The final round of World Cup group-stage play begins Monday with four games, two in Group A and two in Group B (all times EDT):
Group B: Netherlands vs. Chile in Sao Paulo, noon (ESPN)
Group B: Spain vs. Australia in Curitiba, noon (ESPN2)
Group A: Mexico vs. Croatia in Recife, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Group A: Brazil vs. Cameroon in Brasilia, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
First off, an explanation as to why they start playing games at the same time for the final round. At the 1982 World Cup, West Germany entered its final group-stage game against Austria knowing that it needed a one-goal win to advance at the expense of Algeria, which had played its final group-stage game the day before and had shocked the West Germans in their opening match. After Horst Hrubesch scored in the 10th minute for West Germany, the teams more or less stopped playing, rarely mounting any serious scoring challenges. The resulting outcry over the blatant match-fixing — the commentator for West German television simply stopped talking, and his Austrian counterpart told viewers they should turn off their televisions — led FIFA to change its scheduling format. Since that infamous day, each group’s final matches are played at the same time.
Back in the present day, here are the advancement scenarios — or lack thereof, in Spain’s case — for the eight teams playing Monday.
Group A standings
Brazil 1-0-1, 4 points (plus-2 goal differential)
Mexico 1-0-1, 4 points (plus-1 goal differential)
Croatia 1-1-0, 3 points (plus-2 goal differential)
Cameroon 0-2-0, 0 points (minus-5 goal differential)
– Brazil and Mexico will advance to the knockout round with a win or a draw.
– Brazil will advance with a loss and a Mexico win.
– Should Brazil and Mexico both lose, it would come down to tiebreakers between the two teams (goal differential, then goals scored, then points obtained in games between the tied teams, then goal difference in the games between the two teams, then goals scored in the games between the two teams. If none of that settles anything, FIFA will pick a name out of a hat, a doomsday scenario that could easily happen on Wednesday in Group F.)
– Croatia will advance with a win over Mexico. Croatia will advance with a draw and a Brazil loss.
– Cameroon has no chance of advancing.
Group B standings
Netherlands 2-0-0, 6 points (plus-5 goal differential)
Chile 2-0-0, 6 points (plus-4 goal differential)
Australia 0-2-0, 0 points (minus-3 goal differential)
Spain 0-2-0, 0 points (minus-6 goal differential)
– The Netherlands and Chile are both through to the knockout round. The winner will earn the top group seed and likely avoid playing Brazil in the round of 16. In the event of a draw, the Netherlands will earn the top seed and Chile will finish second because of goal differential.
– Australia and Spain are playing for pride.