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Drawing lots? Iran, Nigeria, US and more could have fate decided by chance

Jun 23, 2014, 11:30 AM EST

UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League - Quarter Finals Draw Getty Images

It’s 2014, and at least two knockout round participants could make their way past the group stage via the same system early Christians used to select the successor to Judas.

Think about that.

Tiebreakers between Nigeria/Iran and the United States/Portugal could come down to drawing lots. Yes, really. If goals scored and points in matches between tied teams are equal, FIFA goes back to the 6th century BC to divide even teams.

This means that both Wednesday and Thursday could perceivably see groups come down to a lottery. Here are your scenarios:

If Iran beats Bosnia & Herzegovina 1-0 and Nigeria loses 1-0 to Argentina, there would be a drawing 90 minutes after both games to see who makes it through: Iran or Nigeria.

The U.S. scenario is a little less likely. There’s a chance for Germany and Ghana to have to draw lots, but we’ll deal with the USMNT’s scenarios. From Yahoo Sports great Dirty Tackle blog:

If the U.S. loses and Portugal wins on Thursday by a combined margin of five goals and Portugal scores exactly two more goals than the U.S., Germany would top the group with seven points, while Portugal and the U.S. would be even with four points, a goal difference of somewhere between zero and minus-3 and the same amount of goals scored.

For example:

U.S. vs Germany; 2-3

Portugal vs. Ghana; 4-0

In this case, the U.S. and Portugal would be tied at four points and a 6-6 goal differential, after having drawn 2-2.

Another example:

U.S. vs. Germany; 1-3

Portugal vs. Ghana; 3-0

So in this situation, not without precedent, there would literally be a physical selection of lots by the opposing teams. Bananas. Or ping-pong balls. Or tiny slips of paper.

  1. mckludge - Jun 23, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    If by “tiny slips of paper” you mean “large stack of bills” then I like our chances :-)

  2. mazblast - Jun 23, 2014 at 4:14 PM

    We can trust a FIFA drawing of lots the same way we could trust David Stern’s NBA lotteries. I’d give 10-1 that any drawing of lots would send Portugal to the round of 16 over the USA.

    Iran-Nigeria is a dicier call. To my jaded way of thinking, something FIFA does nothing to convince otherwise (Qatar in summer? Seriously?), much depends on what countries if any have already advanced from Africa and/or Asia. If Ivory Coast makes it, Iran would be “selected”; if it’s Japan instead from Group C, Nigeria would magically “win”. IMO Africa and Asia are overrepresented in the World Cup allocation of slots, and FIFA, rather than address the issue, would want to justify the status quo.

  3. handsofsweed - Jun 23, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    Wait, what?? Early Christians? 600 years BC?

    They knew Jesus BEFORE he was a big-timer, apparently.

    • Nicholas Mendola - Jun 23, 2014 at 8:53 PM

      The 6th century is when lots started, the Jesus thing is just an example. Guess it was a little ‘insider’ anyway.

  4. misterdreamer119 - Jun 23, 2014 at 9:01 PM

    The lot is cast but the answer is from the Lord. The lot causes contention to cease. -Proverbs
    Jonah was thrown over board because the lot fell to him.
    What will Fifa do with these lots? I hope it does not come to that. Props to the teams who handled their own business.

  5. rpearlston - Jun 24, 2014 at 3:39 AM

    It’s so outdated a system that it’s still used (the “luck of the draw”) to decide which football team gets to call their choice of offense or defence to start the game, so outdated that MLB used coin tosses to determine home field advantage for the League Division Championships in case of a tie.

    Everything that falls into the category of “luck of the draw” is still used daily, just about everywhere. It’s hardly a phenomenon relegated to history.

  6. braxtonrob - Jun 24, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    Anyone want to take Portugal minus 3 or more goals? I’ll take out a loan and pick Ghana plus those goals, gladly!

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