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World Cup Seeding Unlikely to Favor the US

trophy World Cup Seeding Unlikely to Favor the US

UPDATE: SINCE THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN, IT HAS SURFACED THAT FIFA MAY CHANGE THE CRITERIA FOR SEEDING TO BE BASED SOLELY ON WORLD RANKINGS. IF SO, THE US IS LIKELY TO BE SEEDED IN THE 2010 WORLD CUP, IF SWITZERLAND AND/OR FRANCE DOES NOT QUALIFY.  IT IS POSSIBLE ONLY ONE OF THOSE TWO NATIONS NOT QUALIFYING COULD ALSO PUT THE US IN A POSITION TO BE SEEDED. OBVIOUSLY WITH TODAY’S HORRIBLE NEWS ABOUT CHARLIE DAVIES, THIS SPECULATION TAKES A BACK SEAT FOR NOW.  HERE IS MORE ON THE POTENTIAL CHANGES TO HOW SEEDING WILL WORK.

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Since the brilliant US win over Honduras on Saturday, the internet has been abuzz with discussion of the potential for the USMNT to receive a top seed in the World Cup. Assuming a victory on Wednesday, the US is likely to be ranked ninth when the new FIFA ranking is released.

However, the chances of the US being a top seed are remote based on the criteria used by FIFA. Perhaps this is not fair, but it is a reality. History and reputation play a bigger role in seeding than anything else.  FIFA will meet on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years in early December to determine the seeds.

The process allegedly consists of the performances of nations in the last three World Cups as well as FIFA rankings. However, it is likely the performances in other knock out competitions and subjective factors are considered also.

Here are the already qualified nations guaranteed to be top seeds:

South Africa-hosts

England

Brazil

Germany

Spain

Italy

Of the remaining two top seeds, one of the likely recipients is Holland. Despite missing the World Cup in 2002, the Dutch are ranked 3rd in the latest FIFA rankings and they have advanced out of the Group Stage in both the 1998 and 2006 World Cups.

That leaves three nations that are yet to qualify to fight over one seed.

These three nations are France, Portugal and Argentina. If all three qualify, Portugal and Argentina are likely to not be seeded, although it is possible Argentina could bump the Netherlands. Should France qualify, they are assured of a seed.

If all three fail to qualify, FIFA will likely have to find another nation to place in pot one.

Mexico has an outside shot at a seeding, but is likely to be hurt by their FIFA ranking which took a tumble in the Sven Goran Eriksson period, and which has yet to fully recover.

For those skeptics who state that the US always beats Mexico and thus is entitled to seeding consideration over Mexico, please consider the following.

Mexico has advanced out of the Group Stage of the last three World Cups. In that period, Mexico has won five World Cup matches. In the same period, the USA has won only twice (ironically both against teams that could be possibly seeded) and has advanced out of the Group Stage just once.

Secondly, if subjective factors do come into play, the US’ performance at the 2007 Copa America is likely to be a decisive blow. Mexico was dealing with the same quick turnaround issues after the Gold Cup, and the FMF decided to mix their squads, so that while the big name players like Rafa Marquez did get a rest, they were still on the Copa roster and played in the knock out stages. Mexico reached the semi-finals (including a win over champion Brazil in the Group stage) of a tournament that the US finished dead last in.

Sweden fans could rightly complain that England has not beaten the Swedes since 1969, and thus when they have been placed in the same group at the last two World Cups, Sweden and not England should have been the seeded team. But head to head results don’t mean a whole lot in the big picture of FIFA seeding. In fact, they are not even used as a tie-breaker in qualifying.

Winning a World Cup qualifying group which the US is about to do once again, does not matter either. If it did, in the last World Cup, Italy would not have been seeded and Serbia would have been.

Furthermore, a strange theory has developed on the internet that a CONCACAF team always gets seeded. This is simply false. No CONCACAF side was seeded in 1998 or 2002, and Mexico was seeded in 2006, because they finished 8th according to the criteria FIFA established, not because they were from CONCACAF. This time around, as we have outlined already, it is more than likely no team from this region will be seeded.

