### World Cup tiebreakers: a legal view

I thought I’d look up the rule on tiebreakers in the World Cup at the group stage. Here’s the official rule from FIFA (Section XVIII, Article 31, #5):

Here’s what this tells us. The first tie breaker is goal difference, NOT head to head. The second tie breaker is total goals scored – also not head to head.

(d) through (g) is where it gets interesting. If two teams (assume one team is eliminated, a la Paraguay) are tied after invoking (a) through (c), then you look to greatest number of points attained in matches between the teams concerned – i.e., head to head. But if there was a draw, you go to (e) – goal difference scored in the head to head matched. But by definition, you can only get to (e) if there was a draw between the teams concerned -- so there could be no goal difference to speak of! So you proceed straight to (f), greater number of goals scored in all group matches between the teams concerned. But guess what? Once again, by definition, you can only get to (f) if you tied in the head-to-head game, thus, there can be no “greater number of goals.” So you end up at (g), the completely random “drawing of lots.”

Again, if there is a three-way tie, then d-f may be of some use. Otherwise, to the lots! Note: the phrasing in (f) is slightly changed and read goals scored in “all group matches” rather than “the group matches” in d and e. The logical explanation is that (f) is referring to all group matches, but then it adds the clause “between the teams concerned.” Very confusing, and open to multiple interpretations.

*The ranking of each team in each group will be determined as*

follows:

a) greatest number of points obtained in all group matches;

b) goal difference in all group matches;

c) greatest number of goals scored in all group matches.

If two or more teams are equal on the basis of the above three criteria,

their rankings will be determined as follows:

d) greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between

the teams concerned;

e) goal difference resulting from the group matches between the

teams concerned;

f) greater number of goals scored in all group matches between the

teams concerned;

g) drawing of lots by the Organising Committee for the FIFA World

Cup™.

follows:

a) greatest number of points obtained in all group matches;

b) goal difference in all group matches;

c) greatest number of goals scored in all group matches.

If two or more teams are equal on the basis of the above three criteria,

their rankings will be determined as follows:

d) greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between

the teams concerned;

e) goal difference resulting from the group matches between the

teams concerned;

f) greater number of goals scored in all group matches between the

teams concerned;

g) drawing of lots by the Organising Committee for the FIFA World

Cup™.

Here’s what this tells us. The first tie breaker is goal difference, NOT head to head. The second tie breaker is total goals scored – also not head to head.

(d) through (g) is where it gets interesting. If two teams (assume one team is eliminated, a la Paraguay) are tied after invoking (a) through (c), then you look to greatest number of points attained in matches between the teams concerned – i.e., head to head. But if there was a draw, you go to (e) – goal difference scored in the head to head matched. But by definition, you can only get to (e) if there was a draw between the teams concerned -- so there could be no goal difference to speak of! So you proceed straight to (f), greater number of goals scored in all group matches between the teams concerned. But guess what? Once again, by definition, you can only get to (f) if you tied in the head-to-head game, thus, there can be no “greater number of goals.” So you end up at (g), the completely random “drawing of lots.”

Again, if there is a three-way tie, then d-f may be of some use. Otherwise, to the lots! Note: the phrasing in (f) is slightly changed and read goals scored in “all group matches” rather than “the group matches” in d and e. The logical explanation is that (f) is referring to all group matches, but then it adds the clause “between the teams concerned.” Very confusing, and open to multiple interpretations.

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