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I have long been a football fan, though in recent years buisness has prevailed over watching sport, so I have kind of taken my eye off the ball, but I did notice that this year Scotland finished second in "FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group F", and yet failed to automatically qualify for the World Cup finals, instead entering a play-off phase. However, this is different from previous years when Scotland have finished second in the group qualifiers and been rewarded with automatic qualification for the World Cup finals. I also notice the same is true of the European Championships.

I have conducted a quick search of Google to try and find the answer, but the answer is not immediately obvious, so my question is, since when did second place in the World Cup group qualifiers stop being good enough to qualify automatically for the World Cup finals?

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There isn't a clear cut answer to this.

  • The last time that all second place countries in the UEFA qualifiers went directly to the World Cup was in the 1994 cycle.
  • In the 1998 cycle the best ranked second place team went directly to the World Cup; the second place team in the other eight groups went to playoffs. The qualifier is this case happened to be Scotland, so I suspect this is what you are thinking of.
  • In the 2002 cycle, all second place teams went into playoffs.
  • The 2006 cycle had 8 larger groups rather than 9 smaller groups, so two second place teams (Poland and Sweden) qualified directly, with the other 6 teams going into playoffs.
  • Since the 2010 cycle, no second place teams have qualified directly. In some cases, the worst second place team has been directly eliminated.
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  • I always assumed it was due to the large increase in the number of countries in Europe in the 90s
    – komodosp
    Sep 7, 2022 at 22:44

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