England are 6th in FIFA rankings – here’s why

Today’s FIFA rankings are going to provide the self-loathing, masochistic English press with more ammo to berate the English national team, and then take the easy option making fun of FIFA, Blatter and anything else that they can’t understand (statistics).

England were in 7th place in FIFA rankings after the World Cup, and now, thanks to back to back wins in their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, they’ve moved up to a heady 6th spot above World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay.

That swapping of places is easy to explain – England have played more competitive fixtures than Uruguay since the World Cup, and the actual points difference between the two teams is marginal.

But it’s the presence of England over many other teams in the top 10 that’s likely to upset the press, who have never grasped the simple fact that the rankings take into account team performances over a specific period of time, not just a single tournament’s results. Granted, England’s record in the last two available international tournaments (Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010) has been abysmal, but surely it has been far better than the likes of Croatia, Greece (another wonder at 12th place), Italy and France (27th), and their qualifying record – which constitutes a major chunk of international football played every year – is excellent.

And then you look at the rankings again and you realise that there should be a dividing line between the top 4 and everyone else. England lost to Germany, who are 3rd in the rankings. Uruguay lost to Holland and Germany (2nd and 3rd). No one doubts Brazil’s or Spain’s right to be in the top 4. It’s also worth considering that quality of opposition also plays a role in determining the value of wins, so teams like USA and Egypt might not automatically get the rankings boost that their recent win-loss records would suggest.

What about everyone else? Argentina were blown away by Germany, and had a tough qualifying campaign for 2010, but their performances overall have been better than most teams, so 5th spot is credible. Portugal (8) haven’t performed as well as they would have been expected to, either in the Euros or in the World Cup. They needed the playoffs to qualify for the World Cup in any case. Egypt’s no-show in South Africa puts them in 9th place, and I have no idea why Greece are 12th or Norway have jumped to 14th, but you can bet that it’s down to performances over the last 4 years and not a glitch or one-off reward.

The point is, if you’re going to focus on just the World Cup, then the rankings more or less match the results – if you’re beaten by a better team, you’re lower down the table. If you look beyond the big Cup and look at qualifying records, then it’s even more obvious that the rankings are more or less accurate. England’s rankings are turned into an issue only because of other, un-related issues self-styled pundits have with the English national team.

Looking at the rankings, it makes you wonder – if England had qualified for Euro 2008 (and maybe made it past the group stages), would they now be ranked ahead of Argentina (in 5th place)? That would surely piss some people off, mostly English.

September 2010 FIFA Rankings

(Previous position in brackets)

1 Spain (1)

2 Holland (2)

3 Germany (4)

4 Brazil (3)

5 Argentina (5)

6 England (7)

7 Uruguay (6)

8 Portugal (8)

9 Egypt (9)

10 Chile (10)

11 Croatia (14)

12 Greece (12)

13 Italy (11)

14 Norway (22)

15 Serbia (13)

16 Slovakia (27)

17 Paraguay (15)

18 USA (18)

19 Slovenia (19)

20 Ghana (23)

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