Paul Marcuccitti


 
Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.

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Who will be seeded at Germany 2006



    OK, OK, you're looking at the headline and wondering why on earth I'm even remotely worried about which teams will be seeded four years from now. Have I lost my mind again?

    Well it all depends on how you view the World Cup. If you think it's a tournament that occurs once every four years, I disagree. Organisationally, Germany 2006 is already well underway (You don't believe me? Go to www.ok-deutschland2006.de) and, in terms of action on the field, it's probably less than two years away. Because you don't qualify for the World Cup; you qualify for the World Cup finals. Qualifying matches are still World Cup matches.

    Soon we'll see decisions made about how many places each confederation will be allotted at the 2006 finals. (And if you come from my part of the world, that's quite a sensitive issue.)

    Your next question might focus on whether or not being seeded is that important. Well, I'd say yes. You'll never get a group as easy as the one Brazil just got if you're not seeded. And how handy was it for the co-hosts? Sure we had the "Group of Death" but that arose (partly) because a strong team, England, was not seeded. If the English hadn't been grouped with Argentina, they might have faced Brazil or Spain or Germany in the early stages instead.

    Anyway, there's another big reason why we can discuss potential seeds for 2006 now - if the formula used to determine the seeds in 2002 is used again, we now know how many points each team has scored in one of the two criteria used.

    Confused? Let me explain in a more long winded way. There is a points system which determines which eight teams get the advantage of being seeded at the head of a group at the finals. 50% of those points are based on performances at previous World Cups. The other 50% are based on FIFA's World Rankings.

    The "previous World Cups" have now been played. So we can see how many points each country will have on the FIFA spreadsheet using that criterion. I'll come back to the World Rankings later; if the procedures used for Korea/Japan are followed again, the first lot of relevant rankings will be from December 2003.

    Now, a big word of warning here: This entire article will be utterly useless if FIFA changes its system of deciding seeds for 2006. It may have reason to do so and that's another thing that I'll deal with later. But, hey, this is fun so I may as well go ahead.

    Let's start at November 2001 when FIFA pulled out a spreadsheet which showed how the seeds for Korea/Japan had been determined. For points from previous World Cups, it basically reversed the finishing position of each team. If a team won the World Cup, it received 32 points for that year. The runner-up got 31, third place got 30, etc. This was applied to the 1990, '94 and '98 tournaments. Teams were even classified as finishing 5th, 6th, etc if they were quarter-finalists and 9th, 10th, 11th etc if they were eliminated in the Round of 16. This was done by taking a team's overall performance into consideration. Let me give you an example by placing the Korea/Japan quarter-finalists from 5th to 8th:


W D L F-A Pts 5th Spain 3 2 0 10-5 11 6th England 2 2 1 6-3 8 7th Senegal 2 2 1 7-6 8 8th USA 2 1 2 7-7 7
    Get the picture? Note that Spain's two knockout matches, which went to penalties, are both classified as draws.

    A team that finishes 16th (Paraguay in 2002) receives 17 points. But there is a change in policy when we get to the 16 teams that missed the knockout phase. Rather than count from 16 points (for 17th) down to 1 (for 32nd), the teams that finish from 17th to 24th each get 9 points and 25th to 32nd receive 8 points each. Of course, missing the World Cup finals means 0 points. [As there were only 24 teams at the 1994 World Cup, the 9 points only went to 17th to 20th and 8 points went to 21st to 24th.]

    Now, there are further technicalities. The points for the most recent World Cup are multiplied by 3; the points for the second most recent are multiplied by 2; and the points from the oldest of the three World Cups are not multiplied at all. Then the overall total is divided by 6.

    Germany, for example, finished 5th in 1994, 7th in 1998 and 2nd in 2002. So the Germans receive 28 points for 1994, 52 points for 1998 (26 x 2), and 93 points for 2002 (31 x 3). Add the points together and you get 173. Divide that by 6 and you get 28.83. That 28.83 will, if the system doesn't change, be 50% of their points in the FIFA spreadsheet for deciding seeds. The other 50% will come from rankings which we don't know yet.

