The 2014 FIFA World Cup is almost upon us as domestic football takes a backseat over the summer, handing the stage to the world's greatest footballing nations.
The tournament will begin on June 12 with eight groups consisting of four teams. The winners and runners-up in each group will then proceed to a knockout phase to determine who will be the eventual winners of the historic trophy.
However, things are rarely that straight-forward. There are scenarios in which complications could occur, not least if multiple teams share the same points totals at the end of the group stages.
Here, we take a look at the rules of the competition and give you the facts you need to understand in how the group stage of the tournament works:
The Tie-Break Rules
Like most global football leagues, when two teams are tied on points in a group situation, the side that advances is determined by a predetermined statute of rules, and the World Cup is no different.
This FIFA law is explained by UEFA.com in section 42.5 of the regulations for the World Cup.
The ranking of each team in each group shall be determined as follows:
a) greatest number of points obtained in all the group matches;
b) goal difference in the group matches;
c) greatest number of goals scored in the group matches.
These are the basic rules to determine progression and separate performance.
However, the rulebook continues:
If two or more teams are equal on the basis of the above three criteria, their ranking 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 FIFA Organising Committee.
Understanding The Scenarios
The rules may sound complicated to those new to football and casual sports fans alike, but the methodology is fairly simple and succinct.
Let us take a group as an example, using the much-anticipated Group D containing England, Uruguay and Italy, with the less-fancied Costa Rica making up the numbers. There is every chance there could be a tie-breaker situation in this group, even if one of the teams dominate proceedings.
Just for the merits of science and theory: If England and Italy are tied for second place on points behind Uruguay, FIFA's rules will determine who advances.
If both England and Italy have the same goal difference and the same goals scored, the rules state that we then consider the events of the England v Italy match, as our basis for who advances.
Whoever was the winner of this game will be given the superior placing and will progress.
However, if this match is a draw and we are unable to see an advantage between the two sides, then the cruelest form of elimination is triggered: In the worst case scenario, lots are drawn by FIFA to determine a winner and to end one unlucky country's World Cup tournament.
Due to the heavy and frenetic scheduling, replays or play-offs are rightfully not considered as suitable forms of dividing two tied nations.
It's also worth noting that, using our example group, if Uruguay, Italy and England are all locked on points, goal difference and goals scored, a mini-league between the three sides—using results not gained against Costa Rica—would decide the top two.
There is no perfect way at such an event in splitting teams with duplicate records but this way the competition has a strict code to follow and is a simple way of motivating performance.
But any nation which goes home on the toss of a coin would be very unlucky indeed.
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