This entry was posted in FIFA Rankings, Leagues: Major League Soccer, US National Team. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

37 Responses to World Cup Seeding Unlikely to Favor the US

  1. Phil says:

    The seeding system is so full of crap their is a major bias against the CONCACAFF and USA in my opinion each of the confederations should get a seed and UEFA and CONMOBOL (SP) should maybe get 2 that would be fair

  2. Mat says:

    Seeding is a poor idea to start with. I know the concept is to remove the possibility of knockout by having “groups of death”, but at the same time, seed the WHOLE tourney, or don’t.

  3. Eric in Baltimore says:

    I agree that seeding is BS as well, but how do you figure that England deserves a top seed?

  4. eplnfl says:

    The seeding is far from perfect everyone knows that and Kartik rightfully points out that it would be difficult at best for the US to get a #1 seed.

    Yet, if we have any chance we need to win against Costa Rica and thereby win the group. It was good to see Bob Bradley in his post game comments state he intends to win the group. Way to go Bob!

  5. EastLAChiva says:

    We don’t need a stinkin seed! Well actually, we do. Nevertheless, we need to play out of our minds (circa Spain game in 2009). This team plays better when nothing is expected of them.
    Once we start believing our own hype, we crumble just like 2006 or at the Azteca .
    BTW, the FIFA seeding system is stupid. Moreso than the ranking system.
    Go Estados Unidos!!

  6. John says:

    A total joke is the seeding. All these UEFA teams get seeded for beating the likes of Belarus, Slovenia, Slovakia, Scotland, San Marino and the alphabet soup?

    When have either England or Holland last won anything?

    We’ve won the Gold Cup three times this decade and are about to win our qualifying group again. Mexico, I agree too has a strong case with their run at the Copa two years ago.

    What you see is a Euro bias. Here are the seeds as they should be.

    1- Brazil (Copa and Confed Cup Champs)
    2- Spain (Euro Champs)
    3- Italy (defending WC champs)
    4- USA (Gold Cup 07 champs, Confed Cup runners up)
    5- South Africa (host)
    6- Argentina (Copa runners up)
    7- Mexico (Gold Cup champs)
    8- Australia (top Asian qualifier)

    I think the US would win at least 5 out of the 8 groups in Europe.

    England being seeded is a joke- they didn’t even qualify for the last big tournament.

    • Bifdy says:

      What three groups would the US not win? Your stupiity baffles me. Looking at the groups im struggling to find one where they would have finished above third. If the US were dropped into UEFA qualifying, it would take a very kind draw for them to even make the playoffs! Half the opinions on this page are so delusional its frightening and it also gives the other half of US “soccer” fans a bad name because there are some really well thought out and educated views on here!

  7. Roy J. says:

    Actually, Kartik your list is a bit off

    here is the most accurate calculation

    Rank – Country – Total Points
    01 – Brazil – 59.6
    02 – Germany – 58.6
    03 – Italy – 56.8
    04 – Spain – 55.9
    05 – England – 51.7
    06 – France – 48.2
    07 – Argentina – 48.1
    08 – Portugal – 46.2
    09 – Netherlands – 43.2
    10 – Mexico – 38.1
    11 – Ukraine – 36.7
    12 – USA – 34.9
    13 – Switzerland – 31.8
    14 – Paraguay – 30.1
    15 – Ghana – 28.3
    16 – Russia – 26.8

    South Africa is automatically seeded. Portugal and Argentina are both ahead of Holland, even though you seemed to think it was the opposite.

    Basically to be seeded we need Portugal, Argentina, France and Ukraine all not to qualify and need T&T to beat Mexico on Wednesday night.

    So, in other words, we are not being seeded.

  8. Lou says:

    Ukriane? Portugal? Switzerland? These countries have struggled to qualify from easy groups. None of them would stand a chance in our group.
    Would any of these countries be able to go to Honduras and pull off what we just did? We know Mexico can not. I bet England cannot. We humbled Spain this summer.
    France espcially is insulting. Didn’t they struggle to beat the Faroe Islands a few matches ago?
    Everyteam on that list I can make a case we are stronger than based on our performances this year except for Brazil. And recall we went toe to toe with Brazil.
    If FIFA hates America, and is going to force us to change MLS’ schedule and ridicule us, perhaps we try and get someone from here elected to lead FIFA.

