Note: The set-up for this puzzle is all a fiction. (Or is it...?!) (Yes, it is.)

I have this friend who keeps banging on about how this year's World Cup was all a big fix, that the whole thing was rigged so that Messi would get his big bow-out on the international stage with Argentina lifting the trophy.

It feels like I am relentlessly firefighting their ludicrous theories about referees being genetically altered to breed bias towards particular teams, pitches being tilted mechanically to move the ball in certain directions, and the Belgian side being replaced by cardboard cut-outs (actually, that one might well be true...).

My friend's latest idea is completely bunkum. Apparently, specific matches earlier in the tournament were rigged in a way that conveyed the end result of the final itself (which would also be rigged) so that an international betting syndicate could make big bucks!

This is the list of matches my friend raised as 'suspect':

Poland vs Saudi Arabia
USA vs Netherlands
Canada vs Morocco
Morocco vs Portugal
Senegal vs Netherlands
Tunisia vs France
Ghana vs Portugal
Ecuador vs Senegal
France vs Poland
Switzerland vs Serbia
Japan vs Costa Rica
Netherlands vs Qatar

When my friend pointed out the 'hidden message' they'd found across these matches, I just shook my head. It's a prime example of cherry-picking information to suit your own agenda. To prove it I said they could just as easily have plucked out:

Argentina vs Croatia
Belgium vs Morocco
Mexico vs Saudi Arabia
Tunisia vs France
South Korea vs Portugal
Ecuador vs Netherlands
Switzerland vs Cameroon

At which point my friend shouted, "See?! This whole World Cup was a fix!"

Give me strength.

TASK: Find the hidden messages in the two lists of matches at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

  • $\begingroup$ Your friend is watching too much of The Blacklist. $\endgroup$
    – dezdichado
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 19:57

1 Answer 1


All of these matchups are real matches in the 2022 World Cup. We can take the goals scored by each country as an index into that country's name. E.g. for Poland v Saudi Arabia, the score was 2-0, so we take the second letter of 'Poland', O, and no letter from 'Saudi Arabia'.

enter image description here

This gives the message: OUTCOME THREE APIECE, the final score before penalties in the final. (Thanks @Johnson for the correction comment)

Doing the same operation on the second set of matchups:

We get GOES TO PENS, as the World Cup final was decided on penalties.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Exactly right, well found :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 7:49
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ I don't know what's more impressive: the fact that all this is made using real, official information or the fact that someone found out. $\endgroup$
    – Josh Part
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 22:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JoshPart for me the first one is really impressive. $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ If it's only a sequence of single letters, then it's not that impressive, but some of these are double letters, haha. $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 11:04

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