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Friday, June 24, 2011

Australia and 2010 FIFA World Cup seeding

Fans of AFC teams seem to think it's impossible for their teams to be seeded for the final World Cup draw using the FIFA ranking. I'll take Australia as an example since there was recently an article on The Roar (Thanks George Mladenov!) discussing the ranking.

As you may remember, FIFA used the October 2009 ranking to determine the seeds for the final draw (based on feeling, wouldn't you know it...)

Australia were way down in 24th place, 253 points behind the last seed - England. And yet, it would have been possible for them to be seeded.

Let's focus first on competitive matches that Australia didn't win (after the 2007 Asian Cup)

26 Mar 2008 China PR - Australia 0 - 0 (WCQ)
07 Jun 2008 Iraq - Australia 1 - 0 (WCQ)
22 Jun 2008 Australia - China PR 0 - 1 (WCQ)
28 Jan 2009 Indonesia - Australia 0 - 0 (ACQ)
11 Feb 2009 Japan - Australia 0 - 0 (WCQ)
05 Mar 2009 Australia - Kuwait 0 - 1 (WCQ)
06 Jun 2009 Qatar - Australia 0 - 0 (WCQ)

Changing all these matches (with the exception of the one against Japan) to wins, would have taken Australia to 1026 points. Let's look a bit at the friendlies.

Canceling the friendlies against Singapore (0 - 0 on 22 Mar 2008), South Africa (2 - 2 on 19 Aug 2008) and Korea Republic (1 - 3 on 5 Sep 2009) would have taken Australia to 1109 points - 8 more than England.

Possible? Yes. Extremely difficult? Of course. However, FIFA might have kept the performance-ranking combo to determine the seeds, had Australia managed to be in the top 7 in October 2009.

6 comments:

  1. Edgar, you're not telling me you disagreed with the decision to use the October 2009 rankings to seed the teams, are you? Surely you of all people must recognise the unfair advantage the playoff victors would gain from not doing that. Failure shouldn't be rewarded.

    The "Feeling" was a good feeling.

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  2. Hi Lorric,

    I have been meaning to reply to your comment, but I haven't had time (and still don't) to fully type out everything I would want to say. To summarize, Edgar was referring not to the use of the October vs. November ranking, but to the complete change in seeding method from using the previous formula to simply the FIFA Ranking alone. And the main issue that caused frustration was not the change itself (which was a positive change) nor the seedings which resulted (which were the "right" seeds), but the way FIFA makes its changes with no advance warning until the official draw procedure is published just two days before the draw. The issue is FIFA's lack of transparency and accountability. (sounds familiar...)

    If the same formula as in 2006 had been used, it would have produced the seeds Edgar calculated here. As you can see in those comments, it was widely suspected FIFA would find a way to alter the formula (as they had often done just before previous draws) to seed the Netherlands instead of France who just scraped through the playoffs thanks to Henry's handball. The choice of the straight October ranking indeed accomplished that. Yes, the simpler method is better and it produced the subjectively "right" outcome, but there is the feeling that FIFA continues to be able to handpick whichever "objective" criteria justify the seeds it wants. (For more examples of this reaction, you can read the posts and comments here and here.)

    In my opinion, if FIFA wants to be serious about objectivity, non-favoritism, and transparency, they need to officially announce beforehand (that is, before qualifying starts) what seeding criteria will be used. They should not have the power to arbitrarily fudge the seeds and pot compositions after qualifying is over, when they know exactly which teams will be helped or hurt.

    I'm not very hopeful they will ever do this, however. Indeed, it looks like they are retaining their same powers for the 2014 tournament. But the good news is this: now that they've gone to the most simple and straightforward seeding method we can hope for, it should be much more awkward for them to concoct a "reason" for going back to something more complicated. So even if Uzbekistan, Jamaica, Montenegro, and Botswana all win 100% of their matches in the next 3 years to find themselves qualified and in the top 8 of the October 2013 ranking, I strongly hope that FIFA will be brave enough to stand by their simple objective new method...

    ......but, I wouldn't bet any money on it.

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  3. @ Alex

    Hello.

    Ah, I know what you mean, and the rules and regulations should be locked in before the start of the tournament. But I can't turn on changes that were all for the better.

