ISL 2017/18: Why FC Pune City have already qualified for playoffs
The fourth season of the ISL has entered its final stages and the excitement is more than ever.
So far, we have seen some memorable goals, incredible saves and a few howlers from the referees. Amidst all these, Bengaluru FC, playing in their inaugural season, have exceeded all expectations and become the first team to qualify for the playoffs.
They were quickly joined by FC Pune City, who have guaranteed a top-4 finish regardless of the result of their final match against Delhi Dynamos and the outcome of other fixtures. This development comes after the Pune-based team was handed a 4-0 drubbing by FC Goa at home on Sunday.
Mathematically as many as three clubs can still match FC Pune City's tally of 29 points. If Pune lose their last match, then they will also be stranded on 29 points. Thus many were eager to find out how Pune have already qualified for the last four stage.
Five teams - Chennaiyin FC, Jamshedpur FC, FC Goa, Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters, are still in contention for a place in the playoffs.
The only way Kerala can qualify is if they beat Bengaluru in their final fixture and at the same time, Goa lose to ATK and play out a draw against Jamshedpur while Mumbai drop points against Chennaiyin. These results don't affect Pune's qualification so let us not consider these for the moment.
Taking a look at other fixtures, there can be two hypothetical scenarios should Pune lose against Delhi:
Scenario 1: FC Goa get through, three teams on 29 points
FC Goa have two matches left, against ATK at home and an away fixture against Jamshedpur. Now considering that they go on to win both the matches, the Gaurs will qualify for the playoffs with a tally of 30 points from their 18 matches. Jamshedpur will then be knocked out, and they would be stranded on 26 points.
Chennaiyin FC, who are on 29 points, play Mumbai City in their final match. If Chennaiyin win, then, of course, Mumbai are knocked out. However, if Mumbai manage to win against Delhi and Chennaiyin in their final two matches, they will be stranded on 29 points.
Thus, there is a possibility of three teams - FC Pune City, Mumbai City FC and Chennaiyin FC, finishing on 29 points with just two berths left for the playoffs.
Scenario 2: Four teams stranded on 29 points
Mumbai win against Delhi and Chennaiyin while Jamshedpur defeat Goa and we have already considered the worst for Pune; they lose against Delhi.
In this case, four teams, viz. Pune, Mumbai, Jamshedpur and Chennaiyin, will finish their league engagements with 29 points. These four teams will then be vying for the three spots on offer as Kerala Blaster will be out of contention for the playoffs.
Why Pune City have already qualified
In both the scenarios, we see that Pune City are tied with either two or three teams. However, the separation criteria for teams tied on the table is not as straightforward as one might imagine. According to the rules of the ISL, the teams are separated first by points obtained, then by the most number of points gathered in their head-to-head matches.
If the teams still can't be set apart, then the goal difference from the league matches between the sides involved come into play, followed by the goals scored in those games. If all is even, then the goal difference across all league matches will be taken into account.
If after all this, the teams involved still cannot be separated, then the side that has scored most number of goals will go through. The fair play ranking will be used if it is still even while the last option would be the draw of lots.
In this case, the four teams can end up being tied on points so, the head-to-head count comes to the fore.
As of now, Pune, having won twice against Mumbai and Jamshedpur, are clear winners in the head-to-head count with 12 points among the four teams in the reckoning. The other factors, hence, don't come into play for Pune. This means that they have already qualified for the playoffs regardless of the result in their last match.