The World Cup in one of the greatest sporting events in the world but it can be confusing at times for uninformed fans to figure out exactly what is going on in the group stage and beyond. Here is everything you might need to know on how the World Cup works.
FIFA, the organizing force behind world soccer, begins the World Cup process by separating all teams into six different regional tournaments. Each region is given a certain amount of qualifying spots based on how many total teams are in the region. 31 teams are chosen through this qualification to be a part of the World Cup with the 32nd team automatically qualifying as the host nation (Russia in 2018).
World Cup Group Stage
The 32 teams which qualify for the World Cup are seeded and placed into four “pots” based on how they played in the qualification matches. One team from each of these pots is then drawn to make up a group, from which the “Group Stage” of the World Cup is named. Once the eight groups are formed, play begins. Each team plays one match against all other teams in their own group. The top two teams from each group then move on to the knockout stage. Each group determines the top two teams through a point system. Points are awarded as such:
- Three points are awarded for a win
- One point is awarded for a draw (tie)
- No points are awarded for a loss
However, as teams only play three games during the Group Stage, a tie at the top of the group are fairly commonplace. In the event of a tie in group standings, there is a procedure of tiebreakers that FIFA follows to settle this problem. The tiebreakers are used in the following order:
- Goal Differential (Goals Scored – Goals Allowed)
- Total Goals Scored
- Head-To-Head Record of Tied Teams (followed by goal differential and total goals scored in head-to-head games)
- “Fair Play” Rule (i.e. all penalties are given a negative point value given the severity and then taken off the team’s total)
- Random Drawing
World Cup Knockout Stage
Once the Group Stage is finished and the winning teams have been decided, the Knockout Stage begins. The top two teams of each group are placed in a 16-team, single elimination bracket. Teams are seeded in the tournament based on which group they were originally placed in and whether they placed first or second within their respective group.
While there is no losing bracket during this tournament, the two teams that lose in the semi-finals play a game to determine third place. The Knockout Stage will take place on the following dates:
- Round of 16: June 30 – July 3
- Quarterfinals: July 6 – July 7
- Semifinals: July 10 – July 11
- Third-place: July 14
- Final: July 15