World Football Elo Ratings for Euro 2008 – an alternative to FIFA rankings?

Four years ago, Dan Leo told me about a new ranking system. At least, it was new to me. Like most of us, I had grown accustomed to the monthly FIFA rankings. Those rankings were quoted by the media and other football commentators as the only source, and often, they seemed to create controversy. FIFA, the media, and controversy? 🙂

The World Football Elo Ratings

This rating system has a unique history. Originally, it was developed by Dr. Arpad Elo to rank the best chess players of the world. Dr. Elo was born in Hungary, and moved to the United States as a child with his family. He became a Professor of Physics at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was also a noted chess master. In 1970, a system that he developed was adopted by FIDE, which is the Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation.

Around the time of 1997, Dr. Elo’s chess system was converted by Bob Runyan to rank world football teams. It also has become a tremendous database of historical data, continent specific ratings, along with a vast listing of world football news links. In my humble opinion, Elo is a valuable alternative to FIFA’s ranking system. It is also updated several times a week to reflect current activity. To visit the site, please click here.

The Formula

Albert EinsteinThis might not be rocket science; however, we must remember that a Physicist developed the original concept.

“The system was adapted to football by adding a weighting for the kind of match, an adjustment for the home team advantage, and an adjustment for goal difference in the match result. These ratings take into account all international “A” matches for which results could be found. Ratings tend to converge on a team’s true strength relative to its competitors after about 30 matches. Ratings for teams with fewer than 30 matches should be considered provisional.”

Rn = Ro + K × (W – We)

Rn is the new rating, Ro is the old (pre-match) rating.

K is the weight constant for the tournament played:

* 60 for World Cup finals;
* 50 for continental championship finals and major intercontinental tournaments;
* 40 for World Cup and continental qualifiers and major tournaments;
* 30 for all other tournaments;
* 20 for friendly matches.

K is then adjusted for the goal difference in the game. It is increased by half if a game is won by two goals, by 3/4 if a game is won by three goals, and by 3/4 + (N-3)/8 if the game is won by four or more goals, where N is the goal difference.

W is the result of the game (1 for a win, 0.5 for a draw, and 0 for a loss).

We is the expected result (win expectancy), either from the chart or the following formula:

We = 1 / (10(-dr/400) + 1)

equals the difference in ratings plus 100 points for a team playing at home.

Source: World Football Elo Ratings: Rating System.

And you thought that Soccerlens was only about footy and the babes? Well, this may prompt Mr. Bilal to create another type of ranking system. Perhaps the “Solo Scale” in honor of Hope Amelia Solo? Wouldn’t you like to test formulas, coefficients, and variables with her?

Euro 2008 Group Draws

Here are the current Elo ratings as of 30 May 2008 (in parentheses), the May 2008 FIFA rankings for each team, along with the difference between the two.

Group A

Czech Republic (9) 6 -3
Portugal (13) 9 -4
Turkey (19) 25 +6
Switzerland (25) 23 -2


Group B

Germany (7) 5 -2
Croatia (12) 13 +1
Poland (28) 27 -1
Austria (58) 101 +43

Group C

Italy (2) 3 +1
France (4) 7 +3
Netherlands (6) 10 +4
Romania (11) 12 +1

Group D

Spain (5) 4 -1
Greece (14) 8 -6
Sweden* (23) 23 0
Russia (26) 25 -1

*As you can see, only Sweden had the same exact position in both systems. A few teams (Croatia, Poland, Italy, Romania, Russia, and Spain were one point in either direction, respectively).

For comparative purposes, here are the numbers for England and the USA:

England: (8) 11 +3
USA: (21) 24 +3

Actual Elo Rating Points

The formula produces the following results. As I mentioned above, Elo adjusts their table after every international game. These figures reflect the results through 30 May 2008.

Group A

Czech Republic: 1883
Portugal: 1833
Turkey: 1782
Switzerland: 1770

Group B

Germany: 1929
Croatia: 1848
Poland: 1760
Austria: 1572

Group C

Italy: 2003
France: 1983
Netherlands: 1939
Romania: 1872

Group D

Spain: 1953
Greece: 1823
Sweden: 1770
Russia: 1762

For comparative purposes:

England: 1888
USA: 1776

Historical Game Database Feature

If you like football history, Elo is a treasure trove. You can see the results of every single international game that your favorite team played. Just click on the team in their list. For example, on 15 May 1910, Italy beat France, 6 x 2, in their first international game. On 01 May 1904, France drew with Belgium, 3 x 3, in their first international.

At the Olympic Games of 1920, Spain defeated Denmark, 1 x 0, on 28 August 1920. On 30 April 1905, The Netherlands defeated Belgium, 4 x 1.

Although most England supporters probably know this, on 30 November 1872, The Three Lions played Scotland to a scoreless draw in the first international game for both sides.

Did you know when the USA first played an international? The new game was actually called football.

28 November 1885: USA 0 x Canada 1.

Closing Thoughts

I hope that this brief analysis has given you a different perspective. As we know, games are decided on the pitch, and not with rating or ranking systems. However, as I researched this article, it was curious to see how the current ratings compared to each other.

You can judge the difference between FIFA and Elo ratings by seeing this list of the top 50 Ranked Teams by FIFA and Elo (up to 30 May 08).

Please continue to visit Soccerlens for comprehensive coverage of Euro 2008.

Steve Amoia is the author and editor of World Football Commentaries. He writes for Soccerlens and Keeper Skool.

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