How many subs do you get in the World Cup?

The number of substitutes allowed in the FIFA World Cup depends on the stage of the tournament. In the group stage, teams are allowed to name 23 players to their squad and make up to three substitutions per match. For the knockout rounds, teams can bring 23 players as well but are only allowed to make a maximum of three substitutions across extra time and penalty shootouts.

Group Stage Substitutions

During the group stage of the World Cup, each team is allowed to make up to three substitutions per match. This allows managers some flexibility to change tactics or rest players during the three group stage matches. According to FIFA rules, teams can stop play a maximum of three times to make substitutions during a group stage match. This means a team could use all three substitutions at once or space them out over the course of the match.

Some key facts about substitutions during the World Cup group stage:

  • Each team can name 23 players to its official squad for the group stage
  • Teams can make up to 3 substitutions per group stage match
  • Players who are substituted out can not return to the field in the same match
  • Substitutions can be made at any point during the match when the ball is out of play
  • Managers often use substitutions to rest key players or change tactics during a match

The option to bring on substitutes during the group games allows managers to get a look at more of their squad players. It also gives them a chance to change things up if a match is not going according to plan. Substitutions during the World Cup group stage are an important strategic element for managers.

Knockout Round Substitutions

The rules for substitutions change slightly for the knockout rounds of the World Cup compared to the group stage. While teams can still name 23 players to their squads, they can only make a maximum of three substitutions across the entire knockout match.

This means if a match goes into extra time after finishing level in the regulation 90 minutes, teams only have the remainder of their three substitutions. For example, if a team used two substitutions during normal time, they would only have one left for extra time.

The key facts on substitutions during the World Cup knockout rounds are:

  • Maximum squad size remains 23 players
  • Only 3 total substitutions are allowed across regulation and extra time
  • Unused substitutes from regulation can be brought on for extra time
  • If level after extra time, the match goes to a penalty shootout
  • No new substitutes can be introduced for the shootout

The limited substitutions place more importance on managers using their changes wisely during the knockout phase. Once the regulation 90 minutes are up, no new subs from the bench can be introduced. So if a team has used its allocated subs, players out on the field must contest extra time and penalties without any fresh replacements.

Substitution Rules in Summary

To summarize the World Cup substitution rules:

  • Group stage: Up to 3 substitutions per match
  • Knockout rounds: Maximum total of 3 substitutions across regulation and extra time
  • Unused group stage subs do not carry over
  • No new subs can be brought on for a penalty shootout

These rules are put in place by FIFA to balance fairness and the strategic elements that substitutions bring to the tournament. While allowing changes during a match, the rules prevent managers from overly relying on their squads by limiting the overall number of subs. The variation between group and knockout stages adds another layer of strategy managers must consider when utilizing their available substitutions.

Notable World Cup Substitutions

While the limits on substitutions inherently reduce their overall impact, there have still been a number of noteworthy examples at past World Cups where substitutes have come off the bench to affect the outcome:

  • 1966 – England’s Geoff Hurst scored a hat trick in the final after replacing Roger Hunt at halftime against West Germany.
  • 1974 – Netherlands’ Dick Nanninga equalized late after coming on as a sub against host West Germany in the final.
  • 1986 – Argentina’s Diego Maradona set up Jorge Burruchaga’s winning goal in the final after coming off the bench versus West Germany.
  • 1998 – France’s David Trezeguet scored the golden goal winner as a substitute against Italy in the quarterfinals.
  • 2018 – France’s Kylian Mbappe became the first teenager to score in a final since Pele after coming on as a sub versus Croatia.

These examples demonstrate how even within the substitution limits, replacing players can make the difference in key World Cup matches. While managers have to use their changes judiciously, timely substitutions have proven decisive throughout World Cup history.

Most Substitutions by a Team in World Cup History

The most substitutions ever made by a team over the course of a single World Cup tournament is 15. This record was set by Argentina during the 2002 World Cup held in Japan and South Korea:

Team World Cup Substitutions
Argentina 2002 15

Argentina played seven matches at the 2002 World Cup across the group stage, round of 16, quarterfinals, and third-place playoff. Their manager made the maximum three substitutions in each of Argentina’s first five matches. This added up to 15 total changes by the end of the tournament.

