Last updated on December 1st, 2022
Football leagues are very exciting to watch, especially when it is a close fight. However, what happens when it becomes too close to call, and both teams have the same number of points?
- 1 What happens when 2 teams have the same points?
- 2 Understanding the different tiebreakers
- 3 What happens if two teams have the same points in the World Cup?
- 4 What happens if two teams have the same points in the Champions League Group Stage?
- 5 What happens if all of the teams tie in the group stage?
- 6 What happens if two teams have the same points in the Premier League?
- 7 What happens if two teams have the same points in La Liga?
- 8 What happens when 2 teams have the same points in Serie A?
- 9 Is a higher goal difference better?
- 10 Conclusion
What happens when 2 teams have the same points?
Each competition has its own rules for tiebreakers in the event that two teams end up with the same number of points. These tiebreakers are usually based on other statistics such as goal difference or head-to-head. The tiebreakers will be used to determine the winner of the competition, or who gets top spot in the group stages of knockout tournaments.
Understanding the different tiebreakers
Here are some of the different tiebreakers that the competitions may use:
#1 Goal difference
Goal difference is usually the first tiebreaker that competitions use to decide the winner. This statistic is used to measure the difference between the number of goals the team scored and conceded.
Goal difference = Goals Scored – Goals Conceded
If you have a positive goal difference, you have scored more goals than you have conceded. If you have a negative goal difference, your team has conceded more goals than you’ve scored.
A team with a higher goal difference will be declared the winner. This implies that the team is able to score more goals, while conceding less than their opponents.
#2 Head to head
Head to head measures the results of the matches between the 2 teams that has equal points. Each match will either result in a:
In most competitions, the 2 teams will play 2 matches against each other. As such, a team will have a better head to head record in these 2 scenarios:
- Your team wins both matches
- Your team wins one match and the other match ends in a draw
However if both teams win one match each, neither team will have a better head to head record.
#3 Fair Play
This tiebreaker usually involves rewarding teams for having fair play. Some of the factors that are considered include having less players booked or sent off.
The team with the better conduct will be awarded the higher spot.
#4 Playoff at a neutral venue
When all else fails, the teams may have to play a playoff at a neutral venue. This is somewhat similar to a cup final, where the winner of the match wins the competition.
This tiebreaker is usually used as the last resort, when all other tiebreakers cannot separate the teams.
These are the 4 main tiebreakers that are being used in competitions, apart from points. So which competition uses which tiebreakers to determine which team is better?
What happens if two teams have the same points in the World Cup?
When 2 teams have the same points in the World Cup, the next tiebreaker used is the goal difference between the 2 teams. If the teams are still level, there are 7 other tiebreakers that will be used to decide the winner.
- Overall goals scored
- Points in the matches between the tied teams (i.e. head to head)
- Goal difference in the matches between tied teams
- Goals scored in matches between tied teams
- Away goals scored in matches between tied teams (if the tie is only between two teams in home-and-away league format)
- Fair play points
- Drawing of lots by the FIFA Organising Committee
The tiebreakers will usually occur in the group stages of the World Cup. There are 8 groups of 4 teams, where each team plays against 3 other teams.
Each team will only play 3 matches in the group stages. As such, there is a high chance that two teams may have the same points.
The tiebreakers will help to decide who tops each groups if they have the same points.
The fair play tiebreaker was used in the 2018 World Cup
The fair play tiebreaker was used in Group H of the 2018 World Cup. Japan and Senegal were equal on points and goal difference.
Moreover, they drew 2-2 during their head to head match.
Since every other statistic was the same, the Fair Play tiebreaker was used.
Teams were penalised based on the number of bookings they had during matches:
|Event||Number of Points Deducted|
|Indirect Red Card (2nd Yellow Card)||-3|
|Direct Red Card||-4|
|Yellow Card and Direct Red Card||-5|
The team with the smaller negative score will be given a higher position.
In the end, Senegal was eliminated because they had 2 more yellow cards compared to Japan!
This has caused quite a bit of controversy as many people deemed that fair play was not a good way to decide a tiebreaker.
What happens if two teams have the same points in the Champions League Group Stage?
If 2 teams have the same points in the Champions League Group Stages, the next tiebreaker used is goal difference in the head to head matches between these 2 teams. The team with the higher positive goal difference will be placed higher in the group.
What happens if the teams have the same points and goal difference in the Champions League?
If the points and goal difference are similar for both teams in the Champions League Group Stage, the next tiebreaker will be the number of goals scored in the head-to-head matches between those teams. The team with the higher number of goals scored will be placed higher.
There are 9 other tiebreakers that UEFA uses after this tiebreaker, including:
- Away goals scored in head-to-head matches among the tied teams
- If more than two teams were tied, and after applying all head-to-head criteria above, a subset of teams are still tied, all head-to-head criteria above were reapplied exclusively to this subset of teams
- Goal difference in all group matches
- Goals scored in all group matches
- Away goals scored in all group matches
- Wins in all group matches
- Away wins in all group matches
- Disciplinary points (red card = 3 points, yellow card = 1 point, expulsion for two yellow cards in one match = 3 points)
- UEFA club coefficient
Compared to other competitions like the World Cup, there are quite a few tiebreakers to decide the positions of the group. This is because:
- The top 2 teams will go into the knockout stages
- The 3rd team will enter the Europa League
Uefa coefficient is used as the final tiebreaker
When all other tiebreakers have failed, the Uefa coefficient will be used to decide the places. This will decide the placings as one club will have a higher Uefa coefficient compared to the other.
