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FIFA hands Switzerland one of seven World Cup seeds – Is it deserved?

Oct 17, 2013, 10:45 AM EDT

Switzerland Slovenia Wcup Soccer AP

When it comes to the FIFA world rankings procedure, ANYTHING is possible.

Like, for example, Switzerland being one of the European teams handed a seed in the World Cup.

Yep, that happened.

Not the Netherlands. Not Italy. Not England.

Switzerland. As in fondue, big mountains and absurdly nice people.

La Nati was handed the seed after finishing 7th in the recent FIFA rankings, released earlier today. The other six nations being put in the top pot of seeds are Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium and Uruguay.

Uruguay’s place in the top pot is subject to their winning the intercontinental playoff against Jordan. In the event they fail to do so, the Netherlands will move into the top pot.

Only the top pot is seeded for the World Cup draw in Bahia on December 6th, with the remaining pools based on geography to ensure a spread of nations in each group. Each group can only have one team from each confederation, with the exception of Europe which will have two nations in four or five groups.

Assuming Uruguay qualify, the geographical draw pots are fairly easy to forecast. One pot may contain eight European countries, another would have the four Asian countries and four from CONCACAF (or New Zealand, depending on the result of their playoff with Mexico), and a final pot of Chile, Ecuador and the five African qualifiers. A separate pot would then contain the lowest-ranked UEFA side, who would be drawn against a non-European team from the seeded pot – Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or possibly Uruguay.

Switzerland grabbed the seed by defeating Albania away 2-1 on October 11th and Slovenia at home 1-0 four days later. Those results saw Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side shoot up seven spots to 7th in the FIFA rankings, taking full advantage of Italy’s costly draw with Armenia.

Although Switzerland’s seeding will come as a surprise to many, they are unbeaten in their last 14 matches, including a 1-0 victory over Brazil. That form is thanks to a group of seasoned veterans Stephan Lichsteiner (Juventus), Gokhan Inler (Napoli), Valon Behrami (Napoli), Tranqillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Eren Derdiyok (Bayer Leverkusen) gelling well with a pool of strong young talent in Fabian Schar (Basel), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach) and Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg).

The FIFA rankings will always provide controversial results. But perhaps this time around they have exposed a nation that deserves the footballing world’s adulation for their consistency and compelling upward swing.

  1. Greg - Oct 17, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    Controversial? Yes. Deserved? Yes also, consistency is rewarded, FIFA rankings are based on the last four years and Switzerland are one of those nations that go under the radar. But they did beat Spain in 2010 remember.

  2. tylerbetts - Oct 17, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    My issue is not with Switzerland getting a seed, it’s with using FIFA rankings as the sole determination for who gets a seed. The system is unbalanced. France and Spain, for example, play fewer official competitive/qualifier games than the other teams qualifying (or in the playoff for qualification) from Europe, due to their group in qualification having fewer teams (and therefore fewer games). Yet, there is no countermeasure to balance that out. Italy was also in an odd situation. They had already qualified and took draws in their final two games. That cost them a seed.

    I’d prefer something similar to what Africa does for seeding and pots in qualifying and Cup of Nations. Award points based on results in the last three world cups. So many points for qualifying, so many for qualifying for knockout round, a slight bonus for topping a group, more points for getting to quarterfinals, semifinals, winning, etc. Then divide points from 2 cups ago by 2 and from 3 cups ago by 4. Add and rank. Use FIFA rankings as a tie breaker.

    • geojock - Oct 17, 2013 at 11:38 AM

      Italy should have been smart enough to know not to coast as it could impact their rankings.

  3. dreadpirate82 - Oct 17, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    I don’t understand how Uruguay gets a seed, when they have to qualify via a playoff. I know that’s not the determining factor, but it’s odd to me that they’d be behind the Netherlands and Italy given their poor showing in qualifying.

    • chadmoon1 - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:14 PM

      I’m with you. How does Uruguay, a team that if it makes it to the World Cup, which is not a foregone conclusion, get a seed when they finished 5th in South American qualifying? The Dutch are much more deserving.

      • braxtonrob - Oct 17, 2013 at 8:54 PM

        Uruguay is playing Jordan, trust me, it’s a “forego(able) conclusion”.

