The ludicrous Fifa ranking system and the sheer pointless nature of international friendlies are summed up in one sweeping, but true, statement: Had England not played against Sweden and Republic of Ireland in friendlies, they would be seeded at the World Cup.
Roy Hodgson’s men have been handed the news that they will not be one of the eight sides that will be seeded for the tournament in Brazil next summer. This means that the Three Lions are likely to handed a much tougher group as a result.
Fifa’s rationale behind the seeding system is based around their rankings, which are determined by a respective nation’s results. Hosts Brazil and the top seven ranked sides in the world are given the sought-after seeded spots for 2014, with Switzerland taking the final place of the eight.
At the time of the decision, the Swiss were a small 58 ranking points ahead of England, who were ranked 10th. However, had the FA looked into this with more insight and planning, there is no reason why Hodgson’s men couldn’t have won a seeded spot.
Fifa calculates the average amount of points a team earns per game, which will determine the standings and subsequent seeding. Switzerland have averaged 669.63 points per match in the last year, compared to England’s 485.46. The reason? Competitive qualifying fixtures are highly regarded by Fifa, with more points to be won than in friendlies.
Had England beaten Montenegro or Ukraine away from home instead of drawing they would have had enough points to leapfrog the Swiss due to the increase in the average. However, perhaps more importantly, if England had not played friendlies against Republic of Ireland and Sweden, their average would have been boosted high enough to overtake Switzerland also – just by NOT playing.
A draw against the Irish and defeat against Sweden resulted in a paltry 161 ranking points and the subsequent lowering of England’s average to a level below Switzerland. Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side only played three friendlies in the last year, while England played five – both winning two.
Even a win over the top-ranked side in the world in a friendly clash only heralds 600 points, which is less than Switzerland’s average as it is. It would pay for the FA to be more intelligent with their friendly selection (if they have to be played).
For example, England picked up 181 points for their 2-2 draw against Brazil at the Maracana in June. They would have been handed 543 points had they won the fixture and nothing for defeat. Surely an easier game, like beating Peru at home (483 points) would have been a better option? Less illustrious yes, but isn’t a seeding at the World Cup more important?
As it stands the Fifa rankings system is certainly flawed, but England have been handed a tougher World Cup group due to the FA not examining the specifics more carefully.