If you happened to be reading a newspaper or website that needed to fill 2 inches of column space, you may have noticed that the latest FIFA rankings are out. It will surprise no-one that Spain are still ranked as the best team in the world, because well, they are.
As ever, there are some amusingly baffling positions. Few can argue with Spain or Germany at the top of the list, but you have to wonder how Brazil ended up being the 14th best team in the world behind Croatia (who failed to get out of their group at Euro 2012) or Greece (got out of their group and then got destroyed by Germany). I also wonder how Ireland still manages to be ranked inside the top 30 in the world. After seeing them at Euro 2012, I’m not sure they deserve to be in the top 2 on the island of Ireland. As for England rising to 3rd best team in the world in September 2012…….
In service to you ,the reader, to stop you descending into madness I went to the trouble of seeing how the FIFA rankings work. As I’ve yet to receive my PHD in quantum physics, I’m not entirely sure I understand it all, but basically it’s this: How you have done in the last 4 years, with more importance given to your recent matches. Also, the quality of the opposition you face can have an influence as can the strength of the region you come from and whether the match you played was a friendly or a tournament game. Got it? Good.
The thing is though, who cares? Has a manager ever lost their job as a result of them sliding from 13th to 17th in the FIFA rankings? What is far more important to players, managers and nations as a whole is: qualifying for their regional tournament, doing well at their regional tournament and likewise for the World Cup (as well as beating that country beside yours who think they’re so great).
Europe and South America are given equal weighting in terms of ranking points, which seems odd to me as the standard in South America tapers off pretty quickly. The remaining 4 federations are fairly even which I also find odd as I’ve never seen sides from Oceania causing much damage at the World Cup, as opposed to African or Asian sides.
The only thing the rankings are useful for is seeding for the big international tournaments. Even then, pure rankings are not used. Host nations are counted as a top seeded side, and then the lower seedings are mixed around to ensure a geographical spread (the 2010 WC draw was fixed to ensure no more than 2 European sides were in any one group). I can understand the desire by FIFA to ensure each group at the World Cup is as geographically diverse as possible, but it also defeats the only useful purpose for having FIFA rankings in the first place.
Personally, if we are to persist with FIFA rankings, I’d love to see the World cup being a huge knockout tournament, where the #1 side (Spain) starts off against the lowest ranked side: #207 (Turks & Caicos Islands) and we whittle it down from there. Sure, Spain would probably win 34-0, but all those Turks&Caicosians could dine out forever telling stories of the time they faced Xavi and Iniesta. I also fancy Mauritania to cause an upset against England.