    • MattG says:

      You think England coudn’t win in Honduras but you think the US would have no trouble winning road games in the Ukraine or Croatia….good lord.

      If the US was a part of UEFA we wouldn’t be talking about six straight WC qualifications.

      • LI Matt says:

        You’re so sure about that?

        if Scotland could qualify five straight times (74-90), why couldn’t the US?

        • JD says:

          We’d easily qualify from Europe. The Faroe Islands? San Marino? Andorra? We don’t have a single game that easy in all of qualifying, not just the hex.

          • Mexico struggled to beat Belize in Houston in the second qualifying round, but did crush them in the home leg. Belize is no longer a member of FIFA.

            Of course, we only beat Barbados in the 2nd leg of our second round qualifying tie, so perhaps their is some truth that the minnows in CONCACAF are stronger than in UEFA.

          • Bifdy says:

            You’d only get one of those in your group! this whole discussion is about seeds, do you think we only seed in the finasl? are you seriously thay clueless? So the US along with every other team in the group would all beat San Marino (the oldest and longest running democracy in the World), so the US would be no better off, other than maybe goal difference! then you would draw at home to Belgium and lose away, beat Belarus at home and draw away, beat Estonia twice but lose home and away to Russia. leaving you with 17 ponts out of a possible 30. maybe good enough for second maybe not. did Belgium and Belarus tie their games? you’d better hope they did. All these relatively new countries to come out of the Soviet and Yugoslav states have a bit of pedigree you know. when the country’s were reformed in the nineties and noughties they had seen a football before! Some of Europes biggest and most successful clubs come from “new” countrys. Dynamo Kiev and Red Star Belgrade spring to mind. these are places that have given the world some great players, you dont seem to realise that.

        • bifdy says:

          i stumbled across this forum when i googled ‘world cup seedings’, i feel i need to address some alarming opinions, starting with LI Matt’s claim that if Scotland could do it so could the US!

          firstly, and i’m not gonna look up definitive figures here, but between ’74 and ’90 there were probably half the countries in Europe than there are today! what with the separation of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. and there were far more teams in the San Marino bracket, the likes of Turkey, Cyprus, Norway and finland have improved ten-fold. thats not to take anything away from the Scots as back in the 70′s and 80′s, given the players that Scotland they actually under performed on reaching the finals. individually they had some of the greatest players in the world. Archie Gemmill, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Willy Miller, Gordon Strachan, Joe Jordan, Denis Law, Alan Hansen, Billy Bremner off the top of my head! they have the medals to prove it too, many of which won European trophy’s. Hansen, Souness and Dalglish formed the backbone of perhaps the greatest football dynasty ever seen outside of Madrid, when Liverpool swept all before them in England and Europe!

          Before you post anything on the web, that someone with some knowledge might happen upon, i suggest you do some research, read a book or something!

          for those of you suggesting England should not be seeded, what planet are you on? evidently one where teams in the concacaf region are the best in the world! im gonna stick my neck out here and predict that Uruguay beat CR handsomely and at a canter. its ludicrous that there are 3 automatic qualifyers from the worlds second weakest footballing region. put the US in UEFA and with a favourable qualifying draw you might reach a playoff!

          and whoever said that England couldnt beat Honduras away, whatever drugs you’re taking, i want some. if we can destroy Croatia 4 1 away, then i dont think a second world banana republic would fair much better. i keep hearing how inhospitable central american football crowds are! “oh no they’re throwing paper cups at Landon Donovan” i dont think 5,000 beer swilling, ftw, working class Englishman would shy away quite as easily as the largely middle class, one songed, sam’s army! “army” do me a favour!

          i agree with one of the posters, the FIFA world rankings are a joke! anything that rates CR more than 40 places ahead of South Africa, Denmark behind Mexico and the US ranked 30 places above Sweden in 11 just cant be taken seriously.

    • Bifdy says:

      Ridiculous!

      Alright Switzerland were in the weakest group but they won their group so therefore did not struggle. Porugal finished second behind Denmark who are a decent side and finished ahead of Sweden who are better than anyone in CONCACAF. As for the Ukraine, they have finished ahead of Croatia and beat England, albeit down to ten men for 70 minutes to qualify for the playoffs! Wake up mate, and actually watch some UEFA internationals, you might grasp exactly how good the majority of these teams are compared CONCACAF. If you put Ukraine, Portugal and Swittzerland in the hexagonal group, they would all finish in the top four.

