2010 FIFA World Cup: FIFA Rankings Mean Nothing at the World Cup

Brian RhodesSenior Analyst IJune 7, 2010

Since 1992, FIFA has produced a ranking system to show who the best nations are in World Football.  The ranking is a bone of contention for many who see it as nothing more than just a list for entertainment purposes.

The system is based on a national team's last four years of competitive matches with increased points weighting for more recent games, and for games against significant opponents.

The ranking has had only six teams hold the top position; Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, of which Brazil has spent the longest ranked first.

However, during all of this time no "so called" No. 1-ranked team has won the World Cup whilst at the No. 1 position.  Is this because the system is flawed?  Undoubtedly, it is, but there is more to it than just a flawed system.

Since the start of the FIFA Rankings, there have been four World Cups.  Of these World Cups, the best showing by FIFA's top 10 teams was the 1994 tournament where three of the four semifinalists were top 10 teams.

The last World Cup in 2006, had two of the top 10 ranked nations reaching the semifinals, and in 2002 and in 1998, just one did.

So what is the ranking actually an indicator of?  Is it just an indicator of the nation as a footballing breading ground, as the majority of the top 10 nations are larger nations with a larger head of population to choose their teams from, therefore more people equals more chances of a more successful team.

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However, I would like to think that in the World Cup, it is due more to the vagaries of a knockout competition. The early group stage allows the lesser footballing nations to have a chance to play at least three matches in the greatest sports tournament in the world, against some of the most famous footballing nations.

It is only when the second phase of the tournament has started that the true nature of a single match knockout tournament comes into effect and the FIFA ranking goes out of the window.

The greatest players can get injuries, they can suffer from nerves, errors occur, free kicks and penalties are given away, and players can get sent off. The famous semifinals in the 1990 World Cup in Italy, is where England's Paul Gascoigne made a silly challenge to gain a second yellow card that sent him into floods of tears.

The second card would have meant that even if England had won, he would have missed the final, yet he doubled his efforts and could have won the game in extra time, but for tired legs.

It is knockout competition football that makes the FIFA rankings a mockery when the World Cup rolls into town, nothing more. It is pure and simple knockout football, and long may it remain that way.

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