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FIFA to change the system for ranking men’s teams

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FIFA done good?

Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

FIFA has announced it is changing the way it will rank men’s international teams. The new method is based on the Elo rating system which FIFA currently has in place for the women’s national teams, and is the way the International Chess Federation rates their players. It is almost certainly superior to the odd method they’ve used for the men for a long time.

FIFA says the new method will take place for games that follow the World Cup but the starting point for the ratings will be the FIFA ratings at that time, so there will not be a one time resetting of the teams. You can read a summary of the method here.

For the United States this will not be a big impact, but in the future their rating changes might be a more accurate reflection of their state. The U.S. men currently rank 25th according to FIFA and rank 24th according to eloratings, so the two methods have them placed very closely.

The new method does eye certain teams very differently and the changes will impact how pots are determined for major tournament draws going forward. For example, Poland is currently ranked 8th in the world by FIFA and Spain is ranked 10th. Eloratings has Spain as 3rd and Poland as 19th. But the higher ranking from FIFA put Poland in the first pot of the World Cup draw while Spain was relegated to the second. It was pure luck that Spain avoided Germany in the group stage which would have been a disaster for FIFA. An Elo rating system would have had Poland and Spain reversed at the very least, which certainly appears more appropriate given the level of the two teams over the last few years.

The current FIFA ranking system has been robustly criticized for many reasons, including penalizing teams that play too many friendlies. Countries like Wales have gamed the system over the years to improve their status, but the Elo rating method should limit the ranking’s exposure to “hacking”.

The change comes at a good time as a 48 team World Cup in eight years looms, where smaller groups and achieving more accurate draw pots will be critical to avoid a wide disparity in group quality. It’s rare when FIFA should be applauded but this is a solid step in the right direction.