Explained: FIFA World Rankings

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After a Euro 2012 campaign that was ultimately fruitless and frustrating in equal measures for England, they had at least something to smile about this week as the latest Fifa World Rankings were unveiled.

England, a team that hasn’t made the semi-finals of a European Championship in 16 years or a World Cup in 22 years are now officially the fourth best side in the world – something of a surprise given their Euro 2012 quarter-final exit at the hands of Italy - ranked two places below the Three Lions despite making it all the way to the final - just last week.

Incredulity ensued as a nation that had just witnessed a waved white flag in the conquest to mix it with the best European football has to offer saw their ultra-defensive displays rewarded by being deemed as a team only bettered by three teams around the world – a damning indictment on the current quality of the international game if nothing else.

To make matters worse, the seemingly random placing of teams in order continues on down the list. Brazil find themselves outside the top ten for the first time in their history (although the rankings only began in 1993) prompting the country’s biggest news network to report that the Selecao were ‘Going down’ and heading for humiliation when the World Cup rolls into town in 2014.

Supporters of the Samba Boys can stop fretting and get back to dreaming of lifting the famous World Cup trophy in front of their adoring fans in two years time – it seems Fifa have a particularly confusing idea of world football.

The rankings are calculated using a complicated formula which gives a warped idea of what is going on in world football. Or if you like your equations spelt out for you, they are worked out thusly: P = M x I x T x C. Confused? Thought as much.

Points, which go towards a country’s final ranking are given firstly by winning a game (M), awarded in the same way as they are in domestic leagues around the world.

After that it starts to get a little bit confusing. After winning a match the importance (I) of said match is then ranked, ranging from a friendly match, for which one point is awarded, all the way up to a World Cup game, which earns four points.

That is then multiplied by the strength (T) of the opposition team (using a formula that can only be described as a mind-boggling) and the strength of confederation (C) are taken into account, all of which produces a number of points which is then awarded to each teams, thus forming the ranking list as we know and love.

So that’s why it is no surprise to see all the quarter-finalists at Euro 2012 (except Spain, who could go no higher) move up in the rankings and Poland and Ukraine, who didn’t have to qualify and thus couldn’t rake in the points on offer competitive fixtures during Euro 2012 qualifiaction, also shot up the list despite not making it past the group stages of the tournament.

And while England were busy racking up the points at Euro 2012 that take them up to fourth and others were trying to secure a place at the World Cup, Brazil have been twiddling their thumbs, safe in the knowledge that they do not need to qualify in order to ensure their place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

In fact, Brazil haven’t played a competitive fixture since the Copa America in the summer of last year, in which they crashed out at the quarter-final stage which has drastically affected their standing.

The South American side’s recent friendlies against Argentina, Mexico and Denmark for example, would have only qualified for an importance ranking of 1, while England’s Euro 2012 fixtures mean their points were multiplied by three.

They won’t rise up the rankings any time soon, although their participation in the Confederations Cup will help, but as soon as the World Cup comes around, they will be back up where they belong, although this is hardly a vintage era in Brazilian football.

And if Brazil fans concerns are still not put to rest, in 1993 they were ranked eighth in the world, their lowest ranking before this week’s figures, only for Dunga to hoist a lot the World Cup trophy 12 months later. It may even be a good omen.

For England their rise up the rankings is a testament to the saying that there are lies, damn lies and statistics, with the fact they have only lost once since October 2011 helping them accumulate points but hiding the fact they are perhaps at their lowest ebb in terms of quality in living memory.

Technically they even went unbeaten at Euro 2012, only losing to Italy on penalties after 120 minutes of inane goalless action.

So while Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson may have been smarting after seeing his side defend for much of Euro 2012 without offering much of an attacking threat, he can at least be happy that he is, according to FIFA at least, mixing it with the very best in world football.

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