    Of course, the Germans are the hosts so they will be seeded even if their previous record didn't warrant it. Now, 47 countries have participated in at least one of the last three World Cup finals. Here is how they rank on the criterion of previous World Cups. If you're a fan of Argentina/France/Netherlands who is worried about how badly 2002 has cost your team, you might want to look away now:


1994 1998 2002 R Pts x 1 R Pts x 2 R Pts x 3 TOT Avg 1 BRA 1 32 32 2 31 62 1 32 96 190 31.67 2 GER 5 28 28 7 26 52 2 31 93 173 28.83 3 ITA 2 31 31 5 28 56 15 18 54 141 23.50 4 ENG 0 0 0 9 24 48 6 27 81 129 21.50 5 SPA 8 25 25 17 9 18 5 28 84 127 21.17 6 MEX 13 20 20 13 20 40 11 22 66 126 21.00 7 DEN 0 0 0 8 25 50 10 23 69 119 19.83 8 KOR 20 9 9 30 8 16 4 29 87 112 18.67 9 USA 15 18 18 32 8 16 8 25 75 109 18.17 10 ARG 10 23 23 6 27 54 18 9 27 104 17.33 11 BEL 11 22 22 19 9 18 14 19 57 97 16.17 12 NGR 9 24 24 12 21 42 27 8 24 90 15.00 12 SWE 3 30 30 0 0 0 13 20 60 90 15.00 12 TUR 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 30 90 90 15.00 15 PAR 0 0 0 14 19 38 16 17 51 89 14.83 16 FRA 0 0 0 1 32 64 28 8 24 88 14.67 16 JPN 0 0 0 31 8 16 9 24 72 88 14.67 18 CRO 0 0 0 3 30 60 23 9 27 87 14.50 19 HOL 7 26 26 4 29 58 0 0 0 84 14.00 20 IRE 16 17 17 0 0 0 12 21 63 80 13.33 21 SEN 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 26 78 78 13.00 22 ROM 6 27 27 11 22 44 0 0 0 71 11.83 23 KSA 12 21 21 28 8 16 32 8 24 61 10.17 24 CMR 22 8 8 25 8 16 20 9 27 51 8.50 25 YUG 0 0 0 10 23 46 0 0 0 46 7.67 26 BUL 4 29 29 29 8 16 0 0 0 45 7.50 26 NOR 17 9 9 15 18 36 0 0 0 45 7.50 26 RSA 0 0 0 24 9 18 17 9 27 45 7.50 29 TUN 0 0 0 26 8 16 29 8 24 40 6.67 30 RUS 18 9 9 0 0 0 22 9 27 36 6.00 31 CHI 0 0 0 16 17 34 0 0 0 34 5.67 32 COL 19 9 9 21 9 18 0 0 0 27 4.50 32 CRC 0 0 0 0 0 0 19 9 27 27 4.50 32 ECU 0 0 0 0 0 0 24 9 27 27 4.50 32 POR 0 0 0 0 0 0 21 9 27 27 4.50 36 MOR 23 8 8 18 9 18 0 0 0 26 4.33 37 CHN 0 0 0 0 0 0 31 8 24 24 4.00 37 POL 0 0 0 0 0 0 25 8 24 24 4.00 37 SLO 0 0 0 0 0 0 30 8 24 24 4.00 37 URU 0 0 0 0 0 0 26 8 24 24 4.00 41 SWI 14 19 19 0 0 0 0 0 0 19 3.17 42 AUT 0 0 0 23 9 18 0 0 0 18 3.00 42 IRN 0 0 0 20 9 18 0 0 0 18 3.00 42 JAM 0 0 0 22 9 18 0 0 0 18 3.00 45 SCO 0 0 0 27 8 16 0 0 0 16 2.67 46 BOL 21 8 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 1.33 46 GRE 24 8 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 1.33
NB: R = Rank, Pts = Points and the x 1, x 2 and x 3 reflect the weighting that each World Cup receives. A rank of 0 means that the team did not qualify for the finals in that edition. TOT is the total number of points from the three previous World Cups. Avg is the score after the total has been divided by 6.

    Before I go any further, the other thing these teams (other than Germany) have to do is QUALIFY for the 2006 World Cup finals. If they're not there, they sure can't be seeded!

    There are a few things to note about this table. Firstly, look at how England is no longer being penalised for its failure to qualify for 1994. The '94 points are now only worth 1/6 of the overall points. For the World Cup just completed, the '94 points counted for 1/3 of the total and England missed a seeding.

