Tuesday, August 01, 2006

FIFA World Ranking : 2006 update

FIFA announced that the ranking system would be updated following the 2006 World Cup. The evaluation period has been cut from eight to four years and the rankings will be based on a simplified method of calculation.[2] Goals scored and home or away advantage is no longer be taken into account, and other aspects of the calculations, including the importance attributed to different types of match, have been revised. The revised rankings — and calculation methodology — were announced on 12 July 2006.

This change is rooted at least in part in widespread criticism of the previous ranking system. Many football enthusiasts felt it was inaccurate — especially when compared to other ranking systems — and that it was not sufficiently responsive to changes in the performance of individual teams. The recent and unexpectedly high rankings of teams from the Czech Republic and the United States were generally met with skepticism and negatively affected the credibility of the system in the eyes of many followers of the sport. The poor showings and early exit of these two sides from the 2006 World Cup competition appears to lend some credence to the criticism.

Rank leaders
When the system was introduced, Germany debuted as the top ranked team following their extended period of dominance in which they had reached the three previous FIFA World Cup finals, winning one of them. Brazil took the lead in the run up to the 1994 FIFA World Cup, after winning eight and losing only one of nine qualification matches, while on the way scoring twenty goals and conceding just four. Italy then led for a short time on the back of their own equally successful World Cup qualifying campaign, after which the top place was re-claimed by Germany.

Brazil's success in their lengthy qualifying campaign returned them to the lead for a brief period. Germany led again during the 1994 World Cup, until Brazil’s victory in that competition gave them a large lead that would stand up for nearly seven years, until they were surpassed by a strong France team that captured both the 1998 FIFA World Cup and the 2000 European Football Championship. Success at the 2002 FIFA World Cup restored Brazil to the top position, where they have remained ever since on the strength of a Copa América 2004 victory and their continued dominant play.[3] Italy rise to second following their FIFA World Cup victory, and within 100 hundred points of Brazil, who failed to meet expectations in the competition, Italy are possible challengers for the leader position.

Uses of the rankings
The rankings are used by FIFA to rank the progression and current ability of the national football teams of its member nations. The data is used by FIFA for very few things, as FIFA says they are only to create "a reliable measure for comparing national A-teams".[1] However, one task they are used for is as part of the calculation to seed competitions.[4] The rankings are also used to determine the winners of the two annual awards national teams receive on the basis of their performance in the rankings.

Seeding in the 2006 World Cup
Further information: Seeding for 2006 FIFA World Cup
Below is a table showing how the rankings (current and past standings) were used in combination with the previous World Cup performances of national teams, to determine their seeds for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.[5] It uses the points obtained from the 1998 FIFA World Cup and the 2002 FIFA World Cup averaged in a 1:2 ratio respectively, added to the average amount of points that each team has at three given dates (at ratio 1:1:1), December 2003, December 2004, and November 2005. This generates a view to how well the teams have performed over the last ten years (since the rankings in 2003 include results from eight years previous to that) with a specific focus on how the teams have performed in the FIFA World Cup on previous occasions. If a team did not qualify for the previous two World Cups, their final total will be significantly less, hence the Czech Republic received a low score for seeding, despite being ranked sixth, fourth, and second in the world at the given dates.

Seed Country 1. FIFA World Cup Finals 2. FIFA World Rankings Total Points
France '98
(33.3%) Korea Japan '02
(66.7%) Avg.
Points Dec '03
(33.3%) Dec '04
(33.3%) Nov '05
(33.3%) Avg.
Rk Pt. Rk Pt. Rk Pt. Rk Pt. Rk Pt.
1 Brazil 2 31 1 32 31.7 1 32 1 32 1 32 32.0 64
2 England 9 24 6 27 26.0 8 25 8 25 9 24 24.7 51
3 Spain 17 9 5 28 21.7 3 30 5 28 6 27 28.3 50
. . .
16 Czech Republic - 0 - 0 0.0 6 27 4 29 2 31 29.0 29

Since their introduction in 1993, the FIFA World Rankings have been the matter of much debate, particularly regarding the calculation procedure and the resulting disparity between generally perceived quality and world ranking of some teams. For example Norway was ranked second in October 1993 and July-August 1995,[6] and the United States reached fourth, to the surprise of even their own players. [7]

Pre-tournament betting odds for 2006 FIFA World Cup[8][9][10] show enormous discrepancy between the comparative likelihood of victory in the tournament and the FIFA rankings at the beginning of the tournament, particularly for Germany, Ukraine, the USA and Iran. Comparison of one betting table with the rankings list gives Spearman's ρ=0.69.

One thing that has been criticised[11] is that the rankings consider the performances of teams over an eight year period, and that teams' ranking positions do not correlate to their recent performances.[6] This criticism should lessen with the introduction of a new formula, reflecting results over a four year period, from July 2006.

Another problem of the rankings is that a team that directly qualifies for a major tournament will not have the chance to gather points by playing competitive qualifying matches, but can only play friendly matches which are weighted lower.

The perceived flaws in the FIFA system has lead to the creation of a number of alternative rankings from football statisticians[6] including the World Football Elo Ratings and the rec.sport.soccer Statistics Foundation rankings.

FIFA's change of system for calculation of these rankings and their adoption of a different formula for World Cup seedings may be seen as an implicit admission of the shortcomings of the current formula.

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