World Cup tie breakers

I thought of a tie breaker for the world cup to go just ahead of drawing lots.

The basic idea is that it’s more impressive to score goals against teams that don’t let many up and allow fewer goals against high scoring teams. Mathematically it boils down to goal percentage.

I need a concrete example of a set of numbers that goes to drawing lots but can’t seem to google any. I thought it happened in 2006, but maybe it was in a qualifier event.

Can anyone link to a situation where lots were drawn? I need the score of every game in that, uh, section? Bracket? Whatever it’s called.

It should be noted that drawing lots is VERY unusual. For example, Egypt and Algeria are playing a one-off in Sudan Wednesday because they managed the difficult experience of tying at the top of their qualifying group with identical records, identical goals scored, identical goal differential, and a 1 - 1 head to head record. :eek:

Which, by the way, provides you with precisely the info you seek. Look up the information on this year’s CAF qualifying group involving Egypt and Algeria. Can’t recall which group it was; Group C maybe?

Sweet, perfect. Group C as of before the playoff game:

Team    Pld W  D  L GF GA  GD Pts 
Algeria  6  4  1  1  9  4  +5  13 
Egypt    6  4  1  1  9  4  +5  13 
Zambia   6  1  2  3  2  5  −3   5 
Rwanda   6  0  2  4  1  8  −7   2 

Here are the actual games played to get to this point:

Rwanda 0 – 0 Algeria

Egypt 1 – 1 Zambia

Zambia 1 – 0 Rwanda

Algeria 3 – 1 Egypt

Zambia 0 – 2 Algeria

Egypt 3 – 0 Rwanda

Rwanda 0 – 1 Egypt

Algeria 1 – 0 Zambia

Zambia 0 – 1 Egypt

Algeria 3 – 1 Rwanda

Rwanda 0 – 0 Zambia

Egypt 2 – 0 Algeria

I’m far too sleepy to crunch the numbers right now, but I’m posting now just because I want to preserve the data before it gets tainted by a playoff game.

Obviously a playoff game is a rock solid tiebreaker. I’m only looking to come up with a meaningful and intuitively just tiebreaker to add in ahead of drawing lots.

This was keeping me up, so here goes. First, here’s a transposed chart of the all the scores:

         Algeria  Egypt  Zambia  Rwanda     GF
Algeria     -       3       3       3    |   9
Egypt       3       -       2       4    |   9
Zambia      0       1       -       1    |   2
Rwanda      1       0       0       -    |   1
GA          4       4       5       8

Goals For goes left to right, Goals Allowed goes top to bottom. Each number represents the cumulative total of both head to head games between the two teams.

So for an example, locate Egypt on the left, move across to the right to the Zambia column and you see a 2. This means Egypt scored a total of two goals against Zambia in the two games they played against each other. Similarly, locate Algeria across the top, move down to the Rwanda row and you see a 1. This means Algeria allowed a total of 1 goal to Rwanda in the two games they played head to head.

The GF totals on the right and GA totals along the bottom confirm that the totals are correct since they match the box scores from the previous post.

The basic concept is that scoring a goal on a tough defense is better than scoring a goal against a sieve. Similarly, allowing a goal to high powered offense is less shameful than giving up a goal to an inept one. How to convert this idea into math? Using the chart from the previous post, add up the percentages.

To figure out the offensive component, we need to compare how many goals each team scored against an opponent versus how many goals that opponent allowed in total. To do this we move left to right, dividing each number by the total on bottom.

Algeria Offense
Scored 3 of 4 total goals against Egypt (3/4 = .750)
Scored 3 of 5 total goals against Zambia (3/5 = .600)
Scored 3 of 8 total goals against Rwanda (3/8 = .375)
.750 + .600 + .375 = 1.725 total offense

Egypt Offense
Scored 3 of 4 total goals against Algeria (3/4 = .750)
Scored 2 of 5 total goals against Zambia (3/5 = .400)
Scored 4 of 8 total goals against Rwanda (3/8 = .500)
.750 + .400 + .500 = 1.650 total offense

For defense we go the other way, moving down the columns and comparing against the totals on the right.

