The Disgrace of Gijón should guide the groups at the 2026 World Cup

Gianni Infantino holds the World Cup trophy
Gianni Infantino holds the World Cup trophy /

At the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the worst game in history happened. This game was dubbed ‘the Disgrace of Gijón’, and resulted in the competition rules being altered so that all matches in each group’s final round must be played concurrently.

In 1982, both Algeria and Austria (it’s always Austria!) were vying for a spot in the knockout stages of the tournament. Coming into the game only Chile knew their destiny of being eliminated. Both Algeria and Chile had played their last game the day before, leaving Austria knowing they’d be through if they didn’t lose by more than three goals, while West Germany needed to win.

A draw would have seen the West Germans eliminated and the Austrians and Algerians moving on to the next round. Horst Hrubesch scored the only goal of the game in the tenth minute of play. In the other eighty minutes, the play was so bad that there weren’t any shots on goal and over 1000 completed passes combined. Why? Because a simple 1-0 would put both sides through without any fuss.

The people in the stands of the El Molinón stadium in Gijón, were screaming “¡Que se besen, que se besen!”  which in Spanish means “Let them kiss, let them kiss!”. Other chants included “¡Argelia, Argelia!” (“Algeria, Algeria!”), “¡Fuera, fuera!” (“Out, out!”). The game was so bad that there were accusations of match-fixing so that Algeria would be eliminated. This game was so bad that in the TV broadcast in both countries told the fans to not watch the game.

So why is this game being referenced? It’s because the original plan for the 2026 World Cup is to have sixteen groups of three. The first proposal to alleviate the obvious problems is to have all ties end in penalty kicks.

The problem with that is that in order to have this pass through the International Football Association Board or IFAB. In this board, the Home Nations of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) technically have a veto power because in order to change the rulebook or the Laws of the Game (how the rule book is called in FIFA and the UK) it needs a two-thirds majority.

The solution that has been floating around is to have twelve groups of four. In this manner there wouldn’t be a case of a team screwing another just to game the system. In terms for the knockout stages it’ll be the group winners and also the top four second place teams. After this, it’ll be like normal until the final in most likely MetLife Stadium.

MLS Multiplex
MLS Multiplex /

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