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Why are the final World Cup group stage matches played at the same time?

How a scheme to prevent Algeria from advancing to the knockout stage of the 1982 World Cup resulted in a significant change to group stage match scheduling.

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A family picture shows the Algerian team selected for the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Photo credit should read YOLANDE MIGNOT/AFP via Getty Images

The 2022 World Cup enters the final round of group stage play on Tuesday, November 29. Group A and B play on Tuesday, Group C and D play on Wednesday, Group E and F play on Thursday, and Group G and H play on Friday. All four days will feature two matches at 10 a.m. ET and two matches at 2 p.m. ET.

The first two rounds of group stage play are played one game at a time. The reason for the dual matches on the third day for each group is to prevent any shenanigans where two teams agree to effectively screw over a team that has already competed. This is all stems from an incident at the 1982 World Cup called the Disgrace of Gijón.

In Group 2, West Germany, Austria, and Algeria were all playing exceedingly well and knockout stage qualifying came down to the final round. Algeria had beat West Germany and lost to Austria, Austria had beat Algeria and Chile, and West Germany had lost to Algeria and beat Chile.

Entering the final game of the group stage, Algeria needed a win over Chile and then either a West Germany loss or draw to Austria, or a West Germany win by a certain amount of goals depending on the tiebreaker scenario. However, unlike the current scheduling system, Algeria and Chile played the day before West Germany and Austria. Algeria claimed a 3-2 win and that set the stage where Algeria would advance if West Germany won by at least three goals. Such a win would advance West Germany and Algeria. However, a West Germany win by only one or two goals would advance them and Austria.

On match day, Germany took a 1-0 lead in the tenth minute on a seemingly legitimate goal. However, after that, the two sides immediately backed off and slow played the rest of the match. Each side would pass amongst themselves in their half of the field, regularly passing back to their goalkeeper. There was little tackling and only a limited attempt at kicking the ball at the goal by either side.

Most every neutral observer was stunned by the display and decried the behavior of the two teams. Fans chanted in disgust, the announcers were appalled, and it was an all-around embarrassing display. Although it took 25 years for a West German player to admit the fix was in on the match, it was clear at the time something was up.

FIFA changed the scheduling system four years later and since the 1986 World Cup, we’ve seen the final games of each World Cup group scheduled to take place at the same time.