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Why Groups of 3 Will Ruin the World Cup (So Enjoy This One)

If you’re a World Cup aficionado, you may want to take the time to savor this one, because it may be the last version with a format — groups of four teams — that has a fair and consistently exciting opening phase.

The new opening format — two teams advancing from groups of three in an expanded 48-team field in 2026, and possibly as soon as the next World Cup in 2022 — raises a very serious issue: The risk of collusion will be much higher.

In many cases, the two teams playing the last game in the group will know exactly what results will let them both advance to the knockout stage — at the expense of the third team of the group.

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Once this goal was scored by West Germany’s Horst Hrubesch against Austria, both teams all but stopped attacking in the last 80 minutes in perhaps the most controversial game in World Cup history, in Gijon, Spain on June 25, 1982.CreditAssociated Press

A match in the 1982 World Cup in Gijón, Spain, is probably the most infamous example of World Cup collusion. In what became known as the Disgrace of Gijón, West Germany and Austria appeared to arrange a 1-0 Germany victory that would let both teams advance to the second round. The clear…

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