FIFA boosts Germany, demotes Brazil and the USA in its post-World Cup rankings


Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger celebrates at the German victory party near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. (Alex Grimm/AP)

FIFA released its revised rankings today, reflecting the results of the World Cup, and there are quite a few changes. No surprise: World Cup champion Germany is No. 1 and runner-up Argentina is No. 2. Netherlands, which won the consolation match after failing to make the final, rose 12 spots to reach No. 3; Colombia, led by Golden Foot winner James Rodriguez, who scored a total of six goals for his team, popped up four spots to take the No. 4 position; and Belgium, which did respectably well all-around, climbed six spots to reach No. 5.

Also no surprise, Brazil, who famously gave up seven goals to Germany in the semifinals dropped from its pre-World Cup ranking of No. 4 down to No. 7. And Spain, which didn’t even make it to the round of 16, sunk to No. 8 after being ranked first before the tournament. The United States, meanwhile, also dropped in the rankings, going from 13th place to 15th.

One should always take FIFA’s ranking with a grain, nay, a block of salt, however. Most experts FIFA’s points-based calculation system is deeply flawed. Business Insider‘s Tony Manfred writes:

The formula they use is awful. It ignores things like goal differential, home field advantage, and stakes — resulting in a crude list that doesn’t give you an full picture of world soccer.

A more accurate rating system, Manfred writes, is ESPN’s Soccer Power Index, created by famed journalist/statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com. Silver’s SPI system takes into account all the important things FIFA leaves out, thus creating an index that doesn’t “reward or punish teams on their past results; rather they are trying to predict which teams will have the most success going forward,” Silver wrote for ESPN in 2009. He continues:

The challenge in preparing an international soccer ratings system is that there is relatively little reliable data to go by, as compared with other sports. If a particular international team is not engaged in a major competition, such as the World Cup, it may play only a handful of meaningful matches each year. Compare that to a 162-game season in baseball, an 82-game season in basketball, or a 16-game season in American football. Many of these games, moreover, may be against teams of inferior quality, or may feature marginal lineups as many of a team’s star players are engaged in club competition instead. For that reason, it is important to be somewhat expansive about the amount of data that we use in a soccer ratings system. Things like margin of victory and home-field advantage, which are ignored by some other ratings systems, play a fairly large role in SPI. More distinctively, SPI blends ratings from club competition with those from international play, providing for a more robust assessment of the level of talent on a particular team.

Here are the Top 25 world teams according to both the FIFA rankings and SPI ratings, both released today. Whose system do you think is more accurate?

FIFA Rankings  SPI Ratings
1 Germany Germany
2 Argentina Netherlands 0
3 Netherlands Colombia
4 Colombia Argentina
5 Belgium France
6 Uruguay Brazil
7 Brazil Spain
8 Spain Chile
9 Switzerland Belgium
10 France England
11 Portugal Uruguay
12 Chile Ecuador
13 Greece Bosnia and Heregovina
14 Italy Portugal
15 USA Mexico
16 Costa Rica Switzerland
17 Croatia Ghana
18 Mexico Serbia
19 Bosnia and Herzegovina Costa Rica
20 England USA
21 Ecuador Italy
22 Ukraine Ivory Coast
23 Russia Ukraine
24 Algeria Croatia
25 Ivory Coast Russia
Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.
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