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Friday, September 2, 2011

In defense of the FIFA World Rankings

This won't be a defense of England's 4th position (I think it's a bit too high) or a defense of Ghana's 36th position (too low).

Well, there's not much to say that hasn't already been said (see Mirko Bolesan for instance).

This morning I chanced upon this piece by Jim Holden.

FIFA Rankings are flawed, I admit - but this is really not the way to show it.

There are a couple of problematic statements.

"While Brazil and England are always overrated because of their historic status and prestige in the global game, a small nation like Paraguay is treated with disdain."

"Ivory Coast are the one and only African team in the top 33 of the FIFA rankings, placed 14th. How can this be correct? How can Ghana, quarter-finalists at the last World Cup and only denied a place in the semi-finals by the handball of Luis Suarez, be down at 36th? "

The FIFA ranking is based on a formula, not on historic status and prestige.

Home/away is not a factor in the formula. In the last 12 months (the most recent of the 4 one-year time frames take into account), England still have the two ECQ wins against Bulgaria and Switzerland. Those two wins alone bring 318.75 points of the total 1177. Unfortunately for England, they will lose 50% of their value in the September ranking, that's why the Elo ratings based probable September ranking has England in 8th. There are another 4 results that bring 279.12 points - so together with the two previous wins - that's more than 50% of England's points. Those 4 results are:

80.77 - England - Slovenia 1 - 0 (2010 WC)
78.75 - Wales - England 0 - 2 (2012 ECQ)
64.50 - Denmark - England 1 - 2 (Friendly)
55.10 - England - Croatia 5 - 1 (2010 WCQ)

Looking at Paraguay's last 12 months:

Losses against Japan, Australia, Mexico, Argentina and Uruguay.
Draws against Bolivia and China PR. Also, the win against Hong Kong (low ranked AFC team) hurts Paraguay's average.

All these matches affect Paraguay's ranking.

It's based on wins, draws and losses not on achievements or near achievements. So Luis Suarez's handball really doesn't affect the ranking.

Ghana also suffer because they are part of CAF (considered by FIFA a weak confederation - their coefficient is only 0.86, compared to UEFA's 1 - that's another flaw in my opinion).

However, Ghana did drop points against Sudan in an AFCON qualifier and against Saudi Arabia in a friendly in the last 12 months. With two wins - they would be tied for 25th with Paraguay. Yes, there's also the Korea Republic loss - also World Cup participants. Let's add a win there too - Ghana would be 21st. Or 23rd with a draw.

"Initially, FIFA placed Wales higher, but an eagle-eyed Faroese student, Jakup Emil Hansen, calculated that his nation was actually 0.07 points better off."

Finally, with all due respect to Jakup, I was the one that spotted the 0.07 difference between Wales and Faroe Islands. More here and here.

About me:

Christian, husband, father x 3, programmer, Romanian. Started the blog in March 2007. Quit in April 2018. You can find me on LinkedIn.


  1. I liked this in the comment section.

    "I believe the current rise in the English position is to compensate them for their worldcup “host” failure."

    Keep up the good work Edgar.

  2. cy: Haha great find. Another victim of Hanlon's Razor.

    (that is: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.)

  3. I run my own International ranking system and have discovered the same issue with African sides. Without biasing the coefficients, the African nations tend to lose out largely because of the competitiveness of their qualifiers. As all teams are taking points off each other the whole confederation suffers unlike Asia for example where the top sides qualify with relative ease. That said it is practically impossible to defend the FIFA ranking in its current guise.

  4. African qualifiers are competitive but not really because they have so many world top teams; their results at World Cup, or lack of, is just a proof that they simply have no ranking top ten teams at the moment.
    I completely disagree with anyone who claims CAF coefficient should equal UEFA's.

  5. Hi, great work you're doing here!

    I am very sceptic of the confederation coefficients. Do you think they are really necessary? Wouldn't a ranking without coefficients regulate itself after a certain number of inter-continental matches?

    Keep up the excellent work :)

  6. Just found it, ignore my question :)

  7. Speaking of Wales, I don't think Zlatko Kranjcar, FORMER coach of Montenegro will be too fond of these rankings. Basically, in Montenegro's eyes, they lost to a minnow in Wales, were embarrassed by it, and fired him, despite everything he's done for them. How the times change. When Wales lost to Montenegro, John Toshack, former Wales manager, walked, as he was embarrassed to have lost to Montenegro!

  8. @Lorric

    My... how the wheel turns :)