Explaining the Final Matches of the World Cup Group Stage

 

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It’s almost fitting the final round of group stage matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup begin today, June 25th. This day will mark the 36th anniversary since one of the great scandals in World Cup history that eventually changed the tournament for the better.

On June 25, 1982, in Gijón, Spain, West Germany took on Austria in their final group stage match of the 1982 World Cup played in Spain. The day prior, Algeria and Chile (who shared Group 2 with West Germany and Austria) played their final group match, a 3-2 victory for Algeria that put them in position to qualify for the next round. The issue was, West Germany and Austria knew the exact result they needed for both sides to advance and leave Algeria on the outside looking in.

A West Germany victory by two goals or less, meant both sides advanced to the next round. After ten minutes of play, West Germany took a 1-0 lead and jumped to the top of Group 2 for the time being. After the opening goal, knowing full well both sides were in a position to advance, both West Germany and Austria stopped trying. For the next 80 minutes, the teams simply passed the balls among themselves until the final whistle blew. It amounted to essentially fixing the game.

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El Molinón, site of the “Disgrace in Gijón”

Cries of match fixing went up immediately but an investigation determined neither side broke any rules and were allowed to continue their tournament. The infamous match earned the title of “Disgrace of Gijón” or Anschluss, which carries a much darker historical context.

Issues of match fixing plagued the 1978 World Cup and this just piled on the embarrassment for FIFA. Beginning with the 1986 World Cup in 1986, FIFA instituted a new rule that all final matches of group stage play for each group would be contested concurrently. This meant the matches would be playing at the same time, thus preventing collusion between two sides to stage the outcome of a match. All four teams in a group would have to play their final match without the knowledge of the happenings in the other match.

Jumping ahead to present day, the busiest days of the 2018 FIFA World Cup taking place in Russia are about to begin. Between June 25th and June 28th, the final group stage matches will be contested to determine who moves on to the Round of 16 and who will be heading home. During those four days, four separate group stage matches will be played each day, beginning with Group A and Group B on Monday.

Every day at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, two matches will be going on at the same time and both matches will be teams from the same group. This is all to prevent another “Disgrace in Gijón” and has proven an effective method since being implemented back in 1986.

Here’s what a typical daily schedule will look like for the final round of group play this week:

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Group C & D: Tuesday; Group E & F: Wednesday; Group G & H: Thursday

So, if you’re tuning into the World Cup this week and wondering why two matches are running at the same time after they have been staggered up this point, you can place the blame on West Germany and Austria for their bit of collusion that changed the World Cup forever. It can make watching all the matches a bit more difficult (having to flip between channels) but ultimately it makes for a better tournament in the long run.

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