FIFA World Rankings: Why They're Wildly Inaccurate

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FIFA World Rankings: Why They're Wildly Inaccurate
Michael Regan/Getty Images

The FIFA World Rankings are a creation of a scientific formula that tries to rationalize a game that cannot be rationalized.

The system uses four factors to calculate its ranking for each team.

The first is pretty routine; it is points earned in a match (M). The team is awarded three points for a victory, one for a draw, and two for a win in penalties.

The next factor is the importance of the match (I). Friendly matches and small tournaments are awarded one point, World Cup or Continental qualifiers are awarded two, Continental competitions final or Confederations Cup are awarded three, and the World Cup is awarded four.

The third factor is the standing of the opposition, according to the most recent FIFA World Rankings that have been published (T). Taking 200 and subtracting it from the team's ranking and then dividing it by 100 calculates this part.

The final factor is the confederation's strength (C). The strength of the confederations is calculated by the mean of the victories calculated at the last three World Cups.

The formula comes out P= M x I x T x C x 100.

The biggest issue is that the formula uses itself within it. A piece of the calculation is based on the last ranking the teams were given.

So if the calculation places a team as being ranked 30 but has a streak of good games where it beats highly ranked teams, the lower team gets boosted but the higher rank does not get moved as much because their value is less significant.

This allows for historically strong teams to retain high positions even when they go through losing streaks and roster turnover.

Another big issue is the calculation cannot possibly calculate form in a game.

If a bad ranked team is able to stifle the first or second ranked team for all 90 minutes of the game, the performance would be looked at as a great showing.

The rankings would in turn drop this team that showed a capability to contend with a strong side.

The rankings also cannot award or take away points for real life scenarios for competitions.

If a team brings in their B squad roster and wins with them against a stronger opponent or loses with them to a weaker opponent, the fact that the side was weakened for whatever reason cannot be put into the calculations.

Teams that are hosting a competition who do not need to qualify for the tournament do not get a special status on the ranking.

This means that if a team is hosting a tournament, they are playing friendly matches on international dates instead of the qualifying matches that their opponents in the tournament would be playing.

This allows opponents to earn more points in the eyes of the formula than a nation that is chosen to host a tournament.

The final huge issue is that teams are hurt during the time that a team is qualifying for a tournament. This is because they are only playing teams within one confederation.

If a team is a powerhouse in their conference, their ranking cannot rise as much as a middle of the pack team in a better confederation.

So while a nation like Austria or Slovakia can be boosted during the qualification period for a major tournament, a Mexico or the United States is penalized because their confederation is not looked viewed as strong.

There is no factor for consistency in making major tournaments.

Football, like any sport, is a game that cannot be rationalized. It is nice to have a system that calculates how strong a team is.

It helps people view the opponents of their nation, but like any formula placed to calculate something in sports besides statistics, the FIFA World Rankings simply cannot get in all the factors. 

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