Of all the possible scenarios for how the United States men’s national team could qualify for the knockout round of the World Cup, the most absurd is what happens if the U.S. and Portugal finish with the same number of points, the same goal difference, and the same number of goals scored.
There would be a coin flip to decide which team finishes second in the group. A horrible, horrible coin flip.
Here’s what would have to happen:
- Portugal beats Ghana
- U.S. loses to Germany
- Portugal makes up exactly five goals in goal difference with the U.S.
- Portugal scores exactly two more goals than the U.S. does
If all of those things happen, the U.S. and Portugal would be dead even on every metric. Here’s how the tiebreakers work:
If Portugal wins and the U.S. loses, the two teams would be tied on 4 points. The first tiebreaker is goal difference (which the U.S. currently leads by five goals). If the teams are tied on goal difference, the second tiebreaker is goals scored (which the U.S. currently leads by two goals). If the teams are tied on goal difference and goals scored, the third tiebreaker is head-to-head results. Since the U.S. and Portugal tied 2-2, we’d move to the final tiebreaker … the drawing of lots, a.k.a. a coin flip.
Here are the six results that would lead to a coin flip:
- U.S. loses 3-0, Portugal wins 2-0
- U.S. loses 3-1, Portugal wins 3-0
- U.S. loses 3-2, Portugal wins 4-0
- U.S. loses 4-0, Portugal wins 2-1
- U.S. loses 4-1, Portugal wins 3-1
- U.S. loses 4-2, Portugal wins 4-1
It’d take an unlikely combination of wacky results, but it’s possible.
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