    Also, what benefit would it be to FIFA to fix things to seed the Netherlands? If it's all about money, France has a far larger population base to spend money if their team advances than the Netherlands, which is quite a small country really compared to many countries at the World Cup. Surely it would be the opposite, and they'd want to throw the Netherlands under the bus while extending a helping hand to the struggling France, which is also their president's nation.

    Even though they got it right, it did look very unprofessional doing it that way, but at the end of the day, they did the right thing. Even if there was a different agenda it was the right thing.

    Ha. If those teams all went on 3 year perfect streaks, there's be no system possible to remove them from the top 8. But I know what you mean.

    I had a look at the links. How did you do that? The site rejects urls, so how did you tune them into those little here links?

    The best thing FIFA could do is change the ranking system, as it's flawed. A melding of aspects of FIFA's system and the Elo system would produce the best system I think.

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  4. Thanks for the explanation, Alex! :)

    I do have something to add. I would have like Valcke to say something along these lines: "With the change we made to the ranking system in July 2006, we trust the FIFA ranking is now the best tool to be used for seeding."

    @Lorric

    Use the "a" html element. See an example here

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  5. @Edgar:
    Yes, a statement like that from FIFA would have been a lot better than any of the statements they did give.

    @Lorric:

    "Also, what benefit would it be to FIFA to fix things to seed the Netherlands? If it's all about money, (...) they'd want to throw the Netherlands under the bus while extending a helping hand to the struggling France, which is also their president's nation.

    Even though they got it right, it did look very unprofessional doing it that way, but at the end of the day, they did the right thing. Even if there was a different agenda it was the right thing."


    It's not (all) about money. I do recognize that FIFA has done a lot of good for the game, and I'm just optimistic enough (or just naive enough) to believe that they have basically good intentions most of the time. That includes trying to seed "the teams that should be seeded" (to borrow a phrase from Eric in another comment) and this time that included the Netherlands and not France.

    I do agree with everything in your next paragraph. This change (assuming they continue to stick with it in the future) is indeed for the better. I just wish they would learn to be more upfront about things (preferably in advance), or at least explain clearly (as in Edgar's suggested statement) the reasons for their changes and why they are for the better.

    (By the way, Blatter is from Switzerland. Or maybe you were thinking of the UEFA president.)

    "Ha. If those teams all went on 3 year perfect streaks, there's be no system possible to remove them from the top 8. But I know what you mean."

    Actually, the 2006 formula would have done just that. Imagine Uzbekistan were ranked world #1 in all of the relevant FIFA Rankings. That would have given them a perfect 32 points for the Rankings half of the formula (plus 0 points from the World Cup Performance half, since they had never qualified before.) Even after subtracting one point from everyone else (because all the other teams' FIFA Rankings would have been bumped down one position), that would still only have been good enough to put Uzbekistan in 14th place on the 2006 seeding list, or 12th place in 2010.

    "The best thing FIFA could do is change the ranking system, as it's flawed."

    No disagreement from me on this. There's plenty of room for improvement.

    p.s. This comment doesn't have enough parentheses yet. (Let's add some more!)

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  6. @ Alex

    Hello again. I also personally see no evidence that they're trying to screw/favour people with the rankings. It makes me laugh when I see people saying the ranking is specifically designed to screw their team and their team only, particularly Irish fans, though they have some justification to be suspicious I guess after the France thing and the new seeding rule being implemented. Bottom line though, too many draws, that's why they're in pot 3. They needed victories in their qualifying campaigns, but they got draws in all the games that were worth big points for victory. Personally, I think the Irish team is Pot C standard, but they need to beat a good ranked team in a competitive match to get some good points, Bulgaria, Italy, France, Russia, Slovakia. They haven't registered a victory over any of these. I'm sure if wins were 2pts, they'd be pot B.

    FIFA ought to be dismantled or restructured, and the sport modernised. Turn on the damn cameras, and use the goal line technology and bring in a video referee.

    I sometimes mix up Blatter and Platini or bits and pieces of information regarding them. I won't be mistaking the two names ever again though, especially with that picture of Blatter and Mugabe looking like best friends.

    I was thinking pure ranking formulas though. I've never actually looked into the old system, it came before I took an interest in the rankings, or more accurately in knowing how they work.

    What, you like parentheses do you (I think they're useful enough [where appropriate, wouldn't want to overuse them {like now, for instance.}]) :)

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