Fair Play Points: How FIFA World Cup Tiebreaker Works

fair points tiebreaker england belgium

Getty Who wins Group G could come down to a fair points tiebreaker.

What is the FIFA fair play tiebreaker, and how does it work in the World Cup? The final day of World Cup group play has already invoked the complicated procedure once, and the Belgium-England outcome could cause it to be used a second time. Here’s how FIFA defines the tiebreaker.

Greatest number of points obtained in the fair play conduct of the teams based on yellow and red cards received in all group matches as follows:
yellow card (minus 1 point), indirect red card as a result of a second yellow card (minus three points), direct red card (minus four points), yellow card and direct red card (minus five points). Only one of the above deductions shall be applied to a player in a single match.

It is essentially a tally of red and yellow cards for each team. It is also the only thing keeping FIFA from casting lots if Belgium and England draw in their matchup. According to the Independent, England (-2) leads Belgium (-3) by one point in the fair play tiebreaker heading into their match. The two teams would tie in this tiebreaker as well if England gets one more yellow card than Belgium in the game. As things stand now, England would edge out Belgium in the group thanks to the tiebreaker. If not, FIFA will literally casts lots to see who wins Group G, and who finishes second.

Here are the initial six tiebreakers where Belgium and England are currently tied.

1. Greatest number of points obtained in all group matches.
2. Goal difference in all group matches.
3. Greatest number of goals scored in all group matches.
(If teams are still tied based on the above criteria)
4. Greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned.
5. Goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams concerned.
6. Greatest number of goals scored in all group matches between the teams concerned.

If either England or Belgium are able to win, the fair play tiebreaker would not be necessary. Senegal was eliminated from the World Cup thanks to the fair play tiebreaker. Senegal had accumulated six yellow cards in the tournament, compared to four yellow cards for Japan. Since Senegal and Japan were tied in all the other tiebreakers, Japan’s two fewer yellow cards allowed them to advance. They will play the Group G winner, Belgium or England. Colombia will play the runner-up of the group.

With both Belgium and England expected to sit star players, there has been real questions as to whether either team wants to win the group. While Colombia is arguably a more difficult opponent than Japan, the Group G winner side of the bracket is more challenging with Brazil, France, Mexico, Uruguay, Portugal and Argentina all on that side of the World Cup bracket. While nothing is easy in the World Cup, the runner-up side of the bracket does appear (on paper) to be a bit more manageable.

England, at least publicly, has emphasized the fact they want to win the match. England manager Gareth Southgate downplayed the importance of the bracket in an interview with BBC.

“We have not won a knockout game at the World Cup since 2006, so why we would start plotting which would be a better venue for our semi-final would be beyond me,” Southgate explained to BBC.

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