This is because there cannot be 2 teams from the same country that can play in the same Champions League group.
Example #1: Benfica and PSG (Champions League 2022/23)
In this interesting scenario, both Benfica and PSG had exactly the same points and goal difference.
What’s more their head-to-head record was exactly the same, as both of them drew 1-1 during the 2 matches where they met.
Furthermore, their goal difference was similar, and they scored exactly the same number of goals!
The 5th tiebreaker was used in this case to separate the teams, where Benfica scored more away goals in all group matches, after João Mário’s stoppage time goal against Maccabi Haifa.
As a result, Benfica topped the group while PSG was second!
You can find out why PSG are ‘hated’ as a club here.
What happens if all of the teams tie in the group stage?
If the teams in the same group are all level on points, the tiebreakers used to determine the top 2 teams in the group depends on the competition. For example, the World Cup will first use the total number of goals scored, while the Champions League uses number of goals scored in head to head matches.
This is a probable scenario if all 4 teams so happen to draw every single match in their group. As a result, all of the teams will have exactly the same number of points.
Depending on the number of goals scored, this may result in some of the teams being able to progress to the next stage. If not, other tiebreakers will be used to determine who will move onto the next stage.
The tiebreaker being used depends on the rules of each competition. As such, you will need to look at the rules of each competition to determine who goes to the next round!
Example #1: Group F (Europa League 2022/23)
Another interesting occurrence happened in the Europa League’s Group F.
All 4 teams had exactly the same points after all 6 matches were played.
Due to their better goal difference, Feyenoord and Midtjylland were the top 2 teams in the group.
Since both of them had the same points and goal difference, the next tiebreaker was used: Goals scored in all group matches.
Feyenoord scored 13 goals while Midtjylland scored 12, which is why Feyenoord topped the group.
What happens if two teams have the same points in the Premier League?
If 2 teams in the Premier League have the same points at the end of the season, the next tiebreaker used will be goal difference to decide the winner. The team with the higher goal difference (the difference between goals scored and conceded) will be awarded as the Premier League champions.
Man City won the 2011-12 season via goal difference
This happened in the 2011-12 Premier League season, where goal difference made all the difference. Manchester City were tied with Manchester United on points. However, Man City had a superior goal difference, which meant they were leading the table.
Man City then scored in the 92nd and 94th minutes to clinch the Premier League title in the most dramatic fashion ever.
What happens if the teams have the same points and goal difference in the Premier League?
If 2 Premier League teams have the same points and goal difference, the number of goals scored by both teams will be considered, and the winner will be the team with more goals. If the goals scored are the same as well, their head to head record will be used.
If both teams have the same record, the team who scored the most goals away from home in the head-to-head matches will get the highest position.
If the teams still cannot be separated, only then will a playoff match be arranged.
Here are the 5 different tiebreakers used to determine the champion:
- Goal difference
- Number of goals scored
- Head-to-head records
- Number of away goals scored in a head-to-head match
Previously, the playoff match was considered to be the 4th tiebreaker, after number of goals scored. However with these new changes in the 2019-20 season, the playoff match will be less likely to occur.
What happens if two teams have the same points in La Liga?
If 2 teams in the La Liga have the same points, their head to head record will be used as the second tiebreaker. This is slightly different from other competitions which use goal difference as the second tiebreaker.
Here are the other tiebreakers that La Liga will use to determine the club with the higher position:
- Head-to-head goal difference
- Total goal difference
- Fair Play scales
- Playoff match
La Liga’s Fair Play scales is slightly different from the World Cup
Both La Liga and the World Cup use fair play as one of the tiebreakers. However, La Liga’s points system is slightly different from the World Cup.
In La Liga, you will earn points for offences that you commit:
|Yellow Card||1 point|
|Double Yellow Card / Ejection||2 points|
|Direct Red Card||3 points|
|Suspension / Disqualification of Coach||5 points|
|Misconduct of Supporters||5-7 points|
|Stadium Closure||10 points|
The team with the lower number of points will be placed higher in the table.
Interestingly, there are many more offences which you will be penalised in the La Liga compared to the World Cup!
The playoff match is similar to the Premier League
La Liga will use a playoff match to determine who sits higher on the table if all else fails. This is similar to how the Premier League decides this as well.
However, it is quite unlikely that either competition will be required to use this tiebreaker. If something extraordinary happens, only then would a playoff be a possibility!
What happens when 2 teams have the same points in Serie A?
If 2 teams have the same points in Serie A, the team with the better head-to-head record among the 2 teams will rank higher. If both teams drew the 2 matches that they played with each other, other tiebreakers include the goal difference in these games, the overall goal difference, and the number of goals scored.
Similar to La Liga, the Serie A uses the teams’ head-to-head record as the first tiebreaker, instead of goal difference.
As such, the matches played between both teams are more important than the goal difference that you may have.
Is a higher goal difference better?
A higher positive goal difference is better in league tables where the second tiebreaker used is goal difference, such as the Premier League. If two teams are level on points in the table, the team with a higher goal difference will be declared as the winner of that competition.
However, this does not apply to the La Liga or the Serie A! Both of these leagues use the 2 teams’ head-to-head record as the second tiebreaker instead.
As such, a higher goal difference may not really matter much in these 2 leagues!
There are various tiebreakers that can be used to decide who is placed higher in a table. However, there is no fixed rule among all of the competitions.
As such, these competitions are free to decide which tiebreakers they wish to use!
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