    Mexico is the next story - proof that consistency counts. The Mexicans are in the top 8 despite not reaching the last 8 in the last three World Cups. But they have made the Round of 16 every time. Mexico was also unseeded at Korea/Japan but, on the FIFA spreadsheet, it was the team that came closest of those that missed out.

    I would predict that the top 6 here will all be seeded if they qualify for the 2006 finals unless FIFA changes its policy (for determining seeds) or unless any of them suffer from really bad FIFA rankings over the next four years.

    Denmark, South Korea and the USA are, respectively, 7th, 8th and 9th. They have been rewarded partly for their strong 2002 performances and partly for the points they accumulated in previous editions.

    Now we come to 10th placed Argentina - a virtually automatic seed in recent times. Currently, the Argentineans have a high World Ranking and they'll need to maintain that to ensure a seeding in 2006. But if they fall back on that score, they might have to hope that, at least, a couple of the top 9 fail to qualify.

    The news is even worse for the 1998 champion, France, which is stuck in equal 16th place behind some lesser lights - like Turkey which got all its points in 2002.

    The Dutch would have been seeded if they qualified for 2002 (and Spain would not have been) but they are now paying the price for missing out - way down in 19th place. Note the importance of the most recent World Cup. Its high weighting means that the Dutch, quarter-finalists in 1994 and semi-finalists in 1998, are the highest placed team that missed out on the fun this year.

    From there, we're delving into teams with little or no chance of being seeds but, if you're interested in this subject, you're probably interested in the figures as well. Note, finally, that Cameroon (in 24th) is the lowest placed team which has featured at the last three World Cup finals. The "indomitable lions" have been unable to get past the group stage in each edition.

    Now let's look at FIFA's World Rankings. For Korea/Japan 2002, the points from these rankings were counted as at Dec 1999, Dec 2000 and Nov 2001. The rankings for each of the three years were given an equal weighting and, again, the points were turned upside down. Brazil, for example, was ranked 1 in 1999 and 2000, and 3 in 2001, so it received 32 points for both 1999 and 2000, and 30 points for 2001. The average of that was 31.33 and it was then added to the 30.17 points from Brazil's (then) previous World Cups to get a final score of 61.50.

    It almost goes without saying that the 32 teams that qualified for Korea/Japan were never going to be the 32 highest ranked teams. So, for seeding purposes, FIFA effectively re-ranked those that qualified from 1 to 32. That means that if a team was ranked 8th in a particular year, it would get 25 points but only if all higher ranked teams qualified. E.g. if the teams ranked 6th and 7th didn't make it, the 8th ranked team would, instead, receive 27 points. If that doesn't quite make sense to you, it should by the time you see the next table.

    We can't really predict future rankings but, given that FIFA has recently released its post World Cup rankings, we could use them to get an idea of how they might affect the spreadsheet.

    What follows is a complete hypothetical. From the previous World Cups table, I've taken the top 15 UEFA teams, the top 5 CONMEBOL teams, the top 5 CAF teams, the top 4 AFC teams and the top 3 CONCACAF teams to make a table for a phoney 2006 World Cup. (For the pedants, I chose Ecuador over Colombia as the fifth best CONMEBOL team. They were tied in the above table but I used Ecuador's qualification for 2002 as the basis for separation. And Bulgaria over Norway? Hmmm ... alphabetical order. Sorry Jan!)

    The 2006 finals will almost certainly not work out this way. (I obviously hope they don't. Please, no more World Cup finals without the Socceroos.)

    But, even so, if your team is not one of the 32 selected for this exercise (like mine), it has no chance of getting seeded anyway. So let's go ahead and look at the more likely candidates:


