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England, Belgium World Cup group fate could come down to fair play ranking points

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England and Belgium go into their Group G game on Thursday with identical records, meaning that fair play points could decide who is the winner of the group.

Both teams have scored eight goals and conceded two in the opening group games, putting them completely level.

The winners of the meeting in Kaliningrad are guaranteed to top the group, but if the match finishes as a draw, the places will be decided first on fair play.

FIFA deducts points from the fair play ranking based on the following criteria (each player can score only minus points in one category):

Yellow card: minus-1
Red card for two cautions: minus-3
Straight red card: minus-4
Yellow card and straight red card: minus-5

England are currently above Belgium in the table, as they have two yellow cards (minus-2) to Belgium's three (minus-3). If the two teams also finish level in fair play, there will be a random draw for positions, which Ireland and Netherlands had to do in 1990 (the Irish were drawn second and the Dutch third).

Group G is last to complete its fixtures, so the bracket for the knockout rounds will be fully mapped out by the time the game gets under way. That means there should be an indication of which half of the draw, on paper at least, is favourable.

For example, if Brazil win Group E and Germany finish second in F, they will be in the same half of the draw as the Group G winners. Brazil would meet Germany in the round of 16 and potentially play the winners of Group G in the quarterfinals. It could be more favourable for the runners-up in Group G, who could face a quarterfinal against, for instance, Mexico or Switzerland rather than the winner of Brazil vs. Germany.