CONMEBOL, the real group of death
Everyone anticipates how the draw for the World Cup Finals will line up. Each time around there is one obvious "Group of Death". Over all these years though I have not seen a group that matches up with what CONMEBOL teams have to deal with before they even get to the finals.
In terms of strength of teams, travel distances, playing at altitude and many more factors there is nothing like it. When you look at all the factors that go into qualifying out of this group and compare them to those in other parts of the world it seems like CONMEBOL should get 6 guaranteed spots.
Here are some quotes from a recent article at ESPNFC.com.
"The most difficult way of reaching the World Cup finals is via the South American group," says Ecuador captain Antonio Valencia. "You can play in Barranquilla in the north of Colombia by the Caribbean Sea, where it's 40 degrees and humid. In La Paz in Bolivia, it's close to 4,000 metres altitude. It takes two or three days to prepare for a game there and then two or three days for your body to recover. It's really difficult and that's from an Ecuadorian who is used to playing at nearly 3,000 metres in Quito."
"I look at the other (regions) and see weaker teams where you are almost certain that one of the sides will win, where you see really high scoring and one-sided matches," says former Uruguay captain Diego Forlan. "There are no 6-0 and 7-0 score lines in South America."
"It's not the same to go and play against Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay or Chile as it is to go to some of the teams in CONCACAF," says Moreno. "I look at some of those teams and think 'it doesn't seem right, it doesn't feel right.' But that's how it is. If you qualify from the South American group then you know that you've done it against the highest quality of competition from any group. It's very challenging for everyone and, when you play for a country like Venezuela as I did, you not only have to be at your very best all the time, you also have to hope that the other teams have an off night to get the results to give you an opportunity to fight for a World Cup spot."
"They will sleep for six hours and then, six hours before the game, will take a flight into the Andes to La Paz," says Sergio Rangel, a journalist who follows Brazil for the respected Folha de Sao Paulo paper. "It's crazy. The game will start at 3 p.m. when people are still working, then the team will return to Brazil on the same day after the match. The longer they stay, the worse the altitude will be for the players. It's not ideal, but the doctors have told them it's the best thing to do."
"It's difficult even when you sit on the bench in La Paz," says Argentina defender Marcos Rojo. "My second [game there] was this year when I played for 90 minutes and we lost 2-0. That was a very bad result for us and means we have to win our final games to make sure we go to Russia."
"I've seen a couple of [European] managers complain about four-hour flights to Russia or Ukraine, but four hours is nothing to me," says Forlan with a laugh. "I've played international games two days after travelling around the world. Those first transatlantic journeys from Manchester back to Uruguay were a shock. I'd leave an English winter and arrive in the heat of the South American summer. But that was only to meet up with my teammates. We would then travel on from Montevideo to countries in the north of South America like Colombia or Venezuela. Montevideo to Bogota or Quito is seven hours and we always had to change in Sao Paulo or Panama or somewhere else.
"We wouldn't be flying in luxury, either," he continues. "Uruguay's players flew in economy when I started, though I soon started to pay the extra for business or first class from my own pocket. It made a big difference and I could get some sleep, especially as I could be taking four or five flights just to reach a Uruguay game in South America. Returning to Europe can also be tiring. You might get back late on Thursday night and have to be training on Friday for a game on Saturday. You could have picked up a knock or be a bit down because you didn't play well or your team lost."
Read the entire article at ESPNFC.