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World Cup group tiebreakers 2022: Explaining what happens if teams are tied on points

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The 2022 FIFA World Cup draw resulted in several groups that are evenly balanced and will likely come down to the final matchday.

As has been customary for several editions, teams earn three points for a group-stage win, one point for a draw and none in the case of a loss. Teams are ranked in their group by the number of points accumulated.

Only the top two finishers advance to the knockout rounds from each group, and teams would always rather finish in first than second. That’s because group winners will face a runner-up from a different group in the Round of 16, presumably making for a more favorable matchup.

Whether teams are battling for first place or for second place in their respective group, there is a good chance that they could end up tied on points with other teams given there are just three matches played. 

That’s when the tiebreakers come into play. We have the official list and order below. Suffice to say that every goal scored or allowed could weigh heavily on who advances.

The Sporting News brings you all the information you need to know how each team can advance in every scenario at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

MORE: Updated FIFA World Cup group stage standings

Tiebreakers in the 2022 World Cup group stage

If teams are tied on points in their group — three for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss — then the following tiebreakers will be used, as outlined in the official tournament rules (page 21):

  1. Overall goal difference: Superior goal difference in all group matches;
  2. Overall goals scored: Most goals scored in all group matches;
  3. Head-to-head points: Most points in group matches between tied teams;
  4. Head-to-head goal difference: In group matches between tied teams;
  5. Head-to-head goals scored: Most goals scored in group matches between tied teams;
  6. Disciplinary points (‘Fair Play’): As per a FIFA formula based on yellow and red cards;
  7. Drawing of lots.

Disciplinary points

Disciplinary points, also known as ‘fair play points’, are a simple point system FIFA assigns to yellow and red cards to determine whether a team is playing in a safe and sporting manner.

The team that has accumulated the fewest of these over the course of the group stage comes out ahead if this tiebreaker is used:

Points Card
1 Yellow card
3 Second yellow card/Indirect red card
4 Straight red card
5 Yellow card and straight red card

Note: A player who earns two yellow cards in a match and is therefore sent off would be docked just three total points for the second yellow card scenario, and not four points total to include the earlier yellow card.

Has a World Cup ever used drawing of lots?

Tiebreakers always coming into play at every World Cup tournament, but it’s rare to have to reach the bottom of the tiebreaker list.

A random drawing of lots, which is essentially picking a team out of a hat, is extremely rare, and it’s the last resort since it’s not based on sporting merit. However, if two teams are tied in every other possible category, it’s as good as a coin flip.

A drawing of lots has happened before at a FIFA World Cup. Somewhat recently, too. The last time a drawing of lots was used came at the FIFA World Cup in 1990, when nothing could separate the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands.

Both nations had secured passage into the knockouts, but it was unresolved as to who would advance as the second-place team and who would move on as a third-place team (that 1990 World Cup featured the best third-place teams advancing). The seeding impacted the Round of 16 opponent.

After the random drawing of lots, Ireland was chosen as the second-place team and faced Romania in the Round of 16, who they defeated on penalties after a 0-0 draw. The drawing of lots left the Netherlands as the third-place team and they had to face eventual champions West Germany in the Round of 16, losing 2-1.

That is the only time that a drawing of lots has been previously used at the FIFA World Cup final tournament, though it was used in the qualifying stages in 1954.

How does drawing of lots work at World Cup?

A random drawing of lots is similar to how the World Cup or UEFA Champions League draw works, only on a much smaller scale.

There are two pots: one pot with a ball for each team name in question, and one pot with a ball for each standings position in question.

The FIFA official overseeing the drawing of lots first selects a ball from the country pot and opens it. Then, another individual selects a ball from the position pot and opens it. That country is then slotted into that position.

Tiebreakers used in recent World Cups

Tiebreakers have often been used in past editions of the World Cup when countries finish level on points.

World Cup 2018

Most recently, the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia featured a scenario that dug deep into the tiebreakers list.

Colombia won Group H, but behind them Japan and Senegal finished level on four points each, with a spot in the knockout stage on the line for the team that claimed second place.

Since Japan and Senegal also finished level on nearly every tiebreaker (goal difference, goals scored, head-to-head matchup), the fair play tiebreaker had to be used.

While Senegal had picked up six yellow cards in their three group stage matches, Japan earned only four, and the Asian side advanced to the knockout stage based on that criteria, with Senegal cruelly eliminated.

World Cup 2014

At the 2014 World Cup, Group H also required tiebreakers to determine the second qualifier behind group winner Germany.

The USA and Portugal finished level on four points, but Portugal’s heavy 4-0 defeat in their opening match to Germany saw them saddled with a significantly worse goal differential, and the U.S. advanced on that tiebreaker.

World Cup 2010

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa saw the hosts eliminated on goal differential as well, finishing level on four points with Mexico, but dropping to third place due to a 3-0 defeat to Uruguay that left them with a worse goal differential.

That same tournament also saw Australia left adrift in Group D as Ghana finished ahead on goal differential.


Credit: sportingnews.com

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