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FIFA’s World Rankings to Determine the 8 Seeds For World Cup 2014 Is Flawed

world cup draw 600x337 FIFAs World Rankings to Determine the 8 Seeds For World Cup 2014 Is Flawed

Now that we know 20 of the 32 teams who will be playing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the level of anticipation for the World Cup draw on December 6 is growing. However, controversy has been building over the past 24-48 hours regarding what eight teams will be seeded, as well as the role that the FIFA world rankings play in the seedings process.

Despite the fact that Colombia failed to qualify for the previous three World Cups and has last appeared in the knock-out stages of a World Cup in 1990, they will be one of the eight teams seeded in the 2014 World Cup. Belgium missed qualifying for the previous five major tournaments yet they will be seeded for the 2014 World Cup. Italy won the 2006 World Cup and reached the finals of Euro 2012, while Holland reached the final of the 2010 World Cup and went undefeated in qualifying for this World Cup. Yet both Italy and the Netherlands will be unseeded for the 2014 World Cup.

FIFA’s controversial world ranking system has taken on added significance with the decision by football’s global governing body to use the rankings to determine seeding. Previously, FIFA has used a complex formula based on previous major tournament performance, which for me was a much better metric than the world rankings that depend almost entirely on results and level of competition in World Cup and Euro qualifying.

The idea of Italy or the Netherlands being grouped with, let’s say, Brazil or Argentina in a first round group is absurd. Not only is this unfair on the unseeded team but it’s potentially damaging for the team that has earned a seed by placing them in a potential group of death. Similarly, Belgium or Colombia could be handed a group that, by comparison, is relatively easy.

Also seeded is Switzerland, who under Ottmar Hitzfeld failed to qualify for Euro 2012 from a qualifying group that included England, who won the group. But England is not seeded while Switzerland is. I have less of an issue with the Swiss being seeded than that of Belgium or Colombia (because the Swiss regularly qualify for major tournaments; they just don’t contend to win these tournaments), but I still feel Holland, Italy or England would be far more deserving of a seed.

I would also point out while Portugal has yet again made a mess of qualifying, they have advanced out of the Group Stage of the last five major international tournaments, the same five tournaments Belgium have failed to qualify for. Should Portugal navigate its way through the playoffs, why should Belgium be seeded and Portugal not be?

Clearly no perfect formula exists to determine World Cup seeds, but the previous formula was much more reflective of actual tournament performances. Previous major tournaments have long been a stronger harbinger of how sides do than qualifying. Were qualifying a strong indicator of how a team will do in a World Cup, in 2006 Serbia would have been a strong side rather than finishing rock-bottom in their group. In 2010, England would have advanced much further. And in the Euro 2012, Denmark would have been a contender.

By basing seeding on a flawed world rankings system, perhaps the Group Stage becomes more tantalizing for neutrals but less meritorious for the nations involved. Pedigree matters in international football and while FIFA is determined to blaze new trails in the sport, seeing nations based on recent form exclusively rather than some logical combination of factors is simply foolish.

Editor’s note: The eight seeds who will be seeded in Pot 1 for the FIFA World Cup 2014 are Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, Colombia, Belgium, Switzerland and either Uruguay (if they qualify by beating Jordan in the World Cup playoff) or Netherlands (if Uruguay loses in their World Cup playoff). You can simulate the draw via this website.

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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 →

9 Responses to FIFA’s World Rankings to Determine the 8 Seeds For World Cup 2014 Is Flawed

  1. Matt says:

    Sorry Kartik but I couldn’t disagree more. We would never consider including the performances from Manchester United in the 2006 campaign when it comes to ranking the team now, nor should we. The fact that Columbia missed the 2006 and 2010 world cup could not matter any less in my opinion. International squad turnover is occuring more frequently than ever before. The team that is going to be playing in the tournament should be seeded only on their own merits, free from the performance (positive or negative) of their predecessors. Of course it’s a joke that the Swiss are a seeded team, but this point would be moot had Italy not tied Armenia of all teams last week.

    There is always a chance that strong European teams are drawn into the group of death. Was Brazil’s status as a seeded team damaged by Portugal’s inclusion in their group in 2010?

    • If Colombia had performed better at the 2011 Copa America the most recent major tournament they were in, I could see a case. But the fact is they did not. Italy and Holland have been hurt by the randomness of pot 3 and beyond teams in their UEFA Qualifying Groups when compared to the likes of Switzerland. That is something they absolutely could not control and yet they are being punished for it.

      Colombia performed no better in qualifying this go round than Paraguay for 2010 or Ecuador in 2006 yet never were the ideas of those two sides being seeded seriously contemplated.

      • Matt says:

        Paraguay won their group and reached the quarterfinal in 2010. Maybe they should have been included in those discussions after all…

    • COYx says:

      Also when England benefited from change in rules to be seeded in WC 2010 ahead of France nobody in English speaking media cried about ‘controversy’.

  2. Simon Mack says:

    The FIFA World rankings have been a mystery to most Football Fans for years, and this most important set of rankings is no different. While England, Italy, France and The Netherlands all lurk in the second pot Switzerland and Columbia are seeded as a top 8 nation. I have no idea either!?

  3. Tony Butterworth says:

    I Was thinking about writing something similar. Ultimately it’s not using FIFA rankings for seeding that is wrong it’s the rankings themselves that are wrong. I would not use older games but would try to better work strength of opposition & recent performance. If a team like Italy gets a weaker group why should it be harmed. It really had no choice. For Uruquay to be seeded when they struggled to qualify makes no sense.

    Not a seeding factor but the fact that a team that needs a playoff and wins it jumps up the rankings makes no sense at all.

  4. Pakapala says:

    Ha really? Basing the seeding on past glory from 8 12 years ago is better than doing it on current form? What kind of logic is that Kartik? I guess anything that doesn’t benefit England is seen as bad.

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