The 2014 World Cup has been one of the most dynamic and exciting in recent years. With wins from underdogs like Costa Rica, who are not just advancing to the round of 16 but leading their group, and losses from World Cup favorites, Spain, England, and Portugal, this is still any nation’s cup. As the group stage wraps up today, one may still be left thinking: How did this nation advance, and this one did not? And for those in the U.S., with the high-stakes Germany game today, how can the USMNT advance to the next round?
FIFA starts the World Cup with the “Group Stage”, where the 32 teams are divided into 8 groups A-H. Each team plays one game against every other team in the same group. Using a league format, points are awarded to the teams for each game: three points for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss. The most points a team can get in the Group Stage is nine points, meaning they won every match played (the worst outcome is zero points, having lost every match). But there are over 700 combinations/variations in how points may be awarded, with over 100 resulting in a two-way tie for the same seat. To help break these ties, FIFA provides other comparisons that would decide the winners of group.
- Goal Differential: This number is calculated using the number of goals scored by a team and the number goals allowed by a team. A team getting 5 goals across their matches but allowing 3 goals would have a goal differential of 2.
- Goals For: If the Goal Differential is not enough to break the tie between teams, then it falls to the total number of goals obtained by the teams. Because the Goal Differential includes goals given as well, two teams may have the same Goal Differential of 2. For example, if Team A has 5 goals and gave 3, and Team B has 6 goals and gave 4. Team B would win the tie breaker and advance to the Round of Sixteen.
- Head-to-Head: If two teams are tied after the Points, Goal Differential, and Goals For, then it falls to a Head-to-Head comparison. If Team A beat Team B, then Team A would win the tie.
- Head-to-Head Goal Differential: If a Head-to-Head analysis results in a tie, then it falls to a Goal Differential comparison for all the teams concerned.
- Head-to-Head Goals For: The last comparison of all teams concerned where it uses Goals For.
If all else fails after that, FIFA falls back to “Drawing Lots” which equates to picking a name out of a hat and announcing that team as the winner/runner-up.
To give a visual perspective of these comparisons today’s matches, Reddit user Matador09 put together tables that display all the possible outcomes.
To guarantee that the U.S. advances into the round of sixteen, they need to at least draw with Germany (red). If Germany were to beat the U.S. then it opens some possible outcomes for the Portugal (gray and green) and Ghana (orange) teams to win and make up for the Goal Differential between themselves and Team USA. On the other end of the spectrum, if the U.S. were to win by more than 2 points against Germany and Ghana were to win by 3 points, then Germany could be knocked out of the World Cup.
As it stands now, there is no way that Belgium will not advance to the round of sixteen. That being said, if both Korea and Algeria win their respective matches, Belgium and Russia will be knocked from their current placement; Belgium would become the runner-up for the group, and Algeria would assume first place. If Russia wins their game today, they will take second place for the group. If Russia loses or draws in the game against Algeria today then Algeria will stay in their second place seat.