; and Canada, which topped Concacaf qualifying.
But even if you can’t spot the Group of Death immediately, someone will be sure to point it out.