Power Ranking the 25 Best Soccer Nations Based on Per Capita
We've all got access to the FIFA international team rankings which decide which is the official "best nation in world football," but how does that translate to the amount of quality football which is available to those nations?
It's been said many times before: When (or if) the United States takes the game seriously, there is such a potential pool of talent available that it might be hard to stop them.
The same goes for other hugely populous nations, such as India and China, both home to more than one billion people.
On the other hand, nations with an estimated population of less than 5 million, such as Croatia or Uruguay, have to select the best players from a far smaller pool of talent.
Don't expect to see the likes of Brazil, Russia or USA on this list—with hundreds of millions of people available to choose from, in theory at least, they won't score highly in this ranking system. Any success would be, at least in part, because they have such a wide-ranging group of athletes to try and find a great team from.
In fact, none of the top-six ranked FIFA nations feature in this list.
Here, then, is the top 25 ranked nations in world football, based on a combination of their standing in the sport and their national population available to contribute to the game.
Methodology and Eligible Nations
To rank these top 25 nations, we took the most recent FIFA world rankings available (March 2013) and the best accurate estimations of the world's population (from WorldAtlas.com, 2012), and used them to form our own coefficient—Football Points per Capita, or FPC.
The three exceptions here were England, Serbia and Montenegro, whose populations were obtained via World Bank (via google.com/publicdata).
In order to exclude those countries finishing in the top 25 who are obviously undeserving of it, only the top 60 ranked nations (out of a total of 209) in the FIFA list are eligible.
For example, Latvia have a population of only 2.2 million, but their football achievements—they rank 108th—mean that irrespective of having a better FPC (145) than Brazil (4.69 FPC), they will not be included in the top 25.
It would be unhelpful in determining who makes the best use of the talent they have to include teams who are deemed completely unsuccessful in the modern game by the FIFA rankings.
That means that Poland (FIFA rank 61st) miss out on the cut, as do the likes of Scotland (66th), Canada (68th), Cameroon (79th) and Finland (87th).
The FPC coefficient is formed thus: (FIFA ranking points) / (Nation population in millions).
Working example of a qualifying nation: 30th place Nigeria, 775 points. Population, 158.3 million. FPC = 775 / 158.3 = FPC of 4.9.
Nations eligible for inclusion as per current FIFA rankings:
|40||Republic of Ireland|
|52||Central African Republic|
|57=||Cape Verde Islands|
25. Hungary, 75.2 FPC
Hungary get us going, ranking 25th in the coefficient standings and 32nd in the FIFA version. The nation has a population of 10 million.
The European side are second in their World Cup qualifying group, with a good chance of reaching their first finals since 1986.
Once a superpower of the game, Hungary have fielded such greats as Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti, Jozsef Bozsik and, of course, Ferenc Puskas.
24. Czech Republic, 77.0 FPC
In at No. 24 is European side Czech Republic, with a population of 10.5 million.
Their FIFA ranking is 27, indicating they are more or less punching their weight as expected.
The nation which has brought the world the likes of Petr Cech, Jan Koller and Karel Poborsky are currently third in their group for World Cup 2014 qualification.
23. Honduras, 77.9 FPC
Honduras place 23rd on the list, with a population of 7.6 million and ranking 49th in the FIFA standings.
They are currently in the final stages of qualification for the World Cup next year, topping the group after a single game in the Caribbean, Central and North America qualifying region.
Notable players in their history include Maynor Figueroa, Carlos Pavon and Milton Nuñez.
22. Bulgaria, 80.9 FPC
Back to Europe now, and Bulgaria come in at 22.
Ranked 46th for FIFA and with a population of just 7.6 million, Bulgaria have for some time punched above their weight internationally, never more so than a fourth-place finish at World Cup 1994.
Even now they are pushing for a playoff place for next year's World Cup, second in their group behind Italy.
Bulgaria have brought us such great and memorable players as Krassimir Balakov, Dimitar Berbatov, Trifon Ivanov and the unforgettable, irrepressible Hristo Stoichkov.
21. Belgium, 82.6 FPC
In come one of world football's rising powers on the international stage, with Belgium in 21st place.
After several years in the wilderness, the European nation has put together an immense squad with huge potential for the forthcoming World Cup or the 2016 European Championships.
They currently top their qualifying group for next year's event in Brazil.
