Is it time to stop taking FIFA World Rankings seriously?

by Edward Watson

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

For those of you who missed it, FIFA announced its revised edition of its World Rankings yesterday and I’m sure that many of you will be as surprised as I was when you see the top ten looking like this:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Spain
  3. Germany
  4. England
  5. Uruguay
  6. Brazil
  7. Italy
  8. Portugal
  9. Argentina
  10. Croatia

Before I start my argument, perhaps we should look briefly at how this is worked out:

There are three main categories to decide where points are awarded; firstly, you have to win or draw, no points will be awarded for a loss. Then there is the level of competition, with friendly matches ranked lowest, followed by qualifiers, Continental competitions and World Cup matches. Finally, the strength of the opponent is taken into account and is scored accordingly with their current world ranking. Within this the ranking of the nation’s continent also comes into play if it is an intercontinental match.

According to FIFA’s website results are taken into account over a four year period but are scored with diminishing value the older the result and here’s where I begin the first of my two arguments…

Friendly Matches

While I’m a huge fan of Dutch international football and was, like many, gutted that I didn’t get to see them in action against England last month, I’m struggling to see how FIFA can be comfortable with a system that allows them to sit ahead of the reigning World Cup and Euro Championships winners, a team I hasten to add they also lost to in the World Cup final.

The reason behind Holland’s move up the table is due to Spain’s friendly defeat to Italy last month, which meant they scored zero points for the game. Granted, Holland have yet to lose since their World Cup final defeat to Spain in which time the Spanish have lost twice in friendly games, to Italy and bitter rivals Portugal.

Ignoring this for a moment, is this not the same as a Premier League side starting nine points ahead of a rival because they won three pre-season friendlies more?

It’s clear that the FIFA rankings system works to an extent, that if you win big games and in more important matches that you are rewarded more highly. But, at the same time, is the whole system not flawed by the fact two losses in friendly games – games that are named so because they have no competitive value – should mean that Spain, the nation that clearly is the best international side in the world are no longer officially recognised as the best side in the world by footballs governing body?

How important are qualifiers?

My second argument stems from the fact that England have moved up to fourth position, and brings me onto the way that games are ranked in importance.

Games are ranked in order of importance as such:

Friendly match (including small tournaments) – 1.0

World Cup qualifier and continental qualifier – 2.5

Continental final competition and FIFA Confederations Cup – 3.0

World Cup final competition – 4.0

The question I want to raise is; why are qualifiers ranked as 2.5 rather than 2.0? This, surely, can be the only logical reason why England have ended up being ranked in fourth position, as the only time they seem to play well are in qualifiers.

But to me, this undermines the categories ranked at 3.0, as surely a Continental finals match shouldn’t be weighted closer to a qualifier than a World Cup finals match. It may seem petty in the context of things, but surely how a team performs at a finals should be rewarded significantly more than how they perform in a qualifier. Granted, it’s likely scores will be lower from a qualifier anyway because of the quality of teams, but that’s beside the point.

To put my point into context, did anyone watch England play against Switzerland in June, or in the friendly against France last year, or for that matter our performance in the World Cup? Those were some of the poorest displays of football I’ve seen in many, many years, yet according to FIFA we’re still the fourth best footballing nation in the world.

So, my overall point then; is it time to stop taking seriously a system where winning international competitions, seemingly is irrelevant, where an underperforming England side make the top four and where a team can be punished position-wise as much from losing a friendly as from losing in the World Cup final?

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  • Darren

    it’s an absolute joke! England didn’t qualify for the Euro’s, and only made the second round in the World Cup yet they are ahead of Germany, Brazil and even Portugal.

    And how on earth can Holland be number 1? Spain hold both the European Championships and the World Cup

  • dexylongshot

    I agree on the top 3, those 3 teams are well ahead of everybody else. Then I would have Uruguay in 4th. Then from 5-9, any of those teams could swap places. I base this on watching them all over the past 2 years and no heavy duty maths theory.

  • dexylongshot

    PS: I’d have the yanks in as well over Croatia now.

  • dexylongshot

    Watching the Mancs at the weekend made me think that actually, if we just played the red and blue Manc contingent next summer in the Euros, we could probably get to the semis.

    A Johnson/Clevely/Barry/Milner/Young

    Stu Taylor, Bridge/Rio/Onouha/Carrick/SWP/Welbeck
    Owen if Desperate.

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