THE DYNAMICS OF THE FIFA RANKING SYSTEM

Many were those who were shocked to see Ghana drop eighteen places in the FIFA Ranking released on 29th June, 2011. The drop also affected Ghana on the zonal ranking losing the number one position to La Cote d’Ivoire. Indeed, many have questioned the FIFA Ranking system to the extent that it has become the subject of countless heated debates. Fortunately or unfortunately, it has come to stay especially after 2006 when it received comprehensive revision. It is also one major system football bodies like FIFA, CAF, AFC and the rest use to seed teams in draws for major senior tournaments. The women also have their own ranking. The race for the 31 places of the 2014 World Cup (Brazil already has one) has already begun and for the popular footballing nations, it will enter full gear on July 30, 2011 when the preliminary draw is held at the Kongreshaus in Switzerland. As a result, many nations are exuding out-of-the-ordinary efforts to be in a better position on 27th July, 2011 when the next ranking is released. For Ghana, not much will wok in our favour as our next major friendly is on 9th August, 2011 against Nigeria in England.

What most of us have to understand is that the ranking is calculated based on typical factors such as match result (win, draw or defeat), importance of match (competitive or friendly), strength of opponents (calculated using the team’s position in the ranking) and regional or continental strength, which is assessed by the results of teams from the respective confederation in the last three final competitions of the FIFA World Cup. Indeed, matches of senior national teams like the Black Stars irrespective of the squad is taken into consideration. For example, the Local Black Stars matches are considered matches of the Black Stars as they represent the senior men’s team of the country. Without recourse to the composition of the squad, FIFA will regard any result of the Local Black Stars in the point accumulation for its ranking. However, result of junior teams like the Black Meteors, Black Satellites, Black Starlets and women’s teams count zilch as they also have a separate ranking released periodically.

The ranking takes into consideration matches played by a nation in the last four years (or 48 months) with more marks given to matches in recent years. Averagely, a nation is expected to play at least five matches in a year so that recent successes by the team gets greater influence in the ranking than matches in previous years. Matches in a year count in full! In other words, it is given 100% in the calculation of points with matches in the previous year getting 50% while those in the third and fourth past years get 30% and 20% respectively. So Ghana’s matches from July, 2007 to July 2011 will be considered for the release of the next ranking on Wednesday. Just that matches from July, 2007 to June, 2008 will count 20%; matches from July, 2008 to June, 2009 will count 30%; matches from July, 2009 to June 2010 will count 50% while matches from July 2010 to June, 2011 will count 100%. Thus, June’s ranking was as a result of the devaluation of the first round of matches at South Africa 2010. In other words, those matches dropped from counting for full marks or 100%

Match status

FIFA awards points for results of a match though ‘match status’ is given premium. A win in a world cup qualifier is different from a win in a world cup match in the ‘world’ of FIFA Ranking. For example, a win in a world cup match has a multiplier of 4 while a win in a friendly match has a multiplier of 1. Without recourse to the match status, nonetheless, a point of 3 is awarded for a win and 1 for a draw. But if a team wins in a penalty shoot-out, it gets an additional one. That is why I have always insisted that Ghana only lost one match at the 2010 FIFA World Cup drawing two matches. To be specific, Ghana’s quarter-final loss to Uruguay is counted a draw as it ended so (1-1) after full regulation time. Consequently, FIFA will award Ghana 1 point in its point accumulation for the ranking and give Uruguay 2 points for winning on penalties. It is important to note that continental and world cup qualifiers have a different multiplier of 2.5. So Ghana’s win over Congo, for instance, will count 3 points by 2.5 making 7.5 points. But one should remember that the strength of opponents also count as match. As a result, with Congo ranked way below Ghana the multiplier for a win is relatively small though necessary. Continental and FIFA Confederations Cup matches have a multiplier of 3. In the case of Ghana, matches at the Africa Cup of Nations will be multiplied by 3 so that a win will get us 9 points while a draw will get us 3 points. Ghana has never played in the FIFA Confederations Cup so let me not use that as an example for point accumulation. Let me leave that to the Brazils, New Zealands and the Spains who have been there before. It calculates the same as the CAN example though.

Strength of opponent

Regarding the strength of the opponent, FIFA considers all teams ranked from 1 to 200 as superior. As a result, there is a special formula in getting the multiplier for the strength of your opponent. Let me use Ghana as an example and calculate our multiplier and tell why so many countries below us on the ranking table would want to beat us in any match be it friendly or competitive. FIFA takes the difference between a country’s position on the table and 200 and strikes a percentage out of that. So in the case of Ghana, the difference of our 33rd position and 200 will be 167. (200-33 = 167) Then, a percentage is struck out of the difference. So 1.67 becomes the multiplier for any team that plays against Ghana. So a win will get the team 5.01 points (=1.67 X 3) while a draw gets the team 1.67 points. But it is important to note that teams ranked below 150 are given a constant multiplier of 0.5. So a win over a team ranked below 150 will only count 1.5 point while a draw will be 0.5. Ouch!! I have not been talking about losses. Well, a loss is a loss and so no point is attained. With all these calculations, if you get 0 (which stands for a loss) all multipliers will end 0.

Regional or continental strength
The last major factor FIFA considers is the regional or continental strength. This is obtained in the performance of the teams from a particular confederation in the last three world cups. Consequently, the 2002, 2006 and the 2010 World Cups are the ones FIFA considers for the recent rankings. Ghana’s performance at the 2010 gave Africa a new multiplier of 0.86 though positive performances by some African countries in the last three world cups cannot be underestimated. FIFA awards the multiplier for confederations between 0.85 and 1. After the 2010 World Cup, UEFA (Europe) and CONMEBOL (South America) got a multiplier of 1. CONCACAF (north, Central and the Carribean America) had a multiplier of 0.88 for its teams while CAF(Africa) had 0.86 for its teams. AFC(Asia) and OFC (Oceania) had 0.85 apiece as their teams’ multiplier. Indeed, let me stress that because of this regional strength multiplier, the performance of African countries in a world cup should be considered an interest of all. For instance, the performances of Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon [who failed to win] at the 2010 World Cup should be condemned. Africa’s multiplier for the FIFA rankings would have increased had they performed a little better. That’s by the way though!!

I am sure many will be wondering how come most teams get figures in the hundreds. Well, after all these calculations, the final figure is multiplied by 100. This is just for a result in a match! Remember the performance in the past 48 months also counts.

I really expect a good standing for Ghana and hope that Wednesday’s ranking will see us get a less tough group for Saturday’s first round draw for the Road to Brazil 2014.

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