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United States down one in latest FIFA World Ranking; Spain stays top

May 8, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT

FBL-WC2022-FIFA-QATAR-LABOUR-SLAVERY-UNIONS Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team has fallen one spot in May FIFA’s World Ranking, but at 14, the U.S. remains the only team outside of Europe and South America in the list’s top 18 spots. Though the team maintained the same number of points in FIFA’s formula (which factors in the last four years’ worth of results), Chile gained enough points to pass the U.S., who sits one spot above the Netherlands.

Spain remained at number one ahead of Germany and Portugal, leaving the top three unchanged. Brazil, moving to number four, leads a quartet of South American teams in the middle of the first 10, with Colombia, Uruguay and Argentina occupying spots five through seven. Switzerland, Italy and Greece round out the top 10:

Rank Team Region Points
1 Spain UEFA 1460
2 Germany UEFA 1340
3 Portugal UEFA 1245
4 Brazil CONMEBOL 1210
5 Colombia CONMEBOL 1186
6 Uruguay CONMEBOL 1181
7 Argentina CONMEBOL 1178
8 Switzerland UEFA 1161
9 Italy UEFA 1115
10 Greece UEFA 1082

As is the case most months, the more interesting part of the ranking is noting where the teams outside Europa and South America happen to fall. The U.S. is the highest, but you have to drop another five spots to find another team from outside big two confederations (Mexico, 18).  Cote d’Ivoire is the highest-ranking African team (21), while Asia doesn’t check in until Iran at 37:

Rank Team Region Points
1 Spain UEFA 1460
4 Brazil CONMEBOL 1210
14 United States CONCACAF 1015
21 Cote d’ Iviore CAF 830
37 Iran AFC 715
111 New Zealand OFC 271

The FIFA rankings are used for so few things, there’s little point to getting too upset about where teams sit. Besides, there’s a pretty compelling argument that Europe and South America are so much better than the other regions that the disparity fair. Regardless, there’s a cyclical nature to this, where teams in highly rated regions are not only more likely to face highly rated teams (based on geography alone) but get other bonuses for playing teams from tough confederations.

It’s that lack of mobility that’s the problem. There’s almost no way the U.S., Cote d’Iviore, or Japan (sorry, Iran) can make significant strides without a huge run in the World Cup. But the World Cup only happens once every four years. If FIFA is trying to assess which teams are strong at a given moment, having so much tied to World Cups and the Confederations Cup is an issue.

That’s not saying any of those countries should be higher, right now; but if they did, FIFA’s system would have no way of picking that up.

It’s not the worst system in the world, but it is interesting to compare them to the Elo ratings, a measure based on the methodology used to rank chess players:

Rank FIFA Elo
1 Spain Brazil
2 Germany Spain
3 Portugal Germany
4 Brazil Argentina
5 Colombia Netherlands
6 Uruguay England
7 Argentina Portugal
8 Switzerland Colombia
9 Italy Uruguay
10 Greece Chile

And the regional leaders:

Region FIFA (Rank) Elo (Rank)
AFC Iran (37) Japan (24)
CAF Cote d’Ivoire (21) Cote d’Ivoire (22)
CONCACAF United States (14) United States (13)
CONMEBOL Brazil (4) Brazil (1)
Oceania New Zealand (111) New Zealand (69)
UEFA Spain (1) Spain (2)

Elo balances out the South American teams at the top and is a little more forgiving to Asian (and Oceania’s) teams at the bottom. To the degree that conforms with your intuition, you’ll see Elo as a better system.

But beyond some regions using FIFA to order teams for competition (and draws), neither system matters that much. Once every four years, the top teams get World Cup seeds. Beyond that, it’s just data.

  1. anonymous135 - May 8, 2014 at 7:38 PM

    Only ELO I’d disagree with is England being ranked #6… chronic disappointers like ground hog day.

    Can’t believe that Greece is ranked #10 with FIFA… Belgium are my dark horses, and I’d bet my home they’ll perform better than either of these two!!

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