Algeria Defense
Allowed 3 of 9 total goals scored by Egypt (3/9 = .333)
Allowed 0 of 2 total goals scored by Zambia (0/2 = .000)
Allowed 1 of 1 total goals scored by Rwanda (1/1 = 1.000)
.333 + .000 + 1.000 = 1.333 total defense

Egypt Defense
Allowed 3 of 9 total goals scored by Algeria (3/9 = .333)
Allowed 1 of 2 total goals scored by Zambia (1/2 = .500)
Allowed 0 of 1 total goals scored by Rwanda (0/1 = .000)
.333 + .500 + .000 = 0.833 total defense

For offense, the higher the number the better. For defense, the lower the number the better. That means to get the most meaningful single number, subtract defense from offense, and the highest resulting total is “best.” (Subtracting a smaller number gives a higher result, keeping the scale set to higher = better.)

1.725 offense - 1.333 defense = 0.392

1.650 offense - 0.833 defense = 0.817

The higher the number the better, meaning Egypt wins the tiebreaker.

If we step back and look for a simple thing to jump out and say one team is better than the other, Rwanda is it. They appear to be almost totally inept, scoring only 1 goal while allowing 8. In six games, they scored one lousy goal. Wow. Even by soccer standards, that has to suck.

Nobody wants to be the losers who let up that one goal to the keystone kops, right? That has to say something bad about you. That’s what hurts Algeria so much in this tiebreaker, and why Egypt ends up with over double the tiebreaking value. This seems right and proper to me, at least.

During the last World Cup I brainstormed a few different tiebreaker scenarios. First was “minutes with a lead.” That was effectively argued against because in soccer on the pitch, a goal is a goal no matter when you score it, so you don’t want a tiebreaker making goals scored in the first minute worth more than goals scored in the 90th minute. Using any variation of “minutes ahead” would make early goals far more valuable, which could alter the game as it’s played on the pitch. So that’s a no-go.

A second idea I had was some form of corner kicks, notably “corner kick percentage.” This idea has a logistical hurdle of forcing the refs to determine when a corner kick “ends”, which is mildly problematic. Let’s say you had 10 corner kicks and scored on one of them, while your opponent had 12 and didn’t score on any. Your percentage is higher, so you win the tiebreaker. This isn’t ideal for a few reasons. First, scoring on corner kicks isn’t common enough to be viable. Second, it’s really pretty arbitrary. And finally, it could alter on-field strategy, like say keep intentionally giving the other team corner kicks to dilute their percentage. Tiebreaker should really be based on goals, and goals alone.

So this thread details my latest and greatest idea. It is based purely on goals. While it’s a bit esoteric to calculate, it’s pretty straightforward and intuitive to articulate the reason one team is ranked higher than another. (“You let up a goal to Rwanda. Hang your head in shame.”) I don’t think it would alter the action on the pitch in any way, since the motivation is the same as it normally is: Try to score goals and try not to allow goals to be scored against you.

What do the soccer fans think?

ED, are you aware of Nate Silver’s recent publication of his own SPI rankings for international soccer? Although it’s an unofficial ranking system and not a tie-breaking mechanism, one component in his rankings is very similar to your idea here:

No, I have no knowledge or awareness of soccer. This was a thought experiment for me motivated solely by my conceptual dislike for drawing lots.

It does sound very similar, so maybe I hit on a good idea. I’m wondering if the soccer fans on the board (I am not one) think this kind of thing would be good as a tiebreaker to help stave off drawing lots.

I would prefer it to a lottery, yes. It could be gamed, as you mention, but gaming can backfire (go balls out to rack up a higher scoring differential against a weaker team and maybe you get hit on a counter-attack, and so on) and the current mechanisms aren’t immune to that kind of approach, anyway.

To a certain extent I’m also a bit resigned to the fact that results are never going to be as… granular? as I’m used to as an American sports fan. It’s hard to get used to tie-breakers like away goals being such a commonly-employed determinant, but it comes with the territory, I’ve learned. Draws are a pain in the ass, but I try to like it for what it is. And once you’re familiar enough with the rules, you start to think about results in terms of avoiding the tie-breakers entirely, which adds to the enjoyment of the match. If I’m watching a Champions League match, for instance, where the teams play twice, home-and-home, and aggregate goals are the first tie-breaker, followed by away goals, I learned to factor that into the state of play. If the first leg goes 2-1 at Real Madrid, and I’m rooting for Liverpool, I know that a 1-0 win in the second leg is an overall win because of the away goal, and I know that a 3-2 win is a loss for the same reason. It’s the same general principle, if you’re willing to be very liberal in your analogizing, as rooting for a college football team in overtime, where the rules get a bit weird.

