- Senegal fell just short of making it to 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 Japan and Senegal tied in points, 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 each team’s number of yellow cards, based on the “fair play” tiebreaker.
Senegal on Thursday became the final team to be eliminated from the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, 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, while Colombia sat 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, meaning that advancing would come down to tiebreakers.
As it turns out, Japan and Senegal were ridiculously tied.
The first two tiebreakers, goal differential and goals scored, couldn’t determine a winner – the teams each had a goal differential of zero and had scored four total goals.
The next tiebreaker is points earned in matches between the tied teams. 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 just three, meaning Samurai Blue would live to fight another day and Senegal’s World Cup run would come to an end.
Senegal’s World Cup is over because of discipline assigned by various referees at what probably seemed like inconsequential moments through the group stage. It is as rough a way of being eliminated from the tournament as you can imagine, outside of a giving up a last-second goal.
While the fair-play tiebreaker is far from perfect, it’s most likely better than what would have been the case had Senegal and Japan also been tied on yellow cards; FIFA’s final tiebreaker, in that case, is drawing lots.
More World Cup coverage:
- The most mesmerising photos from the World Cup so far
- Lionel Messi made a subtle move before his clutch goal that had people marveling at his otherworldly skill
- Neymar drew a penalty with a ridiculous dive – but the World Cup’s new replay system overturned the call
- Lionel Messi is living through a waking nightmare, and it’s impossible to look away
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