World Cup 2018: How does drawing lots work?

England training session Image copyright Getty Images

England play Belgium in the World Cup on Thursday. Both are definitely going through to the next round, but which country comes first and second will decide who they play.

If they draw, it will be difficult to separate them. Fortunately, Fifa has rules to distinguish between two or more teams with the same number of points, the same goal difference and the same number of goals scored.

The first of these favours the winning team when the two played each other in the group stage. But if this game was a draw, these criteria are applied in the following order until the tie is broken:

  • goal difference in games between the relevant teams (this is clearly only relevant only when three or more teams have the same number of points)
  • goals scored in games between the relevant teams
  • disciplinary points - one for a yellow card, three for two yellow cards resulting in a red card, four for a straight red card and five for a straight red card given to a player who already has a yellow card
  • drawing of lots by the Fifa organising committee

The tie-breaker on discipline was introduced after the 2014 World Cup, presumably to make it less likely that lots would have to be drawn.

There was something of an outcry against the drawing of lots after it was used to decide whether Mali or Guinea would qualify for the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations in 2015.

The two countries drew all three of their group games 1-1 and there was no provision for fair play to be taken into account.

At a local hotel, the president of the Malian football federation, Baba Diarra, and the financial director of Guinea's sports ministry, Amara Dabo, faced a bowl with two balls in it and were asked to choose one each.

Mali went first and found in its ball a number three, indicating that they would come third in the group and be eliminated. The other ball had a two in it.

Image copyright Getty Images

If lots were to be drawn at the World Cup, Fifa has said that the balls would be drawn by a member of the World Cup organising committee who would not be from one of the relevant countries.

It would take place at 23:00 local time (21:00 BST) in the press conference room at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

In an event open to the media, the committee member would choose between balls containing the names of the countries involved. The first country drawn would get the higher ranking in the group.

This would be slightly different to the last time lots had to be drawn in the World Cup, which was in the 1990 tournament in Italy, when they were needed to decide whether the Netherlands or the Republic of Ireland would qualify in second or third place. At that tournament, four of the six third-place teams qualified.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Niall Quinn scored Ireland's equaliser against the Netherlands, which meant lots needed to be drawn

At a ceremony in Rome run by a youthful-looking Sepp Blatter, a flickery film of which you can watch online, "Monique" was asked to pick first between two yellow balls, which had the names of the countries in, and then between two red balls, one of which had a number two and the other a three.

The Netherlands were drawn first, followed by the number three, which meant they had to play West Germany, while Ireland played Romania.

The rankings were clearly important, with Ireland going on to beat Romania on penalties and progress to the quarter-finals, while the Netherlands lost 2-1 to the eventual champions, West Germany.

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