Football is a simple game, most of the time anyway. Score one more goal than your opponents and you win. Score the same number of goals and you draw. Things start to get complicated, however, when group standings come into the equation, as Greece and Paraguay discovered when Group D of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 came to a conclusion on Friday.
Following their 1-1 draw in Trabzon it was impossible to separate the two teams at the top of the section, and as careful consultation of the tournament rules revealed, there was no other way of deciding who should take first place in the group than the drawing of lots.
“It’s a very strange situation and very frustrating because your future’s taken out of your hands,” Greece midfielder Spyridon Fourlanos told FIFA.com just minutes after fate dictated that his side should finish top of the group.
“We were all pretty nervous and anxious in the dressing room and couldn’t wait to find out the result,” continued Fourlanos, who had just enjoyed his first start of the tournament. “Even though both of us went through, it was very important to finish first. For any sportsperson it’s always nice to finish first. It shows just how well we’ve played in a group in which we weren’t really among the favourites. And I honestly feel that we deserve it on the strength of the three games we played.”
Judging by Friday’s evidence, there can be little doubt about that, the Greeks largely dominating a Paraguay side that was overrun in the opening minutes and reduced to ten men after half an hour.
Victory seemed to be Greece’s for the taking, but a combination of slack defending at a long throw-in and some typical Guaraní determination resulted in a different outcome, with the fate of the two teams ultimately being decided by the luck of the draw. “When the coach came in and told us the result we all shouted out and jumped for joy,” said a still emotional Fourlanos, who recently signed for Belgium’s Club Bruges from Panathinaikos. “It honestly feels like we scored a second goal.”
One goal by either side is all it would have taken to determine their destiny without Lady Luck taking a hand. As it turned out, however, they were tied on five points, with both teams drawing with Mali, beating Mexico and then cancelling each other out at the Huseyin Avni Aker Stadium. They finished level on goal difference as well, both ending the section one goal to the good, and on the number of goals scored: three on each side.
With those three criteria failing to separate them, there was nothing for it but turn to the next page in the tournament regulations, which state that group rankings will be determined by the greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned. The 1-1 draw meant it was on to the next criterion, namely goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams concerned, where there was no dividing them or on the greater number of goals scored in all group matches between the teams concerned. Six different parameters and still there was nothing to choose between them.
“Yes, it wasn’t easy to do all the calculations and see who would finish first,” continued the young Greek, who can hardly be blamed for focusing on his game rather than the ins and outs of the regulations. “All we knew was that lots would be drawn if the game finished all square.”
And drawn they were, with the Organising Committee for the FIFA U-20 World Cup bringing an end to a suspenseful afternoon by bestowing top spot on Fourlanos and his team-mates.
Greece will now be returning to Gaziantep, the venue for their first two group matches, where they will face a third-placed team from Group B, E or F. With it being a knockout match, they know exactly what they will need to do to progress to the last eight, even if another lottery is required at the end of the game, this time from the penalty spot, where skill and not the luck of the draw will decide the outcome.