Good day. In an ideal world, the number of teams at all World Cups would follow the old geometric sequence: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and so on until we reach the Fifa utopia of a 256-team tournament. Sometimes it isn’t possible to have such a neat number, for reasons too boring to go into here, and when that’s the case you need creative solutions to find out who qualifies for the knockout stage.
At this, the second 24-team Women’s World Cup, that means the return of an old friend: the Four Best Third-Placed Teams System!
The top two from the six groups go through to the last 16, along with the four best third-placed teams. It means it is possible to lose your first two games and still qualify. That’s the carrot dangling seductively in the eyeline of New Zealand and Cameroon, who meet in Montpellier their final Group E match this afternoon.
If they draw, they are both out. If either team wins by two goals, they will qualify*. If they win by one goal it gets complicated, so we won’t be bother going into minute detail unless that situation arises. Essentially, a higher-scoring one-goal win (2-1, 3-2, 4-3) is good, a 1-0 win less so, but it would still be enough unless Chile thump Thailand by at least three goals tonight.
That game is one of two in Group E which we’ll be following in this clockwatch. The other is the first-place play-off between the Netherlands and Canada in Remis. The Netherlands only need a draw to win the group, by virtue of having scored more goals than Canada.
That said, I’m not sure winning the group is a good thing – whoever does so witll face a tricky second round match against Japan. The runners-up face a tricky match against Sweden or an exceedingly tricky one against the USA. (It’ll be Sweden unless they beat the USA tonight.)
The matches kick off at 6pm local time, 5pm in Guardian Towers, London.
* Guardian.co.uk reeserves the right to get these permutations completely wrong, like the befuddled dunce we are.