No rule change seen after World Cup “non-games”

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After some final World Cup group matches seemed to turn into “non-games” with teams barely playing or seeming unwilling to score, FIFA said on Friday it had no plan to change rules or how the draw is made.

On Thursday, Japan’s 1-0 defeat by Poland turned to farce as the Japanese, level on points, goal difference and goals with Senegal, defended their advantage on FIFA’s fair play criteria by effectively stopping playing — thereby avoiding picking up bookings or red cards that would have jeopardised their second-place finish.

Later, the England v Belgium match was overshadowed by talk that, being both sure of qualifying for the next round, neither wanted to win since the group winners face a potentially tougher route to final than the runners-up.

Fans found the tempo sluggish and England seemed less than desperate after Belgium scored.

Had England equalised they would have finished first, as they started with fewer yellow cards, while Belgium had also picked up more bookings during the course of the match.

FIFA’s World Cup chief executive Colin Smith said the fair play criteria for group qualification would be reviewed after its first use at the World Cup but he believed it would not change. And he defended the level of competitive intent seen among the teams involved in the past few days’ matches.

“This is the first World Cup that we’ve brought in this rule,” Smith told reporters of the law that saw Japan advance as Group H runners-up ahead of Senegal because they had the same points, goal difference and goal tally but had picked up fewer yellow cards.

“Obviously what we want to avoid is the drawing of lots. We believe that teams should go forward on their performance.

“We will review after this World Cup,” he said.

“But as it currently stands we don’t see any need to change the rules we’ve put in place.”

Smith acknowledged that here had been comment about the final minutes of the Japan game.

“But these are isolated cases because they find themselves in a particular scenario after goal difference and the various points that have been met,” he said.

“The game of football for the fans is a competitive game of football and the fans who have paid money to come and watch matches expect to see that — and I think we have seen that.”

Asked whether there was a way to avoid teams trying to come second by making a new draw after the group phase, Smith said: “Redoing the draw is obviously very difficult from the whole logistical, organisational point (of view).”

Echoing comments by England coach Gareth Southgate, he said: “If Belgium didn’t want to win then they obviously forgot to tell the goalscorer — because it was a cracker.”

“We believe on our side that every game is a competitive game of football and teams want to win.”