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How do FIFA work out their ‘crazy’ world rankings?

Cartoon illustration showing Roy Hodgson Copyright battlersandbottlers.comA quick look at the world rankings can leave football fans wondering if anyone inside FIFA knows anything about the game.

Roy Hodgson’s England, the third best team in the world! Brazil not even in the top ten! Uruguay number four! Denmark four places higher than France! Are you sure FIFA?

Here are FIFA’s rankings of the best teams in the world for August 2012.

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

11. Russia
12. Greece
13. Brazil
14. France
15. Chile
16. Ivory Coast
17. Sweden
18. Mexico
19. Czech Republic
20. Ecuador








Well, it would be hard to argue with Spain at number one having won the last three major tournaments. Germany at number two seems fair enough as well having reached at least the semi-finals three times in a row.

England better than France and Italy

But then it starts to appear a bit more far-fetched. England are ahead of Argentina, the Netherlands, Brazil, Italy and France.

These are the teams we constantly admire as being far superior to us; the teams we want England to emulate – yet according to FIFA, England are already ahead of them.

Of the top 14 teams, only Denmark have to look back further than England to the last time they reached the semi finals of a major competition.

So what’s going on? Well, it’s all down to results and the results don’t lie. FIFA’s criteria for ranking teams is a complex formula based on each game played. They award points for the result of the match, the importance of the match, the strength of the opposing team and significance of the competition.

These points are then multiplied together to give a total rating for a team. The points accumulate over four seasons, with the more recent games carrying most importance, to give each team their FIFA ranking. Difficult to follow and very boring but it does seem as fair way as any to measure a team’s overall standing.

Looked at this way, the FIFA rankings don’t look quite so strange.

Uruguay – Kings of South America

Take Uruguay, for example, and why they’re ahead of their more glamorous neighbours like Argentina and Brazil.

If you look at the facts, they are the better side in terms of results. Uruguay reached the semi- finals of the World Cup in 2010, a stage beyond that of both their rivals and to prove that it was no fluke, they won the Copa America the following year eliminating Argentina on the way.

Other than meeting in the final of the Copa America in 2007, Brazil and Argentina have failed to progress beyond the quarter final stages of any of their last three major tournaments.

Isn’t that what England are being criticised for? Not being able to progress beyond quarter finals of major tournaments. It’s easy to forget that football heavyweights Argentina and Brazil are suffering from the same problem.

This highlights another interesting issue. Our perceptions of the relative strengths of various teams can be skewed: we tend to under-rate England and over-rate their rivals.

Mention Argentina and we tend to think of a highly skilful, successful team. Yet Argentina haven’t won a major tournament since the Copa America in 1993. They haven’t won the World Cup since Diego Maradona led them to glory in 1986.

We perhaps overlook this because we see Argentina boasting great players like Lionel Messi, arguably the best footballer in the world.

So far, however, Messi is the world’s best player only when wearing Barcelona’s colours, not Argentina’s. He has a respectable record of 26 goals in 70 appearances for his country, but that’s not even close to his goal per game ratio at Barcelona. So with an underperforming Messi, are Argentina any better than England? FIFA says not.

Brazil lacking star power

Brazil aren’t living up to their reputation either. At the moment they are lacking the one world star they are usually able to boast. No Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho or Kaka is currently starring in the team. More importantly, they aren’t getting the results.

Normally Brazil’s top players would come from either Barcelona or Real Madrid, the best two teams in world football.

However, currently the only Brazil squad members playing for these teams are full backs Marcelo and Daniel Alves. Most of their players are emerging youngsters still plying their trade in their domestic league, or playing in some of Europe’s lesser leagues such as Portugal.

So, surprising though it may seem, England are doing better than Argentina and Brazil at the moment, with the entire squad being drawn from the Premier League, one of the best in the world.

FIFA’s rankings may seem inaccurate at first viewing. But that’s probably because we let long standing impressions of big football nations cloud our view of current form.

FIFA, on the other hand, use actual recent results to accurately rank teams. The system may not be perfect but it’s the best guide we have.