World Cup Tiebreaker Rules: Who Advances When Teams Tie in Group Stage Standings?

world cup tiebreakers

Getty FIFA has a detailed list of tiebreakers if two or more teams are tied after the group stage has been completed.

As we enter the final days of group play for the 2018 World Cup, the tiebreaker rules come in handy if you are trying to figure out whether your team will advance to the Round of 16. Like most prominent international soccer tournaments, the World Cup operates on a traditional points system where a team is awarded three points for a win and one point in a draw. Losses do not earn points.

Often times, two and even three teams remain tied after the group stage. Only the top two teams in each group table advance to the Round of 16. When teams are tied, the first tiebreaker is goal differential. What is goal differential? It is the number reached when the number of goals a team conceded is subtracted from the number of goals the team has scored.

If Team X has scored six goals, and allowed four goals they have a goal differential of two goals. In most cases, this will decide which team advances when two or more teams are tied in the standings. It can also determine who wins the group when two teams are tied, with the team finishing with the lesser goal differential advancing as the runner-up.

FIFA has a detailed tiebreaker system just in case teams remain tied after goal differential is used. After goal differential, the team with the highest number of goals scored advances. Here’s how FIFA describes the tiebreaker format, in order.

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.
7. 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.
8. Drawing of lots by the FIFA Organizing Committee.

Yes, the final FIFA tiebreaker involves the organizing committee casting lots. However, the first seven tiebreakers are designed to ensure that casting lots does not happen. Once the top two teams in each group are determined, they are put in a bracket of 16 teams where the winner of each group plays the second place team from another group. Once the Round of 16 begins, the World Cup functions like a traditional single-elimination tournament. There are no more standings or points to decide who advances.

Extra time is introduced in the Round of 16 as two 15 minute halves are played if the score remains tied after regulation. If there is still no winner after the 30 minutes of extra time, the game will come down to penalty kicks.

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