Monday, 3 February 2014

World Cup 2014 - Seedings

I haven’t written a blog for a while, mainly due to work and family commitments but I made a promise to myself in the New Year that I would try to get into it again. I’ve read a lot of good stuff over the last 6 months or so and it keeps inspiring me to write something only for ‘normal life’ to get in the way!

As we approach the World Cup I wanted to get into more topical issues so over the next few months my INTENTION is to write a series of posts leading up to this. We’ll see how many of my ideas I get through!

Previous Seeding Process

For the 2010 World Cup it was determined that the seeding process would be determined by the top 7 sides in the FIFARankings and the host nation. This was continued for the 2014 World Cup. Whatever your thoughts on the Rankings – my opinion is that it is a pretty decent way to rank sides, it at least takes weightings of opposition and match importance into account – in theory the best 8 sides at that moment should be seeded.

However, for the 2006 World cup and in previous tournaments FIFA also took into account performance at the 2previous World Cups, in fact before 2006 they actually used the past 3 World Cups. Is this a better way to do it? In theory this means that the teams that are better for longer periods of time will be rewarded (so the top seeds will always be Brazil, Argentina – even England who consistently get to the quarter finals).

2014 Seeding Process

So what made FIFA change and move away from using historical performance at World Cups? You would have to ask the powers at be that, but using the top 7 seeds plus hosts does favour teams who have performed well over the last 2 years. However is this just a form guide and in theory if they were a top seed in their World Cup group would they then have an easier ride to the finals and a much higher chance of remaining in the top 7 places. Take Switzerland as an example. A qualification group consisting of Iceland, Slovenia and Norway is unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of many teams.

Had they been judged on past world cup performance (knocked out in first round in 2010, despite beating eventual winner Spain and making the 2nd round in 2006) it’s unlikely they would have been held as a top seed. While Italy (Group stage in 2010 but winners in 2006) would surely have been seeded after being placed 9th at the time of the draw.

Current Form

The graph attached shows the rank of the seeded teams over the past 2 years, with the dotted line showing the 7th spot needed to be achieved to be considered 1st seed.

You can see from the graph that there a couple of notable teams who have peaked at the right time. While Germany, Spain and Uruguay have been consistent over the past 2 years Belgium have really climbed the rankings. While they have done extremely well over the last 2 years, climbing from 37th in October 2011 to a position of 5th two years later, they have now dropped back down to 11th just 2 months later and have not qualified for a World Cup since making the 2nd round in 2002.

I think the Belgium team is excellent but are they really a stronger side than Netherlands, England (who despite poor recent form beat Belgium as recently as June 2012) or Italy? Time will tell but due to them peaking at the right time they can conceivably consider themselves to be in an easy group then the aforementioned three teams

Switzerland provide a more static line but again seem to have peaked at the right time, the only time they enter the top 7 was as the seeds were being drawn – good timing!

Group of Death

From the rankings we can propose which groups look the toughest overall. It’s no surprise to find that England are in the toughest group based on rankings with Uruguay, England and Italy all in the top 10 at the time of the draw. Costa Rica’s position of 31 in November still gives an average ranking position of 14 (overall group ranking actually climbs to 18 for the past 2 years due to Costa Rica’s rise from 72 in October 2012 to 31 in October 2013) making the group the joint toughest

The other group which could be considered the Group of Death is Group G, consisting of Germany, Portugal, USA & Ghana. Ghana were very close to a World Cup semi-final place last time out, Klinsmann’s USA have improved a lot over the last 2 years and have been a nation on the brink of something impressive since the mid 90’s and Germany have consistently been ranked in the top 3 for many years.

And then there’s Portugal. Probably the team most harshly done to by taking the rankings at that exact month of October 2013, the Portuguese needed a fantastic win against Sweden in the play offs to qualify but had been ranked in the top 10 of the rankings for the previous 2 years. Except for that month in which they dropped to 14th. Why in October did they drop so low? In March 2013 they were ranked 7th so they must really have nosedived?

There results were as follows:-

March 13 – 3-3 Israel (A) – World Cup Qualifier
March 13 – 2-0 Azerbaijan (A) – World Cup Qualifier
June 13 – 1-0 Russia (H) – World Cup Qualifier
June 13 – 1-0 Croatia (H) – Friendly
August 13 – 1-1 Netherlands (H) – Friendly
Sept 13 – 4-2 Northern Ireland (A) – World Cup Qualifier
Sept 13 – 1-3 Brazil (A) - Friendly

So, 1 defeat (to Brazil who admittedly were ranked below them) and 2 draws with Israel away and Netherlands at home – and this has cost them a top seeding place?! The teams around them must have some record for Portugal to drop as badly as they have. Bearing in mind they have victories against 2 fellow World Cup qualifiers and a creditable draw with the team that finished runners up in the last World Cup it seems incredibly harsh on them that the group they have been drawn in contains 3 very good opponents when they could have been drawn in Switzerland’s place and been playing Ecuador & Honduras


Saying all this, there is the old adage if you want to win the tournament you have to beat the best. That’s fair enough but are every team’s hopes really to win? Surely Ecuador have a much greater chance of getting through to the 2nd round or Quarter Finals – something I’m sure they’d be happy with – when faced with Switzerland/France/Honduras than they would if Portugal/Italy or Netherlands had been in their group?

While the Ranking system will always be picked apart there is currently no better way of ordering the national teams. Surely though, taking a single snapshot of these rankings is also not the best way to seed teams for the biggest football tournament in the world?

Comments welcome!

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