The tie-breaking rules for group play at the World Cup are detailed here, but basically they are this: 1) Points 2) Goal difference 3) Goals for 4) head-to-head 5) draw lots Although it has never happened, there seems to be a small but non-trivial chance that second place in a group would come down to #5, a random draw. Here's an example of how this could happen (don't read anything into the teams I've chosen; it's just an example): Germany 1, Portugal 0 USA 2, Ghana 0 Portugal 1, USA 1 Germany 1, Ghana 1 Germany 2, USA 0 Portugal 2, Ghana 1 Germany wins the group with 7 points. USA and Portugal tie for second place with 4 points (1 win, 1 loss, 1 tie). They have the same goal difference, and the same goals for. Their head-to-head game was a tie. In this situation, a coin flip would determine who went on to the round of 16, and who went home. I suspect this would be a tremendous black eye for FIFA. It's not a question of fairness - after all, all Portugal or the USA had to do was score one more goal in any of their games, and they would have gone through. It's just that having to resort to drawing lots looks bush-league. For example, what if the World Cup final ended in a tie score after extra time, and instead of penalty kicks they flipped a coin to determine the champion? FIFA would look like a joke, and I think drawing lots to determine who advances is along the same lines (not quite as bad, of course). UEFA gets around this by using the teams' rankings and Fair Play ratings as tiebreakers, so the coin flip will almost assuredly never happen. But FIFA hasn't made this change, for some reason. How likely is this scenario? Just because it hasn't happened yet, doesn't mean it can't happen. I wrote some software that simulates a World Cup. It uses the ELO ratings to rank the teams, then simulates each game. It isn't a great system, but it is reasonably accurate (similar, but not nearly as sophisticated as the SPI simulations or the work that Vorus McCracken used to do). In my simulation, teams like Brazil and Spain win the World Cup most of the time, and teams like Honduras usually finish last in their group. I'm not claiming it can predict the World Cup, but it is a reasonable simulator. Anyway, the program identifies the situation where two or more teams finish in a tie, and the tiebreaker comes down to the drawing of lots. I then ran 10,000 simulations of the World Cup. I found the following: 1) The chance of the top two teams in a group finishing in a dead heat is slightly less than 1%. Since there are 8 groups, the probability that this will happen at a given World Cup is about 7.5%. This situation requires drawing lots to determine which bracket each team goes into for the knockout rounds, which is not totally embarrassing for FIFA because at least they both are still in the tournament. 2) The chance of a dead heat for the second and third place is about the same (slightly less). The probability that this will happen at a given World Cup is about 7.2%. Around 1 in 14. Unlikely for any given World Cup, but not beyond the realm of possibility. This is the situation FIFA should do it's best to avoid - one team going to the knockout round and one team going home, based on a coin flip. I suspect almost everyone would rather have the Fair Play rankings or FIFA rankings used before a coin flip. I'll finish with one bit a trivia: in two simulations of the the 10,000 (0.002%), there was a group where all four teams finished with the exact same number of points, goals for, and goals against. In that situation, all four teams would get put into a hat. First one pulled wins the group, second one finishes second and goes to the knockout round as well, and the other two go home. Talk about a fiasco!