In 1982 West Germany defeated Austria 1-0, which, by a spectacular coincidence, was the exact score needed to eliminate Algeria and let Austria and West Germany advance. It even has its own Wikipedia entry. Why Algeria didn't declare war and invade I still have no idea - even France would have helped. Especially France, as it turned out.
Even FIFA knew this was unjust, so they - changed the schedule of the third game. Why Algeria hasn't invaded Switzerland, I still have no idea. In any case, since then we've had simultaneous third group games, so that arrangements like this cannot be made in advance.
They can be made on the fly, of course. In 2002, when news that the United States was being thumped by Poland/shafted by the refs (I'm telling the story and I'm American, so there), Luis Figo ALLEGEDLY pointed out to South Korean players that a draw would eliminate the United States. To their ongoing credit, Korea refused the offer, and defeated Portugal.
But even in that instance, the (ALLEGED, MAYBE EVEN THEORETICAL) scam depended on results that were not yet certain. Korea would have looked very silly if they played the Prisoner's Dilemma and the US made a big comeback. The key to preventing match-fixing isthat there's no way to know anymore, in advance, what result you need.
Until 2026. In the format that was just approved unanimously by FIFA, that would happen sixteen times in sixteen groups. Not every group will allow for this kind of temptation, but, well, let's look at the options.
Team A wins both its games. Teams B and C fight for the second spot. This is the ideal scenario. Unfixable without one team going home. (Short of bribery, but we can have that no matter what format we use.)
Team A wins and draws. Team B with 1 point vs. Team C with zero. Also unfixable.
Team A loses and draws. Team B with 3 points vs. Team C with 1. Team B better really hate Team C, otherwise this will get shameful in a hurry.
Team A draws both games. Team B and Team C will arrange a higher score draw and advance
Team A loses both its games. Team B. vs. Team C is a dead rubber, unless there's a really tempting seeding in the knockout rounds. Even then, play your bench, dummies.
So, you have a two in five chance of a classic third game, and a three in five chance of a total fix.
Would having one team advance out of three help? This was actually the scenario in the second round of that same 1982 World Cup that was so disgraceful, and no matches were fixed here. At least, not obviously.
But it could have been. West Germany, of all teams, were dependent on Spain's honor. West Germany had drawn against England 0-0, and defeated Spain 2-1. They then had to sit and ponder their sins, knowing that if England defeated Spain 2-1, they were in for a coin flip...and by any other score except 1-0, they were toast. Either Spain refused the obvious offer, or England didn't make it - in any case, after the 0-0 result West Germany were free to break Patrick Battiston's teeth and ribs.
(It's neither here nor there, but either Paul Mariner misremembered the story to the Bolton News in 2014, or England (or at least Mariner) thought a 1-0 win would have been good enough to advance. Or, third option, I've badly misread the standings.)
So there are, shall we say, issues with the three team group - although FIFA of course has chosen the worst possible. Can the 48 team format be saved? Groups of four will leave us with twelve teams in the top two positions, which means we'd have to go back to when we picked the best third place teams. Which was awful, even though the US benefited from it in 1994 in a huge way.
I'm tempted to suggest eight groups of six, top two finishers on to the knockout rounds. But having 120 games in the group stage alone might be a little hard to digest. (The 2014 World Cup had 63 games altogether.) Frustratingly, had FIFA settled for 40 teams, eight groups of five would have been entirely manageable. If you consider a 95 game tournament manageable.
The sad truth is that there may be no good format, once you go beyond 32 teams. My only other suggestion is a 64 team tournament, with thirty-two groups of two. A straight tournament, in other words. If you don't mind 24 teams traipsing around the world to play just two games, then you shouldn't mind 32 teams travelling to play just one. We'd even be back down to 63 games.
But this is FIFA. As soon as they bring in a 64 team tournament, someone will want to raise it to 96 or 128.
Just think how much time would be saved if people only listened to me instead of having their own opinions. The Nate the Snake joke will have to wait for another time, though, since I just blerged about how bad every World Cup will be from now on.
For some reason, though, there are people who can't imagine how you can have two division 2's(two divisions 2?) and no division 3. People are way too hung up on the pyramid metaphor. I mean, I've seen Ten Commandments a lot, and one big takeaway from that movie is that it's really hard to move bricks in a pyramid.
I mean, it's series of standards, not a ranking. Let's say your town has a local high-quality deli, and a Subway. Suppose the Subway franchise works its ass off, and the next year gets two stars in Michelin. That does not mean the other deli gets one star.
Besides, there isn't an official division 4 in American soccer anyway, so it's not like a division 3 is existentially necessary to begin with.
All this is beside the point - they're the same teams as they were last week, nothing has changed except the ribbon on the wrapping. I just wanted to share one more tweet, the best of them all on the topic:
What a wonderful smell we've discovered, indeed.