BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
As projected two weeks ago by the Sports Village Square, all the teams that performed well at the African Nations Championship in Morocco have setbacks in the FIFA World ranking released this Thursday.
Nigeria that won four matches drew one and lost one in the six matches played after the last FIFA ranking in January dropped both in points and in position. Just as it is for most other participants, the good runs at the African Nations Championship were rubbished by the FIFA ranking.
Nigeria dropped from 51st position to 52. Morocco, the winners, dropped to 42nd position from 39th in January. Morocco which played six matches and won five, drawing one a massive 52 points in a FIFA ranking that has defied logic.
While Nigeria and other African countries continue to experience misfortunes in the ranking, the reverse is the case in Europe where even Iceland, one of Nigeria’s World Cup opponents rose to an all-time best of 18th from 20th despite not playing any match of significance.
FIFA attempts to explain the misfortunes of African teams whose matches accounted for 28 out of the 34 that shaped the current ranking. According to the football governing body, the drop experienced by African teams “can be attributed both to results in the recent friendlies (CHAN is put at the realms of friendly matches) and to the devaluation of last year’s CAF African Cup of Nations in calculating points tallies.
“But there were gains as well as losses for sides in the Mother Continent, with Congo (88th, up 8) and Sudan (118th, up 6) among the biggest climbers”. Just as www.sportsvillagesquare.com pointed out two weeks ago, the beneficiaries of the current FIFA rankings are the lowly ranked teams and those that underperformed at the African Nations Championships.
Congo that rose to 88th position from 96 got eliminated from CHAN at the quarter finals. Sudan which moved up in ranking by six steps are 118th in the world lending credence that the CHAN only favours lowly ranked teams.
Other highly rated African teams all dropped. Ghana went down four steps to 54th, Cameroon dropped six steps to the 51st position while Burkina Faso went down 13 steps to the 57th positions.
But other continents where no matches were played either retained their ranking or experienced rise. That way, Venezuela went up four steps to the 48th position while Hungary and Jamaica each went up by five steps to 49th and 50th positions respectively.
Similarly, the top 15, all in Europe and South America, retained their positions despite not playing matches lending credence to the belief that devaluation of previous matches may not be affecting them as it does to African countries.
As it is, matches played in Africa have lower values than those played by European and South American countries, thus lesser football countries like Iceland with limited number of matches in Europe can rise above the best rated African country.
Many experts have faulted the FIFA monthly ranking as not reflecting the relative strength of teams. For instance, SB Nation, a sports news website owned and operated by Vox Media in 2005 once decried the FIFA men’s rankings as “almost universally derided as nonsensical.
“They are not predictive in any way, and they are easily manipulated with smart scheduling”.
Some experts are tilting toward alternative rankings that look more credible than that of FIFA. Such alternative ranking include that of World Football Elo Ratings which in its latest ranking released on Tuesday, two days ahead of FIFA’s, put Nigeria’s position at 44 instead of 52 recorded by FIFA.
The agitation against FIFA ranking is not new. According to an Associated Press (AP) report in June 2006 when the US team was ranked fourth in the world in April 2006, even their players were shocked and felt flattered! That was even after they were beaten 4-1 by Germany.
The FIFA ranking which started in December 1992 had been subject of intense debate. On at least two instances, FIFA has had to adjust the yardsticks.
According to FIFA’s explanations, the basic logic of the “calculation is simple: any team that does well in world football wins points which enable it to climb the world ranking.
“A team’s total number of points over a four-year period is determined by adding the average number of points gained from matches during the past 12 months and the average number of points gained from matches older than 12 months (depreciates yearly)”.
Therefore, calculation for a single match is determined by four factors – result, importance of the match, strength of the opposing team in ranking and geographical location (confederation).
On location, teams in confederations like UEFA and Conmebol enjoy higher rating on account that they are stronger.
So on account of these, the factors are brought together in the following formula to ascertain points per match:
P (point) =M (result) x I (importance of the match) x T (strength of opponent) x C (confederation).
So, “the number of points that can be won in a match depends on the following factors:
Was the match won or drawn? (M)
How important was the match (ranging from a friendly match to a FIFA World Cup match)?
(I) How strong was the opposing team in terms of ranking position and the confederation to which they belong? (T and C)
“These factors are brought together in the following formula to ascertain the total number of points (P): P = M x I x T x C”
“The following criteria apply to the calculation of points:
M: Points for match result
Teams gain three points for a victory, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a defeat.
‘In a penalty shoot-out, the winning team gains 2 points and the losing team gains 1 point.
“I: Importance of match – “Friendly match (including small competitions): I = 1.0. FIFA World Cup qualifier or confederation-level qualifier: I = 2.5
“Confederation-level final competition or FIFA Confederations Cup: I = 3.0
FIFA World Cup final competition: I = 4.0
“T: Strength of opposing team. The strength of the opponents is based on the formula: 200 – the ranking position of the opponents.
“As an exception to this formula, the team at the top of the ranking is always assigned the value 200 and the teams ranked 150th and below are assigned a minimum value of 50.
“The ranking position is taken from the opponents’ ranking in the most recently published FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
“C: Strength of confederation
“When calculating matches between teams from different confederations, the mean value of the confederations to which the two competing teams belong is used.
“The strength of a confederation is calculated on the basis of the number of victories by that confederation at the last three FIFA World Cup competitions “Their values are as follows:
Currently, the best thing we have to go on is ELO, a system used to rate chess players. No one’s publicly released a widely respected and proven ranking system like KenPom or Sagarin (which uses ELO as a component) for soccer, but we do have reason to believe that ELO is a lot better than FIFA’s men’s rankings.
Even FIFA seems to have some idea that this is case, since their women’s rankings are based on ELO and much more predictive than their men’s rankings.