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World Cup tie breakers: What the USA needs to do to advance

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Martin Meissner/AP

(Read caption) World Cup tie breakers could come into play after the USA and Slovenia drew 2-2 in their World Cup match Friday. Here, the USA's Landon Donovan (in blue) dribbles through the Slovenia defense.

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World Cup tie breakers are complex, but heading into the final round of games in Group C Wednesday, the math for the USA is relatively straightforward.

After its 2-2 draw with Slovenia Friday, the USA will qualify for the second round of the World Cup with a win over Algeria, and it could also advance with a tie. It will be eliminated with a loss.

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Qualification for the second round goes like this:

Two teams advance out of every four-team group. The first and most obvious decider is points (three points for a win, one for a draw).

  • If two teams are tied on points, the first tiebreaker is goal difference – how many goals a team has scored minus how many it has conceded. The thinking is that this is the best measure of which team is better over the three games.
  • If that is inconclusive, the second tiebreaker is goals scored. This rewards the team that is more offensive.
  • If the teams are still tied on these measures, the next tiebreaker is who won the head-to-head matchup.
  • If they’re still tied, World Cup officials flip a coin, literally.

Here’s how that plays out in the US situation.

1. A USA win

With a win, the USA will finish above Algeria and either England or Slovenia – depending on the result of that match. But it can finish no worse than second.

2. A USA draw

The USA will also advance with a draw if:

  1. Slovenia defeats England.
  2. England and Slovenia draw – so long as England’s doesn’t score two-plus goals more than the USA in its draw.

This takes some explaining. If both the USA and England draw, Slovenia will top the group with five points and the USA and England will be tied with three points. They will have the same goal difference (zero) because they will have drawn all three games.

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