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Explained: Understanding the Fair Play Rule that Eliminated Senegal from World Cup

For the first time in football history, a team has been eliminated from the World Cup using fair play points.

African side Senegal, became the victims of the fair play tiebreaker, after they finished level on points with Japan in Group H.

Senegal, who lost their final group H game 0-1 game to Colombia, were tied on four points with Japan who also lost their final group game 0-1 to Poland.

Both Japan and Senegal had scored four goals and equally conceded four goals. When the two teams met in their group clash, the match ended 2-2.

Having the same number of points and goal difference, it now came down to goal difference to decide the runners up in the group.

Japan progressed with two fewer yellow cards than the African side.

Understanding FIFA’s tiebreakers and fair play rule

As teams compete in the group stages, competing for the two available slots in the round of 16, football’s governing body FIFA ranks each team using a two step system.

The first step takes into account number of points obtained, goal difference and goals scored in the group matches.

Pursuant to the criteria listed in art. 32 (5) lit. a) to c) of the Competition Regulations, teams shall be ranked based on;

  • greatest number of points obtained in all group matches
  • goal difference in all group matches
  • greatest number of goals scored in all group matches

If two or more teams are equal on the basis of the first step, as happened in the case of Senegal and Japan, then the ranking will be determined by applying to the group matches between the teams concerned using the following criteria.

  • greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned
  • goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams concerned
  • greater number of goals scored in group matches between the teams concerned
  • greater number of points obtained in the fair play conduct of the teams based on yellow and red cards received in all group matches
  • drawing of lots by the FIFA

In the case of Senegal and Japan, both teams obtained the same number of points when they met (one point), they scored the same number of goals in that game (2-2) and so, it boiled down to fair play points.

It is important to note that the fair play conduct rule is applied on the basis of all group matches and not only the fair play conduct during the match between Senegal and Japan in this case.

Japan accumulated four yellow cards during the three group games, while Senegal accumulated six yellow cards. None of the teams had a red card.

“Fair Play points are one of the rules and these rules have been established in the tournament regulations; we have to respect that,’‘ said Senegal coach Aliou Cisse after the match.

‘‘We would have preferred to be eliminated in another way but that’s the way it works and we knew that those were the regulations.’‘

The Senegal team of 2018 were thus unable to emulate the Aliou Cisse’s 2002 team that made it to the quarter final, beating defending champions France in the opening game in South Africa.


Written by How Africa

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