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Hosts Qatar were the first side officially eliminated from their own World Cup 2022 finals; reigning champions France were the first team officially through to the last 16.
Two wins from two for Didier Deschamps’ team puts them straight into the knockouts where they will be expected to show their capacity go the distance once again, but for many other nations there lies ahead an anxious wait and tense group stage finale.
Heading into the third and final round of games, several groups are poised for both qualifying spots to be determined on the last day of action and in some cases, all four teams involved can still make the last 16…or face an early trip home.
Fifa’s approach to qualification for the knockouts mirrors some domestic leagues, but as each have their own preference – goal difference and head-to-head are the usual ones seen around Europe – it’s worth knowing exactly what’s at stake heading into the all-important final fixtures.
Here’s everything you need to know about who has the edge to reach the latter stages of the finals.
What is the first tiebreaker for qualification?
Naturally, it’s points won! But if two sides finish level in the group then goal difference is the all-important sum to keep an eye on. For the uninitiated, that’s simply total goals scored minus goals conceded across the three group stage games.
What other criteria are used?
If teams remain level on goal difference then it goes down to goals scored. It’s intended to benefit more attack-minded sides, thus making a 3-2 game more ‘valuable’, as such, compared to a 1-0.
Should that still not be enough to separate teams then it becomes head-to-head which is used: the direct results between the teams in question come into play, with points, then goal difference, then goals scored tallied up, in that order as necessary. Obviously if it’s between only two teams then it’s just the one result so the scoreline immediately either does (one team wins) or doesn’t (a draw) separate them.
Fair play points is the final “sporting” equation used, with teams alloted points for each booking or red card they receive in the group stage.
If there is somehow still no splitting teams involved, a thoroughly unsatisfying drawing of lots will settle the matter.
How many sides go through from each group?
Half of the teams who qualify for the World Cup go through to the knockouts. With eight groups, that means the top two progress to the last 16.