Over the first few weeks of September, qualifying matches for the 2014 World Cup dominated the world of football. With just a few matches played by each team, the fixtures whetted the appetites of fans as they looked forward to the final tournament in Brazil.
So who should we expect to see in Brazil? And just how good is every team?
These are questions that FIFA has looked to constantly respond to with their ranking system. The idea is sound: provide a running point system (a la rankings in tennis) that evaluates teams' performances and rank them based on the output.
However, there is a problem: FIFA seems to have a flawed system that they refuse to alter in any way.
In some regards, this is an understandable problem. After all, when you make a system like this, it is hard to take every possible nuance into consideration. Hence, while the system you create may be sound given the situation in which you created it, it may falter under a different circumstance.
However, having England as the third best team in the world seems a bit ridiculous.
As a result, I have undertaken the task of creating my own ranking system. It has the same idea as the FIFA system in that the teams are given a mathematical number to evaluate the merit of their results.
However, I completely rebuilt their formula and believe that, as a result, I came up with a better system.
In this system, each team is evaluated in each match based on the result, whether they were home, away or neutral, the level of opponent and the importance of the match. Given all of their match totals, I tally a score out of 1000 from which I rank the teams.
So without further ado, here are the rankings of every national football team.
|181||Central African Republic||89.18||+2|
|182||Papua New Guinea||87.50||-5|
|200||British Virgin Islands||39.07||+1|
|201||US Virgin Islands||37.39||+1|
|203||Sao Tome e Principe||33.25||+1|
|209||Turks and Caicos||4.65||0|
There was not much movement in this area of the rankings, which is quite understandable given that most of these teams were already knocked out of the World Cup qualifying process.
The big mover was Madagascar, who fell seven spots from 182 to 189. The reason they fell so far was that they had a World Cup qualifying victory over Botswana in September of 2008. Hence, this is the first month that that result will not count towards their ranking.
Another big mover was Papua New Guinea, but theirs was more because of other teams' activities rather than their own.
Other than them, everything stayed pretty much the same.
|164||St Kitts and Nevis||124.74||-1|
The big movers in this group are Liberia, and do they ever deserve it. In a qualification match for the African Cup of Nations, they were able to get a 2-2 draw with Nigeria. Just that alone would probably have made Liberia's month, but they weren't done. Three days later, they earned a victory over World Cup quarterfinalists Ghana, albeit in a friendly. The only thing surprising about their nine-spot rise is that it wasn't bigger.
Another notable mover is Cuba, who continues their ascent through the rankings because of their run to the third round of CONCACAF, qualifying for the World Cup.
|141||Antigua and Barbuda||183.16||-1|
|147||Cape Verde Islands||171.42||-1|
The story of this group is a few big drops.
For Vanuatu and Fiji, the reason for their drops is clear: each is suffering because of their inability to get to the final round of World Cup qualifying in Oceania. Now that matches have started in that final round, the effects of their losses are being felt.
Libya also dropped nine spots. The reasoning for this one may not be clear on the surface, but it's there—the effects of their 1-0 victory against Ghana in September 2008 have just worn off.
If you are looking for positive stories here, look at Lebanon and the Solomon Islands.
After qualifying for the final round of World Cup qualifying in Oceania, the Solomon Islands defeated Tahiti in the first match of the group. Sure, they lost to New Zealand by a whopping 6-1 margin, but their six-spot rise is still something to be proud of.
For Lebanon, their rise in these rankings could be just the start of their rise to the World Cup. Their shocking 1-0 defeat over Iran has put Lebanon in the surprising position of having a chance in AFC Group A.
|120||Trinidad and Tobago||240.26||-5|
So why were there such large movements in this group? There are simple explanations.
Lithuania had the biggest jump by far here, moving 14 spots in just a month. The reason is the disparity between their performance in World Cup qualifying four years ago versus this time around.
In September of 2008, the Lithuanians picked up six points in two matches against Romania and Austria. This time around, it was just one point from matches with Greece and Slovakia. The loss of the former and the introduction of the latter made their ranking plummet.
As for big movers Guatemala and Canada, both are putting up quite a battle in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. If either were to get through this round, their rankings are sure to skyrocket even more than they have thus far.
Finally, unexpected victories for Vietnam and India have those two flying high, while Wales' two hefty defeats to open qualifying have seen them fall quite a bit.
Jamaica celebrates its victory over the USA
This is quite a group of risers here.
New Caledonia are the biggest of the bunch, soaring 19 spots because of their defeat over New Zealand in the OFC Nations Cup, their win over Tahiti in World Cup qualifying and the cancellation of their two losses to New Zealand four years ago.
Armenia has also benefited from the turn of the month, as their opening victory over Malta in World Cup qualifying has combined nicely with the expiration of their hefty 2-0 and 4-0 losses to Turkey and Spain, respectively, to send them 12 spots up.
El Salvador, Panama and Jamaica are also shooting up the charts because of some fine World Cup qualifying campaigns.
