Does losing a game mean you’re out of the World Cup? Group stage defeats explained


When it comes to competitive football, all the preparation in the world does not guarantee success.

Years of hard work go into each and every major tournament and that is certainly the case for every team at the 2022 World Cup. But, we are just a couple of days into the highly-controversial festival of football and there are already a few teams staring down the barrel of a group-stage elimination.

The most high-profile of the teams under pressure is Argentina who were stunned on Tuesday when Saudi Arabia came from behind to beat them 2-1 in Group C.


Germany were then rocked little more than 24 hours later as they too squandered a lead and were beaten in their opener, this time by Japan in Group E.

Does that mean that Lionel Scaloni’s and Hansi Flick’s sides — as well as the other teams who lost their openers — are unable to progress to the knockouts? Here’s everything you need to know.

Does losing a group stage game mean elimination from the World Cup?


Although, it does make it much harder to qualify for the last-16 with just six more points available to play for across the other two games.

How many points do you need to qualify?

There is no guaranteed amount but losing the first game leaves a mountain to climb, regardless of the quality of the squad in question.

Teams receive three points for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss.

It leaves a team realistically needing two positive results from their other two games. In Argentina and Germany’s case, when you’ve lost against a team not expecting to make the knockout stage, it makes the challenge of progression to the knockout stage even harder.

Both sides are more than capable of beating the other teams in their groups but Mexico and Poland in Group are stronger, on paper at least, than Saudi Arabia while Spain are a more threatening proposition than Japan in Group E.

Six points will usually be enough to see you into the last-16. The only time it wouldn’t be enough is if three of the four teams in the group all accumulate six points.

In the instance that two or three teams finish on the same amount of points, this is the order in which it is decided who finishes above the other:

  • Goal difference
  • Goals scored
  • Head-to-head record
  • Goal difference in the games between the tied teams
  • Goals scored in the games between the tied teams
  • Fair play record (amount of cards awarded)

Four points will put a team right in the mix for a place in the next round but anything less than that is unlikely to see a team into the knockouts. Although, there has been one surprisingly low-scoring team who made it into the last 16 previously.

Who are the lowest points scorers to make it to the World Cup last-16?

The 1998 World Cup was the first to be expanded to 32 teams with two teams progressing from each four-team group. For that reason, we’ll only look at teams from that World Cup and the five that have followed.

In 1998, Chile somehow made it into the last-16 without winning a game. They drew all three of their group games — against Italy, Austria and Cameroon — and managed to beat the latter two nations to second place in Group B.

Chile were ultimately beaten by Brazil in the last-16 in 1998 (Photo: Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images)

Four years later, there were four teams who made into the knockout stage having accumulated four points. Paraguay, Turkey, USA and Italy all squeezed through after winning a game, drawing a game and losing a game during the group stage.

In 2006, there were another two teams who made it to the last 16 with four points. Mexico and Australia were those two nations as they progressed from groups that contained Portugal and Brazil respectively.

In South Africa in 2010, it was similar to the 2002 World Cup as four teams made it into the last 16 with four points. Mexico, South Korea, Ghana and Slovakia completed the full house of results in the group stage and made it into the knockouts.

Once again, four points was enough for four teams in Brazil in 2014. Greece, Nigeria, USA and Algeria were those teams.

At the last World Cup, in Russia, two teams picked up four points and progressed. There will be hope for Scaloni’s side as one of those teams was Argentina; Japan were the other.

Average amount of points won by group winners:

  • 1998 World Cup (France): 7 points
  • 2002 World Cup (South Korea & Japan): 7.25 points
  • 2006 World Cup (Germany): 8 points
  • 2010 World Cup (South Africa): 6.75 points
  • 2014 World Cup (Brazil): 8 points
  • 2018 World Cup (Russia): 7.25 points
  • Total average in 32-team World Cups7.38 points

Average amount of points won by group runners-up:

  • 1998 World Cup (France): 5.13 points
  • 2002 World Cup (South Korea & Japan): 4.5 points
  • 2006 World Cup (Germany): 5.38 points
  • 2010 World Cup (South Africa): 4.75 points
  • 2014 World Cup (Brazil): 5.13 points
  • 2018 World Cup (Russia): 5.13 points
  • Total average in 32-team World Cups: 5 points

With Chile’s three-point campaign in 1998 being the exception, history suggests that at least four points are required to progress from the group stage.

That means that teams who lose their first game are likely to need a win and a draw, at least, to have any chance of making the last 16. That only piles even more pressure on Argentina who have a couple of very tough tasks to navigate; games against Mexico and Poland.

Has a team that lost their first game ever made the World Cup final?

Yes. And, somewhat surprisingly, it has happened four times!

Yet again, there is hope for Scaloni and his players as they can take encouragement from Carlos Bilardo’s Argentina side of 1990. They lost 1-0 to Cameroon in their opening game and went on to make the final, where they were beaten 1-0 by West Germany in the final.

Maradona led Argentina to the final in 1990 but they were beaten by West Germany (Photo: RENARD eric/Corbis via Getty Images)

However, it is definitely worth mentioning the fact that Argentina came third in their group in that tournament. Because there were fewer teams involved in the group stage, they qualified for the last 16.

Eight years earlier, West Germany also lost their first game (against Algeria) before going on to lose the final (against Italy) which will provide encouragement for Flick and his side. The Italians then did the same themselves in 1994; losing to Republic of Ireland in their first game (finishing third in their group) and then losing in the final, against Brazil on penalties.

It has happened just once, in World Cup history, where a team has lost their opening game and gone on to lift the famous trophy.

Vicente del Bosque’s all-conquering Spain side lost 1-0 to Switzerland in their first game and won every other game, including the final against the Netherlands, which they famously won thanks to Andres Iniesta in extra-time.

(Top photo: David Ramos – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)


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