    • yanquiguayo - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:55 PM

      Yes, Uruguay has struggled through qualifying, BUT, they were 4th at the last world cup, they are reigning South American champions (Copa America 2011, winning on Argentina’s home soil), 4th at the Confederations Cup losing on PK’s to Italy, and they just beat Argentina in qualifying (and beat Colombia last month). This last point doesn’t factor into the rankings, but they are also two-times World Cup champions, two-times Olympic champions, and 4-times WC semi-finalists. They have pedigree, and they have recent success. They deserve it. One might ask, by the way, what the Netherlands have won lately??

  4. geojock - Oct 17, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    First of all FIFA didn’t ‘hand’ Switzerland anything. They were award the seed based on a measurable ranking system. This quantifiable system is void of the human-stereotypes/biases that are littered bout your article. You even listed the most overrated team of all time, England.

    Besides the fact that this system eliminates human biases (there is some systematic biases to teams with fewer WCQ games, but Brazil is already qualified, France isn’t even close enough to matter, and it didn’t seem to hurt Spain), Switzerland isn’t a pushover. They went undefeated in their group (weak group, but that’s just the draw), won their WCQ group in 2010 and beat Spain the WC. More important though, they are undefeated since August of 2012!

    I much prefer this mathematical model ranking system to anything else. Do you REALLY want the FIFA fat cats making those seeds? Qatar would have not only been granted qualification but also a seed!

    • mlsconvert88888 - Oct 17, 2013 at 12:22 PM

      Gotta say I agree. The mathematical ranking may not be perfect, but at least it’s transparent.

    • schlom - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:33 PM

      Of course it’s ridiculous that Switzerland got seeded. Remember they didn’t even qualify for Euro 2012 (finished 3rd in their group behind England and Montenegro) and didn’t make it out of group play in WC2010.

      It’s also somewhat ridiculous that Belgium got seeded as well as they haven’t qualified for the last two World Cups before this one and the last three Euros.

      • danielofthedale - Oct 17, 2013 at 4:14 PM

        Only 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship and Qualifying are factored into the these rankings. And really the only thinks that should factor into the the Rankings and Seeding for the 2014 World Cup are things that take place during the 2014 cycle and thus only games after the previous World Cup Final.

      • notaretard - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:14 PM

        @ schlom

        who cares about what they did in the past as far as qualifying? that has no bearing on seeding and you shouldn’t punish the current squad for being better than previous ones. half of their current squad was in elementary school 2 world cups ago, how is that their fault? look up how the seeding works. it clearly explains how belgium got seeded. your logic is terrible

      • schlom - Oct 17, 2013 at 7:12 PM

        A team that wasn’t one of the 14 teams in Europe just one year ago is now the 5th best team in the world? And now are ranked higher than a team that finished as runner-up in the 2nd most prestigious soccer tournament in the world (just 15 months ago, World Cup qualifying just started 10 weeks after the final) and also won their qualifying group? You don’t find that a bit strange?

  5. teamperkins11 - Oct 17, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    If this is the way the draw lays out, the US is destined for a group of death. This draw is looking very difficult short of landing with Switzerland. Half of the non-seeded Europeans are giants. At least four of the African/Conmebol non-seeds are top 25 powers. The Concacaf/AFC group the weakest by far. Which by extension means wherever the US is drawn will become the group of death. Switzerland is the only seeded landing place that could soften that blow a bit. The only other element to soften the blow would be a back end African nation like Burkina Faso, Cameroon, or Tunisia. Concacaf attached to Asia is the killer in this deal.

    Worst case scenario: Spain, Netherlands, Ivory Coast, and USA

    The problem with worst case scenario, is that the substitutions for each of other pots are not much less difficult than the ones in this group.

    Best Case scenario: Switzerland, Iceland, Burkina Faso, USA

    The problem with the best case scenario is that there are no other nations in the ballpark of Iceland and Burkina Faso. They would be replaced by much more powerful nations.

    • danielofthedale - Oct 17, 2013 at 2:59 PM

      I think you are being a bit of a Chicken Little with this. There are always going to be more hard groups than easy groups for a country like the USA.

      As of right now there are two teams from the Unseeded European teams that would be a killer draw, Italy and Holland. We beat Bosnia once no reason we can’t do it again. England is good but no juggernaut. Russia soiled their pants in the 2012 Euros. As for the teams in the playoffs, France and Portugal would be a pretty bad draw but who knows if they will even make and the rest of teams are all beatable on any day.

