How many matches are in a semi-final?

In most major football tournaments that use a knockout format, such as the FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championship, there are typically two semi-final matches that decide which teams advance to the championship final match.

Quick Answer

There are 2 semi-final matches in major football tournaments like the World Cup or European Championship.

Number of Teams in Semi-Finals

In a typical knockout tournament format, the semi-finals represent the penultimate stage before the final. By this stage of the tournament, there are just 4 teams remaining out of the original field.

These 4 teams are paired up into 2 semi-final matches: Semi-Final 1 and Semi-Final 2. The winner of each semi-final match advances to the championship final.

World Cup Tournament Format

The FIFA World Cup is one of the most prestigious football tournaments and uses a standard knockout format. The most recent 2022 World Cup in Qatar began with 32 teams divided into 8 groups of 4 teams each.

After a round-robin group stage, the top 2 teams from each group advanced to a knockout round of 16. These 16 teams played 8 matches, with the winners moving on to the quarter-finals.

In the quarter-finals, 8 teams played 4 matches, with the 4 winners advancing to the semi-finals. At this penultimate stage, there were just 4 teams left:

  • Argentina
  • Croatia
  • France
  • Morocco

These 4 teams were paired up into 2 semi-final matches:

  • Argentina vs Croatia
  • France vs Morocco

The winner of each semi-final advanced to the World Cup Final, where Argentina defeated France in a dramatic penalty shootout.

European Championship Format

Much like the World Cup, the UEFA European Football Championship also utilizes a knockout format after an initial group stage. Euro 2020, held in 2021 due to COVID-19, began with 24 teams divided into 6 groups.

The top 2 teams from each group, along with the 4 best third-place teams, advanced to a round of 16 knockout phase. These 16 teams played 8 matches, with the winners moving on to the quarter-finals.

In the quarter-finals, 8 teams played 4 matches, with the 4 winners advancing to the semi-finals. The semi-finalists were:

  • England
  • Denmark
  • Italy
  • Spain

These 4 teams were paired up in the 2 semi-final matches:

  • England vs Denmark
  • Italy vs Spain

Italy defeated Spain on penalties, while England beat Denmark 2-1 in extra time. Italy went on to win the championship by defeating England on penalties in the final.

Semi-Finals in Other Tournaments

While the World Cup and Euros are two of the most prestigious football tournaments, many other competitions also utilize a knockout format with semi-finals.

In domestic league cups like the English FA Cup, semi-finals whittle the field down to just 2 finalists who play in the championship match. High-profile continental club competitions like the UEFA Champions League and Europa League have two-legged semi-final ties before a single final.

Major international tournaments in other sports like rugby union’s Rugby World Cup, cricket’s Cricket World Cup, and field hockey’s Hockey World Cup also feature semi-final rounds preceding the final.

Key Takeaways

  • In a typical knockout tournament format, there are 2 semi-final matches before the championship final.
  • 4 teams remain at the semi-final stage after advancing through previous knockout rounds.
  • Major football tournaments like the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship utilize this standard semi-final format.
  • Domestic cups and continental club competitions also have semi-final rounds prior to their respective finals.
  • The semi-final stage allows for the top 4 teams to be narrowed down to just 2 finalists.


In summary, there are typically 2 semi-final matches in major football tournaments like the World Cup and Euros that use a knockout format. These semi-finals narrow down the field from 4 teams to just 2 finalists who advance to play in the championship final match.

The semi-finals represent the penultimate round before the coveted final. By having 2 semi-final matches, a tournament can systematically reduce the field to ultimately decide one champion team or national side.

So in any standard knockout football tournament format, fans can expect 2 exciting semi-final matches before the final showdown for the title.

Tournament Stage # of Teams Remaining # of Matches
Semi-Finals 4 2
Final 2 1

This table summarizes that in the semi-final stage, with 4 teams remaining, there will be 2 matches played. The 2 winning teams from those matches will then advance to contest the 1 championship final match.

Detailed Tournament Breakdown

To illustrate in more detail, let’s consider a hypothetical tournament with 16 teams initially:

Round # of Teams Matchups
Round of 16 16
  • Team 1 vs Team 16
  • Team 2 vs Team 15
  • Team 3 vs Team 14
  • Team 4 vs Team 13
  • Team 5 vs Team 12
  • Team 6 vs Team 11
  • Team 7 vs Team 10
  • Team 8 vs Team 9
Quarter-finals 8
  • Winner 1 vs Winner 2
  • Winner 3 vs Winner 4
  • Winner 5 vs Winner 6
  • Winner 7 vs Winner 8
Semi-finals 4
  • Winner 1 vs Winner 2
  • Winner 3 vs Winner 4
Final 2 Winner 1 vs Winner 2

This table shows a 16 team tournament being systematically reduced through knockout rounds leading to the semi-finals and final. In the semi-final round, the 4 remaining teams play 2 matches to determine the 2 finalists.