  9. Buddy Irons says:

    I’m sure Spain are quaking in their boots at the thought of meeting USA in the finals. But who would they rather play? Christiano Ronaldo’s Portugal or Landon Donovan’s doughty men? You see, qualification form is almost never a good guide to performance in the final stages. And the reason England have won diddly since 1966 is precisely because of the competitive nature of the European zone, Scotlands and San Marinos etc notwithstanding. They are a big fish in a big pond, containing many such fish, big and small. Whereas the reason the USA have won stuff is that they are a big fish in a rather smaller pond, over the pond, as it were. And your group form in the Confederations Cup wasn’t so hot, was it? Nice blog, BTW.

    • JD says:

      We beat Spain in the world’s second biggest event, I do not see why we would not beat them in the biggest one. They are scared to death of playing us again, although the Davies news probably comforts them, the UEFA lovers and euro snobs about next summer. With Charlie, we had as good a shot as any to win the World Cup. Now, we must try and work EJ or Marcus Tracy in.

      • Buddy Irons says:

        No strength in depth then? But it’s true, sometimes the weaker team will beat the stronger one. That’s why football isn’t boring.

        The Europeans are tied 9-9 with the Americas (well, South America, actually) in terms of World Cups won; but if you take Brazil and Argentina out of the frame, then that just leaves Uruguay (a long, long time ago), whereas if you take Italy and West Germany out that still leaves France and England. 2-1 to us I reckon!

        But I hope the USA do very well at the next World Cup. It would be great to have a new winner. – If England can’t win it, anyway.

      • Bifdy says:

        nobody gives a crap about the CONFED Cup. Did you see the team Italy sent out there! Brazil can afford to send their better players because they seldom play in WCQ such is their strength in depth. The big guns only come out when they play Argentina, Paraguay and perhaps the more important away games! It was a pre-season friendly tournament for the Spanish and a chance for the team to acclimatize themselves for next year. Their were no tears from them when they were eliminated! not the players or the fans!

  10. Tom says:

    The problem with seeding in any competition is that is can be self fulfilling. I hate the Champions League seeding because it makes the groups boring and assures big teams of easeir groups that they win and keep their seeding.

    However, the World Cup is only every 4 years, so I think it would be a shame to have Brazil, Germany, Spain in the same group. Having said that, the seeding criteria should be set before qualifying begins, not after the fact. Nonetheless, results from the last 3 world cups and FIFA ranking are probably as fair a way to do it as any other.

    For the England naysayers, they were quarter-finalists in the last three world cups and almost swept their qualifying group. The U.S. host all the Gold Cups, so it not fair to put too much in that tournament. The U.S. had no wins in 98 world cup, quarter-finalist in ’02, and out in the group stage in 06. Hardly the record of a seeded team. And yes, I think England would win in Hondorus

  11. Tom says:

    Don’t get me wrong, the win in Hondorus was great; England might not win there, but, then again, if the US played there again they might not win either. Same for England’s win earlier in qualifying in Croatia, by the way.

  12. Yvon Lambert says:

    We saw how political the seeding for the 2nd place teams in europe was; they just sort of did it with no warning midcourse so the France, Russia, Portugal dont get left out, so dont expect any favours for the US.

    But please explain to me why a team like france for example who couldnt win their group should be seeded if they couldnt finish over Serbia who finished ahead in the group?

    You THINK you are good. Fine, prove it during the qualifications.
    If you cant finish first and have to go to a knockout phase, then you werent better than the team who finished ahead of you after TWO years of qualifying.
    They proved that they were 2nd best over these 2 years.

    John, your list is spot on except for the US.
    Sorry but your bias is clouding your judgement.
    Mexico won the Gold Cup this year, the 2007 shouldnt matter in this.
    If youre going to go back two events, then you have to do it with all.
    And the Confed Cup is a glorified off-season friendly.