      The South American/African Pot has even fewer killer draw teams. Ghana is the one team I want no part of for psychological reasons as much sporting and I think they are best team in Africa. Ivory Cost has some real weapons going forward but they can be found out in the back but that would be a bad draw. Niger, Tunisia/Cameroon, Algeria/Brukina Faso are all teams the US can beat and if you want to make a run in a World Cup are teams you should beat. Chile is the South American team that would pose a really big problem to the US but once again they are a team that will give up some goals. As for Ecuador they have historically struggled away from home and that elevation advantage that they have.

      So yes there are some really bad draws out there but there are than few draws that the US could navigate and get out of the group.

      • danielofthedale - Oct 17, 2013 at 4:15 PM

        Nigeria*

      • teamperkins11 - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:14 PM

        The real point is that we are in the easy pot. Therefore, other group will draw teams ranked in the 50′s and lower. But whichever group lands the US will not get that. Japan is the highest ranked AFC team at 44. US is top ranked team at 13, followed by Mexico (if they beat NZ) at 24, CR at 31, Honduras at 34, Japan 44, Iran 49, Korea 56, Australia 57. If NZ qualifies they are 79.

        It is not Chicken Little to state that we have greater odds of entering a group of death than anyone else if this is how groups are divided. I think the US is good enough to advance out of any group, even a group of death at this point. It will just be that much more of a challenge.

    • braxtonrob - Oct 17, 2013 at 9:05 PM

      First of all, there is only one ‘Group of Death’ every World Cup. That’s the point, to pick ONE deadliest group, therefore everyone has the SAME 12.5% chance of landing in it (since 3 giants and one minnow can still be the ‘Group of Death’).

      Secondly, if you go back and really trace the results of each and every group (of practically any World Cup) you must come to the undeniable conclusion that ANYTHING can happen in Group play.
      Therefore, (in my eyes anyway), the ‘Group of Death’ is just a mechanism to entertain ourselves before the tournament starts, and after Group play has completed the TRUE ‘Group of Death’ is usually identified, however, it proves to be no worse than one or two other groups that also had a somewhat deserving 3rd place team not advance.

      [I don't feel strongly about this one, but that's my humble opinion.]

  6. abrown76 - Oct 17, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    With all game theory you have o start with intent. I assume the intent is to give teams of similar quality a similar chance of advancement. Meaning you can’t give what is determined to be the best team the 3 worst teams, while giving the 2nd best team the 3-5th best teams. Teams 1 and 2 aren’t that different, but 1 has an easier trip to the next round. Another intent is to separate regional teams as much as possible.

    I say remove all randomness from it and do it seeded all the way, not just the group seeds. I’m also against seeding the host nation. They have a huge advantage already.

    Pick whatever ranking system you want and start with Group A and give them the top and bottom team that qualified. Group B gets 2nd top and 2nd bottom. Do that to get the first two in each group.

    Then start with Group H and work back through the list. But, now you have to check to see if the next teams are from the same conference as the first two teams (for Europe they can have up to 2 teams in each group).

    I took 15min and cooked this up in Excel using Oct FIFA ranking and picked the higher seed for the undetermined 11 remaining teams.

    A) Spain, Bosnia, Ecuador, Australia
    B) Germany, Chile, Ivory Coast, South Korea
    C) Argentina, Greece, Croatia, Iran
    D) Columbia, USA, Russia, Tunisia
    E) Belgium, Brazil, Ukraine, Japan
    F) Uruguay, Portugal, Ghana, Honduras
    G) Swiss, England, Mexico, Nigeria
    H) Holland, Italy, Costa Rica, Algeria

    I think this produces fairly even groups. A might be too easy for Spain and G might have too many decent teams, but I can’t think of a more fair system that meets my intent.

    • fifthref - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:27 PM

      Switzerland I understand, but Uruguay? Let’s go back to the 2010 World Cup and reflect on Uruguay’s journey to the semi-finals and the 4th place finish.

      Group drawings mean everything in the World Cup. Case in point:

      In 2010 Uruguay qualified as the 5th representative from the extremely competitive CONMEBOL confederation after defeating Costa Rica in a home and away playoff.

      Group: South Africa, Mexico, and France. Hardly the group of death. France’s squad was in disarray, Mexico’s squad consisted of a combination of young untested players and deteriorating legends, and South Africa, (do I need to elaborate)?

