Starting today, the teams at the World Cup will play their final match of the group stage. But unlike the other matches within the groups, the four teams in each group will play their final matches at the same time.
This quirk in the scheduling dates back to 1982 when West Germany and Austria were accused of conspiring to fix a match in a way that would benefit both countries.
In group 2 of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Algeria defeated Chile in their final group stage match, a result that appeared to put them in a good position to advance to the knockout stage. However, West Germany and Austria did not play until the next day and their was a very specific scenario that would guarantee both teams would advance.
Entering the final match, Austria and Algeria were tied with four points apiece (a win was worth two points) with Austria holding a 3-goal advantage in goal differential, the first tie-breaker. Meanwhile, West Germany trailed both teams by two points.
A win for West Germany would have guaranteed their advancement as they held the goal differential advantage over Algeria. Austria would have also advanced with a win or a draw. However, they also would qualify for the knockout stage with a loss as long as they only lost by one or two goals.
The UK Guardian went through a recap of the match back in 2010.
Germany scored in the 10th minute to go up 1-0 and “then … nothing.”
The two teams stopped trying. Over the final 80 minutes there were no shots and only few tackles or attempts to move the ball effectively.
West Germany and Austria advanced to the knockout stage with the Germans eventually losing to Italy in the final. Meanwhile, Algeria, who beat West Germany 2-1, was sent home.
Neither side was apologetic for what happened and the head of the Austrian delegation even suggested a conspiracy at the time, noting that the match “was played tactically” while criticising the Algerian supporters for complaining.
However, there was also backlash in both West Germany and Austria as well as outcries from around the world.
Neither side was punished for the incident, but FIFA responded by changing the scheduling to the format we see now.
Of course, this does not eliminate the possibility of final match conspiracies. As we have seen this year, the suggestion has come up in group G as both Germany and the U.S. can advance with a draw in their final match, regardless of what happens in the other match.
You can be certain FIFA will be watching the U.S.-Germany match closely. But if both sides want a draw, there is not much anybody can do to stop it.
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