FIFA’s director of competitions Colin Smith has defended the policy of using ‘Fair Play’ criteria to rank teams when they are level on points, goals and head-to-head records.
Senegal became the first team in World Cup history to exit the tournament because of their inferior disciplinary record to Japan in Group H but there have been no complaints about it from the African team and FIFA seems quite relaxed about its new rule.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Smith said: “We want to avoid the drawing of lots as we believe teams should go forward based on what happens on the pitch.
“This is the first time we’ve used it at a World Cup, so obviously we’ll review it but as things stand we don’t see any need to change it.”
Smith also explained that Fair Play criteria – yellow and red cards – have been successfully trialled at age-group and women’s tournaments and were added to the rules for this tournament in 2015.
In regard to how FIFA and the local organising committee believe the tournament is going, Smith and Russia 2018 chief executive Alexey Sorokin spoke with one voice: they are “delighted”.
Both men reeled off positive statistics on global television audiences and ticket sales, and said the feedback from broadcasters, fans, sponsors and teams has been overwhelmingly upbeat.
“From the point of view of the local organising committee, we are very satisfied with the way this World Cup has been going,” said Sorokin.
“I believe everything has been organised in a wonderful way and we can see it in the emotions of the fans in the stadium and Fan Fests. There have also been no problems with the pictures or training bases – everything is running well.”
British officials have not travelled to the World Cup after a series of diplomatic incidents between Russia and the UK, most notably the attempted murder of an ex-Russian spy in Salisbury in March.
Asked if he would welcome any British officials to Russia 2018 if they reconsidered their decision to stay away, Sorokin said: “We have showed perfectly well to the world that we welcome fans from any country – the atmosphere in every city has been cordial, you have to acknowledge that.
“So they would be welcome as any other football fan to come and support their team. We repeatedly told the world how puzzled we are about the decision of certain politicians not to visit and support their teams.”
On the issue of some fans not turning up to games that they have bought tickets for, Smith said FIFA “wants every seat filled” and when it knows
supporters no longer want to attend it “recycles” them via the official website.
Overall, he said, 2,178,894 tickets were sold for the 48 group-stage games, which equates to 98 per cent of capacity.
Smith acknowledged this does not reflect the “no shows” that have been obvious at a few games – most obviously the Egypt-Uruguay game in Ekaterinburg – but said it can be hard to reallocate tickets for boxes or other hospitality areas “at short notice because of security reasons”.
Pictures of empty seats at Thursday’s England-Belgium game have circulated on social media but Sorokin said his staff have discovered there were actually only 66 empty seats in those parts of the ground.
Neither Smith nor Sorokin seemed to think that touts are a major issue at this tournament, however, which will come as a surprise to anybody who has seen them in large numbers outside grounds and ticket centres and on the Moscow Metro before games.
The host nation’s better-than-expected performances have also been a big talking point here, particularly after the side topped the running statistics after their first two games – big wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Given the country’s appalling record for doping, this raised eyebrows.
Smith revealed that FIFA has done over 2,700 drug tests and every player here has been tested at least once, with a minimum of two players from each team tested after each game.
“We are certainly happy our team made it out of the group but we are not overly surprised,” added Sorokin.
“The team has been preparing for this and they were very motivated. In fact, if you read the Russian media, the message is ‘sorry for not believing in you’.”