      After an undefeated group stage, Uruguay advances to play South Korea, whose only victory was a 2-0 win over Greece. A round 16 game that few people would consider a challenge for the South Americans. Their fellow CONMEBOL compatriots having to play teams such as Spain and Brazil.

      Quarter Finals!!! Uruguay draw Ghana? In one of the most heartbreaking matches of the tournament, Uruguay secure their place in the semi finals after one of the most blatant displays of unsportsmanlike plays I have ever seen in sports.

      They end their World Cup journey with two consecutive losses to the Netherlands and Germany respectively.

      Currently they are 6th in the world? Their qualifying record for the 2014 World Cup is a weak 7-4-5 that includes a 4-1 defeat to Bolivia, and draws with Venezuela and Peru.

      Maybe their 2 World Cup victories (’30, ’50) hold more weight than recent performances. Coincidentally both World Cup victories came after both World Wars. Coincidentally because of the influx of Italians in Uruguay post war. (Just a thought)

      Let’s just hope the football gods will place Italy or the Netherlands in their group and throw in Bosnia or the United States to see how accurate the rankings are.

      My intention is not to attack Uruguay (long live Forlan), but rather to raise discussion as to why FIFA felt it was the right move to give an unqualified team their own group.

      Comments?

      • Greg - Oct 17, 2013 at 4:06 PM

        Lets just forget they won the Copa America in 2011, that’s where the majority of their ranking points come from

    • fifthref - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:30 PM

      Great group selection abrown. I don’t even see a group of death (or life)! I love the balance of the groups.

      • abrown76 - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:58 PM

        Thanks, I think the best part is that it follows a system and doesn’t include any subjective selection. I believe if you want balance, you have to throw a random draw out the window.

    • danielofthedale - Oct 17, 2013 at 4:09 PM

      The one problem with this system is not Seeded the host. Brazil by being the host does not get play any WCQ games. At the very least that is probably at least five wins and two draws that miss out on in their rankings points that carry the WCQ bonus. The only reason they are not in the Top 8 is because they missed out on those games so why penalize them?

    • wxv1 - Oct 17, 2013 at 11:10 PM

      There is 13 teams from Europe that qualify and not 12 as you have. Second slot will be all 8 European teams. Third slot will be the five teams from Africa, two teams from South America and the worst placed team from Europe. the 4th slot will be the 4 teams from CONCACAF or 3 teams from CONCACAF plus New Zealand and the four from Asia. Also, Brazil is a seeded team, same as Belgium. Both of these teams will not be in the same group

      A) Spain, Bosnia, Ecuador, Australia (favorites Spain and Ecuador)
      B) Germany, France, Chile, South Korea (favorites Germany and Chile)
      C) Argentina, Italy, Croatia, Iran (Favorites Argentina and Italy)
      D) Colombia, Russia, Tunisia, Costa Rica (Favorites Colombia and Rusia)
      E) Belgium, Ukraine, Cameroon, USA (Favorites Cameroon and USA)
      F) Uruguay, Portugal, Ghana, Honduras (Favorite Uruguay and Ghana)
      G) Swiss, England, Nigeria, Mexico (Favorites England and Nigeria)
      H) Brazil, Holland, Ivory Coast, Japan (Favorites Brazil and Holland)

      • thaddeusballpheasant - Oct 18, 2013 at 5:39 AM

        How is Belgium not the favorite in their group?

      • abrown76 - Oct 18, 2013 at 10:57 AM

        I have 13 UEFA teams (Spain, Bosnia, Germany, Greece, Croatia, Russia, Belgium, Ukraine, Portugal, Swiss, England, Holland, Italy) and what I posted was an alternate system. They’d never use it, but if you want the most fair distribution, I think it works.

    • braxtonrob - Oct 18, 2013 at 2:45 AM

      Not bad. Couple things … Tunisia and Mexico ain’t goin’ (lol).

      I’m having a vision … … it will be Cameroon and New Zealand instead!!

  7. mikebilla - Oct 17, 2013 at 2:29 PM

    Swiss – absurdly nice people? You obviously have not been to Zurich.

  8. fifthref - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    Switzerland I understand, but Uruguay? Let’s go back to the 2010 World Cup and reflect on Uruguay’s journey to the semi-finals and the 4th place finish.