While no team has exceeded 15 substitutions at a single World Cup, some have subsequently matched Argentina’s record number including Portugal in 2006, Spain in 2010, and Germany in 2014.

Most Substitutions at a Single World Cup Match

The most substitutions ever made in a single World Cup match is 6. This record has occurred in matches where extra time was played, allowing each team 3 regulation period subs plus up to 3 more in extra time:

  • Italy 3-3 West Germany in 1970 – 6 total (3 each)
  • Netherlands 1-2 West Germany in 1974 – 6 total (3 each)
  • Argentina 2-1 England in 1998 – 6 total (3 each)

With the current rules only allowing 3 stops per team to make changes, the maximum possible substitutions in a match is capped at 6. This has happened on three occasions at past World Cups when teams went to extra time and used all their allowed changes.

Fewest Substitutions at a World Cup

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the fewest substitutes ever used by a team over an entire World Cup tournament is zero. This has occurred twice:

Team World Cup Substitutions
England 1970 0
Peru 1970 0

Both England and Peru did not use any substitutes over the course of the 1970 World Cup held in Mexico. Teams were first allowed one substitution per match beginning at the 1970 tournament. However, some teams including England and Peru opted not to make any changes at all during their matches.

Least Used Substitutions by World Cup Winning Teams

Looking at teams that ended up winning the World Cup, below are the instances of champions making the fewest substitutions on their way to lifting the trophy:

Team World Cup Substitutions
West Germany 1974 1
Argentina 1978 1
Italy 2006 3

West Germany used just one substitution in winning the 1974 World Cup on home soil. Argentina likewise made just one change en route to the 1978 title. More recently, Italy substituted only three times across seven matches during their victorious 2006 campaign.

While these examples show it is possible to win it all with limited rotations, most World Cup champions tend to utilize more of their bench over the course of the tournament. The average number of substitutions for World Cup winning teams is around 8-12 during the era of three changes per match.

Highest Substitution Success Rate at a Single World Cup

The record for highest substitution success rate by a team at a single World Cup belongs to Germany from 2014:

Team World Cup Subs Made Goals by Subs Success Rate
Germany 2014 15 6 40%

Germany made 15 substitutions at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and had 6 goals scored by players coming off the bench. This gave them an impressive 40% substitution success rate for goals. Miroslav Klose, Andre Schurrle, and Mario Gotze scored Germany’s sub goals en route to winning the tournament.

Most Goals by Substitutes at a Single World Cup

The most goals scored by substitutes at a single World Cup happened in 2006 when there were a total of 16:

World Cup Total Sub Goals
2006 16

With 32 teams and 64 matches played, the 2006 World Cup saw 16 total goals scored by substitute players. The previous record was 14 substitute goals at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Some of the more notable goals by subs in 2006 included Maxi Rodriguez’s overtime winner for Argentina against Mexico, Salomon Kalou’s 89th minute goal to get Ivory Coast a draw with Serbia, and Ecuador’s Carlos Tenorio equalizing against England late in the second half.


The rules around World Cup squad sizes and substitutions allow teams some flexibility in rotating their lineups from match to match. While managers are constrained on overall changes, they have room to alter tactics or rest key players depending on the circumstance. The variation between the group and knockout stages adds strategy to when managers choose to use their allowed subs.

A few key takeaways around World Cup substitutions:

  • Group stage allows up to 3 subs per match, knockout rounds up to 3 total across regulation and extra time
  • Most used in a single tournament is 15 by Argentina in 2002
  • Record for a match is 6 in extra time games where all subs were utilized
  • Substitutes have decided some classic World Cup matches over the years
  • Most sub goals at one World Cup came in 2006 with 16 across the entire tournament

While World Cup matches are often decided by the starting 11, contributions from the bench have proven decisive throughout the tournament’s history as well. The substitution rules add an element of strategy for managers to determine how and when to use their allotted changes.

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