    As for those who fear a Brazil/Argentina/Italy less world cup….boohoo.
    You have two years to prove that this new generation is as good as advertized, if you can not qualify for the world cup then you are just a shadow of who you think you are and arent worth it.
    Portugal and Argentina have been pretty lousy the past 2 years, so they are no the team you think they are or once were.

    • JD says:

      France, Germany, Argentina, Portugal, Italy all should not be seeded based on their qualifying. Argentina was in a tough group and should be replaced by Paraguay. The Euro countries all struggled in weak groups.

      Brazil and Paraguay should be seeded.

      US and Mexico should be seeded

      England, Netherlands, Spain and South Africa round out the seeds.

      • England won its qualifying group in 02 edging out Italy yet was not seeded and found itself competing with arch enemy Argentina, who was seeded and Sweden, who England NEVER beats at the senior level.

        Spain didn’t win their group in 06 (losing out to Serbia), yet was seeded.

        Brazil barely qualified in 02 and was seeded. Same for Italy in 94.

        So basically, WCQ is not a decisive factor in seeding or an indicator of World Cup performance.

        In 02, when Germany was seeded and England was not despite England winning their WCQ group (including the famous 5-1 win in Munich), Germany made the finals and may have lifted the trophy if Ballack had not been suspended for the final.

        Our best World Cup run since 1930, came in 2002 after we finished THIRD in the Hex a full six points behind Costa Rica, who of course did not get out of their group. (although, like us they did have 4 pts, but lost out to Turkey on GD.)

    • Bifdy says:

      Brilliant post! agree with everything. Although if France or Portugal were not the seeds, i would be inclined to seed either Serbia or Denmark for winning very tough groups, rather than the US, CONCACAF is without a doubt the second weakest FIFA region, ahead of only Oceana.

  13. Daniel Feuerstein says:

    My only argument about the rankings and the seeding should be what you did now, not what happened three cycles ago, two cycles ago, or last years world cup.

    The old way is no longer the right way.

  14. man99utd says:

    Isn’t it sad that the only way the USMNT can get top billing on ESPN is when a tragedy strikes the team…..the state of internationl football in this country is still way behind the curve.

  15. dave says:

    Kartik,
    Is it possible to use the old system and avoid regional matchups? We all know that Australia and Japan went into the same group which I thought violated a FIFA rule of attempting to take geographical factors as far as possible. If they would just use the old system and seed all teams. Maybe you give South Africa an 8 seed and draw 1-8, 9-16, 17-24, and 25-32.
    Then a rule gets stated that only one team from CONCACAF,CONMEBOL, AFC/OFC, or CAF can be drawn into a group. Also, only two UEFA teams can get drawn into a group. By using a seeding system for all teams maybe this way a more fair group set up could happen. The possibility of matchups would be more varied giving fans matches that would not happen under their typical setup. Plus it would make a South Africa group without North Korea and New Zealand more possible.

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  17. Tyler says:

    ALL qualifying and seeding rules should be determined before ANY qualifying happens. It is absolute garbage the way FIFA and UEFA work. Basically, they will meet in December to decide the way they can make a formula so that the teams they want as seeded teams are the seeded teams. Each confederation should have a set way before qualifying to rank their teams that qualify (CONCACAF AND CONMEBOL do this rather easily, as they have only 1 final group). For CAF and UEFA, this is tough, since CAF does five group winners qualify and UEFA does nine winners plus the next four that have second place playoffs. Clearly, the nine winners would be the first nine ranked.
    After you have each confederation with ranked teams, you only consider the top ranked team that does not have a seed from each confederation. Then, teams like Argentina that were terrible in some of qualifying do not get a seed. Then add in that each group can have at most 2 UEFA teams and only 1 team per confederation max besides that, and you have a fair system. But, most seeded teams have already been decided, so screw the small name teams like the USA that everyone looks down on.

    Also, UEFA is a joke. They decide how to draw for play-offs only after all other qualifying is done. What a shame that the big name countries are helped so much. I really hope France and Portugal are on the short end of a shocking loss and don’t make the WC. I do, however, like Russia, even though get a seed. I feel like Greece’s seed doesn’t really matter, they just get to not play the big three.

    • Bifdy says:

      I’m afraid UEFA and FIFA are both a mess. The FIFA rankings themselves are a joke. How are Sweden ranked 30 places below the US?

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