WR ER RP PWC TOT 1 Brazil 1 1 32.00 31.67 63.67 2 Germany 5 5 28.00 28.83 56.83 3 Spain 4 4 29.00 21.17 50.17 4 Italy 10 8 25.00 23.50 48.50 5 Mexico 6 6 27.00 21.00 48.00 6 Argentina 2 2 30.50 17.33 47.83 7 England 8 7 26.00 21.50 47.50 8 France 2 2 30.50 14.67 45.17 9 USA 11 9 24.00 18.17 42.17 10 Denmark 13 11 22.00 19.83 41.83 11 Turkey 12 10 23.00 15.00 38.00 12 Ireland 14 12 21.00 13.33 34.33 13 Netherlands 15 13 20.00 14.00 34.00 14 Sth Korea 22 19 14.00 18.67 32.67 15 Belgium 19 17 16.00 16.17 32.17 16 Paraguay 18 16 17.00 14.83 31.83 17 Sweden 20 18 15.00 15.00 30.00 18 Japan 24 20 13.00 14.67 27.67 19 Yugoslavia 16 14 19.00 7.67 26.67 20 Cameroon 17 15 18.00 8.50 26.50 21 Croatia 27 23 10.00 14.50 24.50 22 Nigeria 29 24 9.00 15.00 24.00 23 Romania 25 21 12.00 11.83 23.83 24 Senegal 31 25 8.00 13.00 21.00 25 Costa Rica 26 22 11.00 4.50 15.50 26 Saudi Arabia 38 29 4.00 10.17 14.17 27 South Africa 33 27 6.00 7.50 13.50 28 Tunisia 36 28 5.00 6.67 11.67 29 Ecuador 31 26 7.00 4.50 11.50 30 Chile 45 30 3.00 5.67 8.67 31 Bulgaria 54 32 1.00 7.50 8.50 32 China 51 31 2.00 4.00 6.00
NB: WR = Current FIFA World Ranking, ER = Effective Ranking for the purposes of this table, RP = Ranking Points from the Effective Ranking on this table, PWC = Points carried over from the first table of Previous World Cups, TOT is now the total score for the purpose of deciding seeds.

    Before I continue, I should note that FIFA's latest World Rankings have France and Argentina tied in second place. I resolved this by awarding 30.50 ranking points to each.

    [The table should also help you understand what I mean by "effective ranking". Italy is currently ranked 10 in the world (as noted in the WR column) but ranked ahead of the Italians are Portugal and Colombia - two countries that aren't included in this clutch of 32. So, on this table, Italy's effective ranking is 8 because it is eighth highest of these 32 "qualifiers".]

    Well, you can see what a difference a high ranking can make. France and Argentina have rocketed back into the top 8 and pushed Denmark and South Korea out of it.

    But here's the problem that France and, to a lesser extent, Argentina face - they are going to have to be ultra competitive over the next four years to keep their ranking high. Otherwise, they might drop out of the privileged octet.

    Still, you can see that there is a bit of continuity about seeds at the World Cup finals and I can't say that's a good thing. If the top 8 here are seeded in 2006, the only change from the Korea/Japan seeds would be that the South Koreans and the Japanese lose their seedings and Mexico and England pick them up. And guess what? Had the Koreans and Japanese not been seeded in 2002 (they had to be as co-hosts) the two teams that would have been next in line were ... wait for it ... Mexico and England.

    I may have completed this exercise with some enthusiasm but that doesn't mean I like FIFA's system for deciding seeds. And here's why - I think it's a calculated implementation of the "Old Pals Act". The use of three previous World Cups helps keep traditionally powerful countries seeded. And the FIFA World Rankings? Well, I've never really thought they were worth much more than the software they're calculated on. I made some brief criticisms of this system a long time ago when I wrote Change of fortune for Spain and I wouldn't change a word of it.

    I would only calculate seeds for 2006 on the basis of one previous World Cup (2002) and on performance in 2006 qualifiers. Maybe I'd throw in performances in other major championships during the period (e.g. Euro 2004, Copa America, etc.) but three previous World Cups? No. Two of them are ancient history.

    I'll go one step further and say that FIFA will probably change its current system if it produces a set of seeds for 2006 that FIFA doesn't want. Look at how close the USA is. I'm willing to bet that if this formula produces 5 UEFA seeds plus Brazil, Mexico and the USA while Argentina misses out, FIFA will change the system to correct the "anomaly". It will find a way to seed the Argentineans rather than face their wrath (at missing out to the US) and the consequent debate about having two CONCACAF seeds and only one from CONMEBOL. (Remember how reliant Argentina might be on maintaining its high ranking.)

    You heard it here. If the above system doesn't quite "work" for FIFA, it will probably alter it or adopt a new formula until it does "work".

    I don't know if I'll still be a PWC writer in November 2005. If I am, I'll revisit this subject. But in case I'm not, here's a tip: print this article and place it in a time capsule until then.


 

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