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.