Belgium's top talents of yesteryear—Enzo Scifo, Jan Ceulemans and Eric Gerets—could one day soon be matched by the current crop including Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Axel Witsel.
20. Serbia, 90.0 FPC
Sticking in Europe for now, Serbia place 20th in our system.
The Eastern European nation are in third place in their qualifying group—behind Belgium, incidentally—and face an uphill battle to qualify for the World Cup despite their relatively impressive recent qualifying record for a young nation.
Serbia has a population of 7.3 million and ranks 35th in the FIFA ratings.
19. Sweden, 90.3 FPC
In come Sweden at 19th, almost exactly the same as their FIFA ranking, which is 21st. They have a national population of just 9.4 million.
They are currently second in their World Cup qualifying group, with a good chance of claiming at least a playoff place.
Sweden's most notable players of all time include Thomas Ravelli, Henrik Larsson, Gunnar Nordahl and the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
18. Greece, 91.4 FPC
Euro 2004 winners Greece continue to defy the odds and keep themselves awake despite their brand of football, even winning matches sometimes and scoring goals.
They have a population of 11.3 million, not including any recent desertions during the recession and civil unrest, and rank 12th in the FIFA list.
That victorious squad in '04 contained the likes of Nikos Dabizas, Stelios Giannakopoulos and Giorgos Karagounis.
17. Paraguay, 98.5 FPC
A run of five European nations is halted by South Americans Paraguay, who come in at 17th.
Populated by only 6.5 million people, Paraguay nevertheless manage to qualify with some regularity for major tournaments, but are unlikely to be at the World Cup on their home continent next year, being bottom of their qualification league.
Paraguay are 38th in the FIFA rankings.
Notable national team players have included Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Gamarra, Jose Luis Chilavert and Salvador Cabañas.
16. Slovakia, 106.3 FPC
Slovakia come in at 16th, significantly higher than their 55th-place FIFA ranking, indicating that though they are not world-beaters, they are performing well considering the numbers available to them; they have a population of 5.4 million.
They are currently third in their World Cup qualification group, three points off the pace, so still in with a chance of making the finals.
Amongst the names in their current hall of fame are Marek Hamsik, Martin Skrtel and Robert Vittek. Previous greats include Miroslav Karhan and the late Peter Dubovsky.
15. Portugal, 106.9 FPC
The highest-ranked side in the FIFA listings to make the cut in this top 25 are Portugal.
Portugal are the seventh-best side in the world according to the FIFA system, an impressive standing considering their population of 10.6 million.
By way of comparison, the sixth-placed nation, Colombia, has 45.7 million. The fifth-placed nation, Italy, has 60.3 million.
Portugal are currently third in their World Cup qualifying group. Their former giants of the game include Paulo Sousa, Luis Figo, Vitor Baia and Manuel Rui Costa. The current crop includes one of the world's best in Cristiano Ronaldo.
14. Costa Rica, 125.4 FPC
Once more into the North, Central America and the Caribbean qualification section with Costa Rica.
They, like Honduras, are in the final stage of qualification and hoping for a place at the 2014 World Cup.
Costa Rica rank at 53 in the FIFA standings, with a population of 4.6 million—good for a comfortable top-15 place in our FPC coefficient system.
Greats of the footballing history of this nation include Paulo Wanchope, Bryan Ruiz, Rolando Fonseca and Walter Centeno.
13. Central African Republic, 129.1 FPC
Here's where we get a little more into the intricate workings of the FIFA rankings.
Central African Republic rank 52nd in the FIFA standings, despite having never qualified for an Africa Cup of Nations tournament or a FIFA World Cup.
Their increased ranking in the game stems from some unexpected yet positive results over the past year or so, including wins over Botswana, Egypt and Burkina Faso.
The population of Central African Republic is 4.5 million. The national team captain is Foxi Kethevoama.
12. Switzerland, 130.6 FPC
At 12th place we are back in Europe with Switzerland, which has a population of 7.8 million.
They rank 14th in the FIFA standings. In their World Cup qualification group, they lead the table by three points.
Switzerland have a squad containing quality players such as Gokhan Inler, Xherdan Shaqiri and Stephan Lichtsteiner. Previously they have had the likes of Stephane Chapuisat, Johann Vogel and Alexander Frei.
11. Republic of Ireland, 139.3 FPC
Just outside the top 10 are the Republic of Ireland, who rank 40th in the FIFA standings.