All of which is to say, on the one hand, yes, I would subscribe to that method before drawing lots, but I’m not certain it’s a problem that can be solved altogether.

Long-time soccer player and fan, occasional ref and statistician, and your system does appear to be better than drawing lots. Drawing of lots is so rare, though, I don’t know that there’s much perceived need to come up with another tie-breaker. And while I agree it’s better from our point of view, good luck explaining it to fans.

The real question is how to resolve elimination games with something other than penalty kicks that makes fans happy, keeps players safe, doesn’t take forever, etc.

I do like this idea as the next tiebreaker, but I eagerly await the day when all group games are tied with the same score.

What could be the next tie breaker after this one? Yellow/red cards perhaps?

No cards and no fouls in all the games… Also, no shots or corner kicks.

Eventually you either play another game or you have to draw lots.

Having read the OP’s first few posts, the evil part of me was really hoping that the numbers for Egypt and Algeria were going to come out exactly the same :).

I agree that this is better than drawing lots, but I think having to explain it to fans is a bi of an issue. It’s not clear to me though (given the rarity of the situation) that the advantage of the one outweighs the disadvantage of the other.

I also agree that the “time in the lead” and “corner kicks” ideas are dead in the water. This idea, though, has the added bonus that it could help to retain interest in games between very strong and very weak teams in the group, which otherwise tend to peter out once the strong team is a few goals ahead. On the other hand, there is already an incentive for this not to happen (goal difference), so perhaps it doesn’t really make much difference.

For those of us who believe in Orwell’s dictum that sport is war minus the shooting, and even for those who don’t, this game is live on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin Media 521) at 17:30 GMT. It’s also available on PC via the Eurosport Player.

I understand that 15,000 police will attend the proceedings, just in case.

It’s also being streamed live on

I don’t know why I’ve never thought of it before, but rather than penalty kicks, why not corners? It would be good because it’s closer to the regular action of a game by keeping both defenders and attackers as a central component. It’s a relatively quick play. They can be done at one end of the field. And, it’s less of a “lottery” we always hear about.

On the other hand, as a Manchester United fan, I’m used to watching United have games where they have 10-12 corners, while the opponent has maybe 2 or 3. What’s the result? No goals for either. It could take a long, long time for either side to get 1 (maybe do 3 corners instead of 5 PKs, and then sudden death afterward…maybe sudden death right away). How do you determine when the defense has won? When the ball leaves the penalty box? Would you have to add an arc for 36-yards away from the center of the goal? A line across the field at the 24 yard mark?

All good questions, which is why the corner kick shootout idea was met with a general “meh” when I proposed the same idea back in 2006 in the thread where I proposed the other tiebreaker ideas.

Yeah, I think the corner kick idea is an improvement myself, but probably not so great an improvement that it would supplant penalty kicks.

I like it much better than penalties because corner kicks are a natural part of the game, while penalty kicks are not. So it would feel more authentic, at least to me. I have been assured it is not logistically workable.

Your whole concept rewards offensive play which is all well and good from your perspective – and I might add, mine – but the fact of the matter is teams such as The Azzurri have built a reputation throughout the years of being rock-solid defenders and and putting other teams away in a quick counter or two. While not a fan – to say the least – of said strategy, it’s not only legal but quite valid as the results of the very Azzurri will show you. Not to mention the success of catenaccio as a system.

Also, there’s nothing “unnatural” about PKs during the run of play – they are simply a particular type of foul well contemplated inside the rules. If you mean “not natural” as a way of determining the outcome of a playoff, well, that’s a whole 'nother argument.

I am all for the Golden Goal and full squads being able to participate in order to determine the outcome after the end of regular play. But I doubt I’ll live to see that happen.