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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Strange World Of FIFA: England Ranked Fourth In The World


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It will come as something of a surprise to most fans who watched Euro 2012 that England came out of the tournament going up in the FIFA world rankings - not bad for two wins in four matches, one of which came against a Ukraine team who lie at 46th in the table.

Ranking tables are always an untrustworthy measure of ability and status but just occasionally the FIFA variant does come up with some plainly ridiculous assessments. At best they offer a starting point for a pub debate but on the evidence of Euro 2012 let's face it, England wouldn't have ranked fourth in Europe let alone the world.

Even FIFA's Jerome Valcke has been moved to admit that the table is 'not very logical', although he did go on to argue that the ranking still proved an accurate reflection of quality. That sort of argument proves why Valcke is such a highly-placed football bureaucrat.

Spain's imperious run of tournament victories at least assures them of an undisputed top spot although there is the niggling thought that somewhere out there a rogue FIFA statistician has prepared a paper proving that actually Uruguay are the premier nation based on the Duckworth-Lewis method.

For the record, Germany and Uruguay are the teams sandwiched between Spain and England. Italy's performances in Poland and the Ukraine can only raise them to sixth - but that at least leaves them better placed than Brazil who rank outside the top 10, one place below Denmark.

Any table that puts Brazil outside the world's top 10 footballing nations has a lot to answer for - and the 'selecao' are exempt from qualifying for the next World Cup which will keep them low down, as they will not play competitive matches.

England's high ranking is based partly on two very efficient qualifying campaigns for World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 - despite their distinctly mediocre performances in the actual tournament finals.

The points are worked out based on a formula that assigns more importance to competitive games than friendlies - and more weight to matches played against teams from the main centres of world football; otherwise New Zealand would routinely end up in the world's top 10 through regularly thrashing the rest of Oceania.

The good thing about this is that hardly anyone takes much notice of it. Even the most patriotic England fan would be hard-pressed to argue that they are the fourth-best team on the planet but the table does continue to grow.

It has now stretched to encompass no less than 205 teams - more than attend the United Nations. There are four teams without a single ranking point over the past four years. Bhutan and Montserrat have been rooted at the bottom for some time but they have been joined by the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Surprisingly they are also joined by San Marino who have been battling away in European competition for some time now and have been known to cause the odd surprise and even boasted a couple of professional players. They once scored against England in less than 10 seconds and gave Scotland such trouble in a game that one commentator said 'we're losing to a mountain top' (The Scots did fight back).

Calling all football fans: What do you make of the FIFA rankings? Who are the top 10 teams in the world in your eyes? Whatever your view, we'd love to hear from you.

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Hugh Larkin

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