World Cup group scenarios breakdown: Who can still advance, and what chaos could unfold

Henry Bushnell

We are through two rounds of the 2018 World Cup group stage. The decisive final round is here. That means it’s time to prepare for convoluted scenarios, tiebreaker confusion and potential chaos.

As of Wednesday night, 14 nations – Uruguay, Russia, Spain, Portugal, France, Denmark, Croatia, Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland, Sweden, Mexico, Belgium and England – have already qualified for the Round of 16.

Fourteen – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iran, Peru, Australia, Nigeria, Iceland, Germany, South Korea, Costa Rica, Serbia, Tunisia, Panama and Poland – have been eliminated.

So there are four teams vying for two knockout round spots. There are also two vying for the top spot – or the runner-up spot? – in Group G, with a drawing of lots potentially decisive. Below is a look at Matchday 3 scenarios for the final two groups.

Senegal and Japan are neck and neck in Group H at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
Senegal and Japan are neck and neck in Group H at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

But first, a quick look at World Cup tiebreakers


If two or more teams are tied on points, FIFA’s 2018 World Cup regulations lay out seven tiebreakers

1. Goal differential
2. Goals scored
3. Head-to-head result

In the case of a three-team tie where all three teams are level on goal differential and goals scored …

4. Goal differential in games among tied teams
5. Goals scored in games among tied teams

If teams are still tied …

6. Fair play – also known as fewest yellow cards (unless one of the tied teams has picked up a red card, in which case FIFA’s discipline scoring system comes into play. Card counts can be found here).
7. Drawing of lots

And yes, No. 6 and 7 could easily come into play.

Group G

All game times ET. Numbers in parentheses: (points | goal differential)

Thursday, 10 a.m.: Belgium (6|6) vs. England (6|6)

England and Belgium aren’t just through; they’re level on both goal differential and goals scored heading into their Matchday 3 showdown. So a draw automatically sends the tiebreakers to fair play. A win for either team, obviously, sends it to the top of the group.

The big question here, though, is whether either team wants to win the group. Because the most likely scenarios in the seven other groups would leave the left side of the bracket – to which the Group G winner goes – significantly stronger than the right:

(Screenshot: FiveThirtyEight)
(Screenshot: FiveThirtyEight)

And if they’d rather finish second, and if they’re tied late in Thursday’s game … the tiebreaker would be fair play. England is on two yellow cards. Belgium is on three. Both could have incentive to kick the you know what out of each other late in the match.

Group H

Thursday, 2 p.m.: Senegal (4|1) vs. Colombia (3|2) | Japan (4|1) vs. Poland (0|-4)

Colombia can advance with a win, or with a draw and a Japan loss. It can top the group with a win and Japan draw or loss.

Japan and Senegal can each clinch a knockout round place with a draw or win.

[More: Little pre-World Cup intrigue, but Group H has delivered]

For Japan and Senegal, the situation is very similar to that of Portugal and Spain in Group B. They drew each other, and won their openers by the same score (2-1). So if they claim identical Matchday 3 results, discipline, and possibly lots-drawing, would determine first place (win or draw) or progression/elimination (loss). Japan is sitting on three yellow cards, with Senegal on five.

Group A, B, C, D, E and F

Uruguay beat Russia to top Group A, with the Russians following in second.

Late drama took Spain to the top of Group B, with Portugal finishing second on the goals scored tiebreaker.

France and Denmark progressed from Group C, in that order, by way of a dull draw between the two.

Argentina stole the runner-up spot in Group D, behind Croatia, with a dramatic win over Nigeria.

Brazil and Switzerland finished 1-2 in Group E.

Germany, shockingly, crashed out of Group F, with Sweden through atop the group and Mexico in second.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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