Variations in Format

While 2 semi-final matches is the standard format, some tournaments may vary slightly:

  • Single-Match Semi-Finals – Occasionally, the semi-finals may be a single match rather than a 2-legged home and away tie. However, there would still be 2 total matches (Semi 1 and Semi 2).
  • 3rd Place Playoff – Some tournaments have an additional match between the 2 losing semi-finalists to directly determine 3rd/4th place. But this does not replace the standard semi-final matches.
  • Extra Rounds – In tournaments with many entrants like the FA Cup, there may be additional preliminary knockout rounds before the semi-finals. But the penultimate stage would still be 2 semi-final matches.

So while some variations do exist, the norm remains 2 semi-final matches prior to the championship final in a knockout football tournament.

Significance of the Semi-Finals

The semi-finals represent a pivotal milestone in major football tournaments. It is a chance for the top 4 teams to continue battling towards the ultimate goal of being crowned champions.

Reaching the semi-final stage is an achievement in itself. But the stakes are raised further knowing these are the last matches before the final. Matches at this stage take on added tension and drama.

Moments of individual brilliance or errors can become turning points. Entire careers of players and managers can be defined by how their teams perform in the semi-finals.

In many cases, fans and experts look back at classic tournaments and point to the semi-finals as being where careers peaked or dreams ended.

The chance to play in a final does not come often, so the teams in semi-finals leave everything on the field. This all contributes to the semi-final stage being hugely anticipated and influential.

Most Exciting Semi-Finals

Given the high stakes, many legendary semi-final matches have occurred over the years. Here are some of the most exciting and memorable semi-final clashes in major tournaments:

  • Italy vs Germany, World Cup 1970 – Dubbed the “Game of the Century”, Italy beat Germany 4-3 in extra time in a seesaw match.
  • Portugal vs England, Euro 2000 – Portugal won 3-2 after extra time on a Golden Goal by Nuno Gomes in a back-and-forth thriller.
  • Netherlands vs Brazil, World Cup 1998 – The Dutch won on penalties after a 1-1 draw to knock out Brazil and advance to the final.
  • France vs Portugal, World Cup 2006 – Zinedine Zidane’s penalty and red card was a defining moment as France beat Portugal 1-0.
  • Germany vs Italy, World Cup 2006 – Italy scored twice late in extra time to defeat Germany 2-0 in a tense encounter.

These clashes contained last gasp goals, dramatic red cards, penalties, and games hanging in the balance until the final whistle. Many became instant classics and illustrate why the semi-finals produce such spectacle.

Top Semi-Final Performers

Some brilliant individual performances have also graced World Cup and European Championship semi-finals over time:

  • Paolo Rossi – The Italian striker scored a hat-trick against Brazil in 1982 en route to winning the Golden Boot.
  • Davor Suker – Croatian legend Suker netted a fine individual goal against England at France 1998.
  • Oliver Bierhoff – Germany’s Bierhoff scored a Golden Goal winner versus Czech Republic at Euro 1996.
  • Thierry Henry – France’s Henry starred with a brace against Portugal at Germany 2006.
  • Andres Iniesta – Iniesta’s goal for Spain versus Italy at Euro 2008 capped a man of the match performance.

Moments like these from superstar players have ingrained many memorable semi-final matches into football history.

Countries With Most Semi-Final Appearances

Some nations have accumulated considerably more semi-final appearances at major tournaments than others. Here are the countries with the most World Cup and European Championship semi-final berths:

Country World Cup Semi-Finals Euro Semi-Finals Total
Germany 13 6 19
Italy 8 6 14
France 6 5 11
Spain 1 7 8
England 7 1 8

Germany leads with 19 combined semi-final appearances spread relatively evenly between the World Cup and Euros. Italy and France follow behind with 14 and 11 respectively. England has reached 7 World Cup semis but only 1 Euro semi, while Spain has had far more success in the Euros.

Excitement Builds Heading Into Semi-Finals

The semi-final stage represents a pinnacle moment in major football knockout tournaments. Fans eagerly anticipate these matches knowing the stakes could not be higher with a place in the final on the line.

The semi-finals have historically produced some of the most dramatic and memorable clashes in tournament history. And with the eyes of the football world watching, players have risen to the occasion with heroic performances.

There is no doubt the semi-finals will continue to capture the imagination of fans every 2 years at the World Cup and Euros. With just 2 matches between the final 4 teams left, the excitement builds to a fever pitch heading into the semi-finals.

Leave a Comment