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Friday, August 14, 2009

Looking back at the 2006 World Cup seeding

Two days ago I read this article by Frank Giase:

World Cup seeding -- and pride -- at stake when the U.S. men's soccer team faces Mexico in qualifier

That was the interesting part:

"U.S. coach Bruce Arena did the smart thing. In the final three meaningless qualifiers -- a scoreless tie in Guatemala, a 3-0 loss in Costa Rica and a 2-0 home win over Panama -- Arena packed the roster with inexperienced players.

But the results, combined with a who-cares 1-1 tie in Scotland that November, dropped the United States below Mexico in the FIFA rankings. And when the World Cup draw rolled around a month later, it was Mexico that received a top seed."

Mr. Giase seems to think Mexico were seeded at the expense of USA.

That is not true. Mexico were 5th in the seeding table, the USA were 9th, behind France, Italy and Argentina.

The matches against Guatemala, Costa Rica and Scotland only influenced the November 2005 FIFA ranking. Obviously, the 1998 and 2002 World Cups and the December 2003 and December 2004 FIFA rankings were already set in stone.

Here's the November 2005 top 10:
 1 Brazil         841
2 Czech Republic 796
3 Netherlands 791
4 Argentina 774
5 France 772
6 Spain 771
7 Mexico 768
8 USA 766
9 England 757
10 Portugal 754
Full ranking on

In order to be seeded, USA had to be at least 4th. And even then, they would have replaced Argentina, not Mexico.

Even winning against Guatemala and Costa Rica, I don't think the US could have climbed so high. Here's why:

In 2005, results from the last 8 years were taken into account, so it was not very easy to move quickly through the higher part of the table.

On top of that, the calculation method used back then placed greater weight on the best seven results in each of the 8 years. The match vs. Scotland was a friendly,

From Wikipedia:

In order to prevent teams with more fixtures than this being given an advantage, the calculation initially considered only the best seven results of a team. To include further results an average of them must be calculated.

For example, if a team played twelve matches:

* The best seven of the 12 results were identified
* The total score for these seven matches was calculated (X)
* The total score for all 12 matches was calculated
* This total was divided by 12 and multiplied by seven (Y)
* The total for the seven best results was added to the seven "average" results (X+Y)
* This total (X+Y) was divided by two for the final score

The Gold Cup final tournament was played in July 2005. The USA registered wins against Cuba, Canada, Jamaica and Honduras, tied against Costa Rica and won after PSO against Panama.

Between November 2004 and September 3rd, 2005 (the match against Guatemala), the USA had played 7 World cup qualifiers, getting six wins (Trinidad and Tobago twice, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico) and a loss against Mexico.

Three friendlies with two wins (Colombia and Honduras) and loss to England.

Between November 2004 and November 2005 the USA have played 20 matches. With FIFA placing more weight on the best 7 results, getting the win in those three matches would have made little difference.

Let's assume the USA would have been 4th in November 2005.

In 2002, FIFA used the last three World Cups to compute the performance part. In 2006, they dropped the oldest one and it made no difference (see 2006 World Cup seeding post). With the USA 4th in the November ranking and with only two World Cup taken into account, the seeded teams would have been: Brazil, England, Spain, Germany, Mexico, France, Italy and USA. If we keep the 2002 seeding formula (using the last three World Cups), Argentina would return among the seeds.

Since FIFA announce the seeding formula after all the qualifiers are known, I don't think they would have dropped the oldest World Cup tournament from the equation.


  1. Don't worry, I already emailed him a few days ago about that :)

  2. Me too, then I thought it would make an interesting post.

  3. Is he being sarcastic when he says bruce areana did the right thing? The US got stomped, while Mexico made it to the knockout stage. the US was put in with 2 Euros insteed of one.

  4. I think he wasn't being sarcastic. No matter what Arena would have done, the US wouldn't have been seeded.

  5. The seeding system for 2006 then did not function properly anyways. The Netherlands should have been seeded at the expense of Mexico. No special pot containing Serbia&Montenegro would have been necessary and also a better chance for balanced groups. A possible alternative to continental division would have been to split pot 3/4 in terms of ranking.
    Pot3 (perceived stronger non-UEFA qualifiers): Mexico, USA, Paraguay, Ecuador, Japan, South Korea + Tunisia and Cote d'Ivoire (Australia, Costa Rica or Saudi Arabia also defendable).
    Pot4 (perceived weaker non-UEFA qualifiers): Australia, Costa Rica, Trinidad&Tobago, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Togo and Angola. Possibility for two members from the same association (non-UEFA) in the same group excluded. Hopefully FIFA seedings will make more sense when they draw in Durban.

  6. FIFA had to come up with a formula to back their choice of weaker vs. stronger qualifiers choice.

    I don't think a team would accept something like: the rest of the world thinks you're weak, so we'll place you in the fourth pot.

    Besides, going by the November 2005 FIFA ranking, Iran would have been in the "stronger" pot:

    Pot3 (perceived stronger non-UEFA qualifiers): Mexico, USA, Paraguay, Ecuador, Japan, South Korea + Tunisia and Cote d'Ivoire (Australia, Costa Rica or Saudi Arabia also defendable).
    Pot4 (perceived weaker non-UEFA qualifiers): Australia, Costa Rica, Trinidad&Tobago, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Togo and Angola.

    Pot3 (perceived stronger non-UEFA qualifiers):
    Pot4 (perceived weaker non-UEFA qualifiers): Trinidad&Tobago, Togo and Angola.

    Costa Rica
    Korea Republic

    Saudi Arabia
    Côte d'Ivoire
    Trinidad and Tobago

    They can even seed the whole field, not just the first 8. It's a bit complicated, but it can be done.