The nation has a population of only 4.5 million yet has managed to qualify for a string of major tournaments, including the recent Euro 2012 competition.
Ireland lay third in their World Cup qualification group. Their top talents down the years include Roy Keane, Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton and Paul McGrath.
10. Denmark, 148 FPC
We reach the top 10 and kick off with a European team, Denmark (population: 5.5 million).
They lie fifth in their World Cup qualifying group, having suffered a terrible start to the campaign.
They're 25th in the FIFA standings after recently qualifying for consecutive major tournaments.
The best players in Denmark's history would doubtless include Brian and Michael Laudrup, Peter Schmeichel and Jon Dahl Tomasson.
9. Norway, 160 FPC
Norway are 29th in the FIFA world standings, with a population of only 4.9 million.
They are second in their World Cup qualification group, still with a good chance of automatic progression to the finals.
Norway have seen the likes of Henning Berg, Kjetil Rekdal and Tore Andre Flo represent their shirt with distinction.
8. Panama, 189.1 FPC
Panama are in the latter stages of World Cup qualification for next year's finals. They are ranked 41st in the FIFA standings—no mean feat for a country with a population of just 3.3 million.
They drew with Costa Rica in their first match in the final group stage. Next they face Jamaica, Honduras, Mexico and the USA.
Panama's top talents include Felipe Baloy, Blas Perez and Luis Tejada.
7. Jamaica, 213.3 FPC
Jamaica are in the same final stages of qualification for the World Cup as Panama, and similarly drew their first match.
There is a population of 2.7 million in the country. They rank 54th in the FIFA standings.
Luton Shelton, Ricardo Gardner and Theodore Whitmore are the biggest talents the Jamaican game has seen.
6. Bosnia-Herzegovina, 217.1 FPC
Bosnia-Herzegovina are in at No. 6.
They are ranked at 23rd place in the FIFA standings, with a population of 3.8 million. They have only been in existence as a national team for around a decade, having been part of Yugoslavia beforehand.
Bosnia currently top Group G as they seek to qualify for their first World Cup finals.
Elvir Baljic, Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic are some of the most notable names to have represented this nation.
5. Croatia, 245.5 FPC
The highest FIFA-ranked nation left in the list, Croatia, kick off our top five.
Croatia was, like Bosnia-Herzegovina, a part of the former Yugoslavia. The country has a population of 4.4 million.
Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban, Robert Jarni and Slaven Bilic made up a significant part of their "Golden Generation" side in the mid-90s.
4. Slovenia, 270 FPC
In fourth place in the FPC coefficient rankings come European side Slovenia, another of the nations broken off from Yugoslavia.
The country holds just 2.1 million people and they rank 56th in the FIFA standings, having qualified for major tournaments in 2000, 2002 and 2010.
Some of the most notable players to have represented Slovenia are Zlatko Zahovic, Milenko Acimovic and current goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
3. Uruguay, 279.4 FPC
Up in third place is South American side Uruguay, the present Copa America holders and the smallest nation by population ever to have won a FIFA World Cup.
The population of Uruguay is now at the 3.4 million mark, yet they continue to have success on the field and rank 16th in the FIFA standings.
In qualifying for the next World Cup, Uruguay are in fifth place, one spot outside the automatic qualification places.
Their current greats include Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and Diego Lugano. Alvaro Recoba, Enzo Francescoli and Hector Scarone are others that have played for the national team in the past.
2. Cape Verde Islands, 1080 FPC
In at No. 2 are the Cape Verde Islands.
The African side have yet to qualify for a World Cup finals. But they reached their first Africa Cup of Nations final in 2013, reaching the quarterfinals in the process.
Their excellent progress and results have seen them rise to 57th in the FIFA rankings, despite a population of just a half-million people.
Cape Verde's current squads includes such stellar names as David Silva, Platini and Josimar...but probably not the ones you are more familiar with.
1. Montenegro, 1316.7 FPC
FIFA's newest member state, and the second-smallest population sample in this list, Montenegro top the pile.
Their relative achievements in a short space of time include finishing second in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, though they failed to reach the finals.
This despite having just 600,000 people to choose from for their national side. They are ranked 28th in the FIFA standings.
Top players for Montenegro include Stevan Jovetic, Mirko Vucinic, Stefan Savic and Simon Vukcevic.
Montenegro have the best FIFA coefficient tally with respect to their nation's population.