Senegal eliminated from the World Cup due to a controversial tiebreaker rule

Senegal eliminated from the World Cup due to a controversial tiebreaker rule


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Senegal and Japan both lost on Thursday, putting the teams in a tie for second place in Group H - but Japan would take the final spot in the knockout round thanks to the controversial "fair play" tiebreaker.

  • Senegal fell just short of making the knockout stage of the 2018 World Cup on Thursday, losing to Colombia, 1-0.
  • Japan also lost its final match of the group stage, 1-0, leaving both teams tied in points and the most common tiebreakers, point differential and goals scored.
  • Since the two teams also played to a draw against each other, the deciding factor that sent Japan through and Senegal home was the number of yellow cards each team had based on the "fair play" tiebreaker.

Senegal became the final team to be eliminated from the group stage of the 2018 World Cup on Thursday, and it happened in the most gut-wrenching fashion imaginable.

Entering the day, three teams from Group H were fighting for the two remaining spots in the knockout stage of the tournament. Japan and Senegal were tied at the top of the group with four points apiece, with Colombia sitting just behind them with three points - each team controlled its destiny and would advance with a win.

Colombia beat Senegal 1-0 to put James Rodriguez and company through to the knockout round. But after Japan also lost to Poland, 1-0, Japan and Senegal remained deadlocked in second place in the group at four points each, meaning that advancing would come down to tiebreakers.

As it turns out, Japan and Senegal were ridiculously tied.


The first tiebreakers, goal differential and goals scored, couldn't determine a winner - the teams both had a goal differential of 0 and had scored four goals each. The next tiebreaker would be points earned in matches between the teams that are tied, but Japan and Senegal played to a 2-2 draw when they met in the group stage, so that was a wash as well.

The final spot in the knockout round of the World Cup came down to what is known as "fair play."

The fair play tiebreaker is based on the number of yellow and red cards a team has been given throughout the tournament. Senegal had five yellows, while Japan had been assessed just three, meaning Samurai Blue would live to fight another day, and Senegal's World Cup run came to an end.

Senegal's World Cup is over due to discipline assigned by various referees at what probably seemed like inconsequential moments through the group stage. It is as rough a way as you can imagine being eliminated from the tournament, outside of a giving up a last-second goal.

While the fair play tiebreaker is far from perfect, it's likely better than what would have been the case had Senegal and Japan also been tied on yellow cards - the final remaining tiebreaker that FIFA has, in that case, is the drawing of lots.


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