World Cup group stage tie-breakers explained: How it works, Fair Play rule in full | Football | Sport


The most obvious thing to say is that the first tie-breaker is of course points won in group games.

The majority of teams, like Uruguay, France, Croatia and Brazil, qualified on top of their groups to avoid the need for any tie-breakers whatsoever.

But a number of other groups, such as Group B with Spain and Portugal and Group F with Sweden and Mexico, have needed to consult the tie-breaking conditions to determine the top team.

So here are the tie-breaking terms in full – just in case you need them during England vs Belgium as the two teams compete to see who will finish top, or crucially second, in Group G.

World Cup group stage tie-breakers

1. Points obtained in all group matches

Self-explanatory really and the most often used.

2. Goal difference in all group matches

This used to be goal average, calculated by dividing the number of goals scored by the number of goals conceded. However, this encouraged low-scoring games because not conceding became more important than scoring and was abandoned after the 1966 World Cup when Fifa realised that if a team did not concede in the group stage, they could not divide by zero to calculate their goal average. Since 1970, goal difference has been used.

3. Goals scored in all group matches

Above almost anything else, we love GOALS. After that, we get to head-to-head record.

4. Points obtained in matches between tied teams

In two-team ties, this just means whoever won their meeting. In three-team ties, this effectively means deleting each result against the fourth team and recalculating the group from there.

5. Goal difference in matches between tied teams

As above, delete each result against the fourth team and look at the goal difference.

6. Goals scored in matches between tied teams

Again, delete one result each.

7. Fair play points system where the team with the most minus points finishing lower

This is most likely only to come into play in two-team ties and even then is unlikely – but will be used if England and Belgium draw tonight.

The fair play points are calculated as follows:

  • yellow card (-1)
  • indirect red through second yellow (-3)
  • straight red card (-4)

8. Drawing of lots by the Fifa Organising Committee

Amazingly, this has been used as recently as 1990, when Ireland and the Netherlands tied for Group F. They both drew all three games, scored two goals and conceded two goals each and Sepp Blatter was forced to draw one of two balls out of a bowl.

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