Poland lose but advance at World Cup. How did that happen?


Group C of the 2022 FIFA World Cup was close.

So close that second place was nearly decided by yellow card offenses after the following results Wednesday in Qatar:

Wait, how were Mexico eliminated after winning? And what about Poland getting into the knockout rounds after losing? Weren't both teams tied on four points?

Let's explain, with a quick look at the standings and Argentina earning first place in Group C.

Group C standings: 2022 World Cup
Goals (for, against, GD)
1. Argentina
5; 2; 3
2. Poland
2; 2; 0
3. Mexico
2; 3; -1
4. Saudi Arabia
3; 5; -2

World Cup group standings tiebreakers

Before getting into details, let's list the tiebreakers that decide group stage play (if needed):

  1. Points
  2. Goal differential
  3. Goals scored
  4. Head-to-head result
  5. Goal differential in matches between tied teams (only in three-way tie)
  6. Goals scored in matches between tied teams (only in three-way tie)
  7. Fair play tiebreaker (based on negative points for yellow and red cards)
  8. Drawing lots

How tiebreakers unfolded

Poland and Mexico played to a 0-0 draw in their opening Group C game and were tied on all other tiebreakers – including goal differential and goals scored – going into their respective final matches.

With both games Wednesday reaching full-time, Poland would have made the Round of 16 via what's known as a “fair play” tiebreaker, which is based on negative points for yellow and red cards. Essentially, it would come down to Mexico receiving two more yellow cards than Poland.

Instead, a 95th-minute strike by Saudi Arabia's Salem Al-Dawsari sealed Mexico's fate, as they would fall to Poland on goal differential. No “fair play” tiebreaker was needed – just goal differential. El Tri's 2-1 victory wasn't enough, and Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny's first-half PK denial of Argentina star Lionel Messi loomed massively influential.

Concacaf meaning

With Mexico out in Group C, the United States remain the only Concacaf team to make the knockout stage so far. They finished second in Group B and will now play Group A winners Netherlands on Saturday (10 am ET | FOX, Telemundo).

Costa Rica will have an opportunity to advance via Group E when they face Germany on Thursday afternoon (2 pm ET | FS1, Telemundo). Canada are already out of Group F contention.

MLS connections

After Wednesday's Group C results, Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada (Argentina) and Charlotte FC forward Karol Swiderski (Poland) both remain in World Cup contention.

Conversely, Houston Dynamo FC midfielder Héctor Herrera (Mexico) is out.