FIFA's Fair Play Rule and How It Affects Points in World Cup Matches


The 2022 World Cup will showcase 32 of the greatest clubs around the world, and with that, means intense competition. There’s no doubt tiebreakers are inevitable, so FIFA constructed a system to resolve such issues, the last of which is the fair play rule. 

Let’s take a look at what this rule means for the game before we head into the nitty gritty of the competition: 

What is the fair play rule?

FIFA’s fair play rule is a new tiebreaker rule implemented in the group stage of the World Cup. The rule was placed for the first time in 2018, so this will only be the second World Cup that uses the system.

In the group stage, teams play three games. In order to avoid all possibilities of ties, FIFA created a system of tiebreakers to be carried out when both teams are equal on points, goal difference and number of goals scored in the group stage.

Therefore, results would be based on the number of yellow cards administered to each team at the end of the 90-minute match.

How does the fair play rule affect points in FIFA World Cup matches?

These are the point deductions according to the fair play system:

Yellow cards: -1

Indirect red card: -3 (as a result of a second yellow card)

Direct red card: -4

Yellow card and direct red card: -5 (with only one of the deductions applied to a player in a single game)

Whichever team has the lower number of yellow cards wins the match.

If two teams finish the match even in fair play points, then lots will need to be drawn via random selection to determine the winner.

Where do fair play rules apply?

Fair play rules are used in the group stage of the FIFA World Cup.

A player who receives a yellow card in two separate matches will also receive a one-game suspension.

The card count is carried throughout the group stages and the knockout round. The count is reset before the semifinals.

When was the fair play rule applied at a World Cup?

The fair play rule was used during the 2018 World Cup when Japan and Senegal were tied. They had the same points (4), goal differential (0) and goals scored (4), as well as both played a 2-2 draw in their head-to-head-match. 

The only way for FIFA to determine who would enter the next round (the knockout stage), was to use the fair play rule. 

In doing so, Senegal, which had two more yellow cards during group play than Japan did, became the first team to ever be eliminated from a World Cup tournament due to a fair play tiebreaker. 

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