    Group drawings mean everything in the World Cup. Case in point:

    In 2010 Uruguay qualified as the 5th representative from the extremely competitive CONMEBOL confederation after defeating Costa Rica in a home and away playoff.

    Group: South Africa, Mexico, and France. Hardly the group of death. France’s squad was in disarray, Mexico’s squad consisted of a combination of young untested players and deteriorating legends, and South Africa, (do I need to elaborate)?

    After an undefeated group stage, Uruguay advances to play South Korea, whose only victory was a 2-0 win over Greece. A round 16 game that few people would consider a challenge for the South Americans. Their fellow CONMEBOL compatriots having to play teams such as Spain and Brazil.

    Quarter Finals!!! Uruguay draw Ghana? In one of the most heartbreaking matches of the tournament, Uruguay secure their place in the semi finals after one of the most blatant displays of unsportsmanlike plays I have ever seen in sports.

    They end their World Cup journey with two consecutive losses to the Netherlands and Germany respectively.

    Currently they are 6th in the world? Their qualifying record for the 2014 World Cup is a weak 7-4-5 that includes a 4-1 defeat to Bolivia, and draws with Venezuela and Peru.

    Maybe their 2 World Cup victories (’30, ’50) hold more weight than recent performances. Coincidentally both World Cup victories came after both World Wars. Coincidentally because of the influx of Italians in Uruguay post war. (Just a thought)

    Let’s just hope the football gods will place Italy or the Netherlands in their group and throw in Bosnia or the United States to see how accurate the rankings are.

    My intention is not to attack Uruguay (long live Forlan), but rather to raise discussion as to why FIFA felt it was the right move to give an unqualified team their own group.

    Comments?

    • danielofthedale - Oct 17, 2013 at 4:01 PM

      FIFA did not GIVE Uruguay a Seed, they earned that seed. The Rankings System has been in place for a long time. It takes into account the last four years of results and Uruguay finished fourth in a World Cup and won Copa America during that time. They also had three wins in the Confed Cup that carry big rankings value. Uruguay also won or draw World Cup qualifiers against the likes of Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador who are all highly ranked and that means you get an even boost in each games points value.

      Holland went pointless at the European Champions in 2012, just one would probably have vaulted them over Uruguay and Italy was held to draws against Paraguay and New Zealand and had four draws in WCQ. Win any of those and they move pasted Uruguay too.

  9. pjbowmaster - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:37 PM

    I agree that whatever group the US is placed in becomes the Group of Death. But WE are the killers. The underdog that NOBODY wants to play.

  10. talgrath - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    Personally I feel the seeding should go by who ended in the top of their region (with the rankings being the tie-breaker), with remaining top-seeded spots going to the remaining top-ranked teams. The idea that Uruguay, who has to win a playoff to even get to the cup, has a seed if they make it seems insane to me.

    • braxtonrob - Oct 18, 2013 at 2:51 AM

      I would love to agree with you, I really would. But until a nation (other than from UEFA or CONMEBOL) reaches a World Cup Final (and dare I say, actually WINS it) then I’m having a real hard time giving a top 8 seed to more than 1 or 2 of them.

  11. notaretard - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    i honestly don’t understand what’s so hard for half of you guys to understand about this. fifa didn’t “give” anyone anything. everything has been earned based on the current system (which many of you need to read up on as you clearly haven’t the slightest clue about how it works) which may not be perfect but guess what? that doesn’t matter because it’s the system they use. sounds like some of you want to piss and moan just for the sake of pissing and moaning without actually understanding what it is you’re pissing and moaning about

    • braxtonrob - Oct 18, 2013 at 2:53 AM

      {Do you have to be such an a~~ about it? Maybe, perhaps, a little diplomacy is in order when served with your opinion/facts?}

  12. paxonst - Oct 17, 2013 at 9:17 PM

    abrown76, nice job. The groups are fairly seeded. Would love to see the Germany vs Ivory Coast game. Also Hollad vs Italy. USA looks very strong in their group.

  13. bfoulkrod - Oct 18, 2013 at 4:13 AM

    Italy *does* have a point that being in the short group in the qualifiers meant two fewer games to be counted in the rankings. Other than that, the teams got the rankings the fought for. USA had to sweep to have a chance since CONCACAF games aren’t rated as highly as UEFA.

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