The only teams to drop a bit in this group are Israel and Austria. Austria is suffering from the expiration of their 3-1 victory over France four years ago while Israel's four-point start to the 2010 World Cup qualifying has been replaced with a one-point start to 2014.
The big climbers of this group are Honduras and New Zealand, each of whom are riding a wave of positive results in World Cup qualifying.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain continue their descents after not being able to make it to the AFC fourth round of qualifying for the World Cup.
Other big movers include Bosnia-Herzegovina, who went up four spots because of their huge 8-1 and 4-1 wins in qualifying.
One big surprise is Belgium, who actually moved down two spots despite earning four good points in qualifying. Perhaps this is cancelled out by the expiration of their four points to start 2010 World Cup qualifying.
On the flip side, it is surprising that Iran only moved down one spot despite their 1-0 loss to Lebanon in qualifying.
I must admit, my first reaction to this group was a bit of shock. However, if you look at the bigger picture, these might make a bit more sense.
Let's start with the movers that made sense. Switzerland's perfect start to World Cup qualifying has them moving up quickly. Given the strength of their group, they could be near the top ten come the start of the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Croatia's draw with Belgium to start their qualifying campaign makes their lack of change sensible.
Further, Serbia, Russia, Sweden and Ghana all make sense where they are.
The two changes that really stand out, though, are Ecuador's drop to 30 and the USA's rise to 27.
Ecuador is playing some great football in CONMEBOL and are looking to be a major threat to make it to Brazil. Their results just this month (victory over Bolivia, draw to Uruguay) seemed sure to push them up in the rankings. However, their fall makes some sense when you consider that they got the same results four years ago, just with better scorelines. With those expired now, Ecuador fell just a bit.
Meanwhile, the USA's loss to Jamaica seemed destined to push them back, yet they rose two spots. This is hard to grasp, but makes a bit more sense when you consider that their opponents in similar fixtures four years ago (Trinidad and Tobago and Cuba) were much weaker.
Not much movement in this group of teams, but every move is explainable.
Chile's loss at home to Colombia was a blow, knocking them out of the top ten. Meanwhile, Australia's shocking loss to Jordan made them switch spots with Venezuela.
Mexico climbed nicely as they continue to dominate in World Cup qualifying.
Finally, Colombia has been very impressive in CONMEBOL and have broken into the top 20.
Yes, their 1-1 draw with the Ukraine wasn't the best result for their World Cup qualifying campaign.
However, one must remember that they get some of those points back for their 5-0 drubbing away to Moldova.
With Chile slipping because of their loss to Colombia, England moved back into the top ten.
The Euro 2012 runners-up didn't get their World Cup qualifying campaign off to the best of starts, drawing Bulgaria 2-2.
The Azzurri got their campaign back on track with a win against Malta, but their ranking stayed unchanged as a result.
Paraguay have had quite the four years, making the World Cup quarterfinals and the Copa America final.
However, they sit last in World Cup qualifying and look set to miss out on Brazil.
Expect the Paraguayans to fall through these rankings over the coming months.
Portugal vaults Paraguay for the seventh spot on the list.
With Cristiano Ronaldo leading them, Portugal has picked up full points from their first two World Cup qualifying matches, though their win in Luxembourg was less than impressive.
Still, the team has only been thwarted by Spain in the past two major tournaments, and a good qualifying campaign here could push them far up this list.
Yes, they have Lionel Messi, but Argentina has underachieved over the past four years.
A quarterfinal exit from the World Cup (in a drubbing, no less) and a quarterfinal exit from the Copa America they hosted have them lower than their talent suggests.
Still, they lead the CONMEBOL qualifying process for the World Cup and should be a force in Brazil.
Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup and are hence the only team ready to qualify for the competition.
With a team of superstars, they should prove a formidable threat in the competition.
However, they have not been able to live up to their potential over the past four years, falling to the Netherlands in the World Cup quarterfinals and to Paraguay in the Copa America quarters.
The Netherlands are the World Cup runners-up and have been near-perfect in qualifiers over the past four years.
So why are they down to fourth, you ask?
Oh right, that whole Euro 2012 thing.
The team imploded during that competition, losing every group match on their way to the exit.
Can they find some chemistry before Brazil?
World Cup fourth-place finish. Copa America champions. Fourth might seem a little low for Uruguay.
However, the team has faltered in World Cup qualifying the past two seasons and has, of late, looked quite weaker.
Sitting in just the fourth spot in CONMEBOL (the last automatic-qualifying bid), Uruguay should worry more about making it to Brazil than moving up on this list.
Germany picked up nice wins over the Faroe Islands and Austria to get their World Cup qualifying bid off to a flying start.
The Germans have looked dominant in qualifying and tournaments over the past four years, but have failed to get over the hump of the semifinals.
They will be hoping for more come Brazil.
World Cup champions. Euro 2012 champions. Unbeaten in all qualifying.
There's just no question about who No. 1 is right now.
So what do you think? Do you agree with the rankings, or do you have a few qualms?
Please let me know in the comments section below or on my Twitter.