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Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 15:35 GMT
The world rankings riddle

By BBC Sport Online's Adrian Harte

England are worse than the United States; Trindidad & Tobago ahead of Ireland; and Brazil are still the best team in the world and not France.

It can only be the official Fifa rankings, which aim to calculate the best international teams in the world based on their results, but more often than not conjure up contentious debate.

Unlike the Uefa coefficient system for clubs, which is used in the Champions League and Uefa Cup draws, the Fifa rankings are not actually used to determine seedings in the World Cup draw.

The rankings are simply statistical, and Fifa claim they are merely "a reliable measure for comparing national A-teams".

Several football statisticians disagree and believe that there are better ways of calculating the relative merits of teams.

The Fifa system was introduced in 1993 and the computer programme to calculate the rankings was devised by Swiss academics and football fans Markus Lamprecht and Dr. Hanspeter Stamm.

  Fifa rankings
1 Brazil
2 France
3 Argentina
4 Italy and Czech Republic
6 Portugal
7 Spain
8 Holland
9 Yugoslavia and Paraguay
Others
17 England
25 Scotland
31 Ireland
93 Northern Ireland
109 Wales
The rankings take into account matches played over the past eight years and the rankings are based on the following factors: winning, drawing and losing; number of goals; home or away match; relative importance of the match; strength of the opponent; and regional strength.

Regarding match importance, a win in a World Cup finals match earns twice the amount of points of a friendly match.

To ensure teams playing more international matches are not favoured over those playing fewer, only a limited number of games are taken into consideration.

This means that the score calculated for the team's best seven matches in a year accounts for half its ranking points.

Greater importance is given to matches played in the past year (some 1,041 for 2000), but results from the previous seven years get weightings that decline progressively further back.

Critics contend that the Fifa rankings place too much emphasis on past results.

They point to France, who won the European Championship and 11 out of 16 matches in 2000, being ranked behind Brazil, who slumped to their first ever World Cup qualifying defeats this year.

The perceived flaws in the Fifa system has lead to the creation of a number of alternative rankings from football statisticians.

  Kessing rankings Top 10
1 Brazil
2 France
3 Argentina
4 Netherlands
5 Portugal
6 Italy
7 Spain
8 Yugoslavia
9 Germany
10 Czech Republic
Others
14 England
28 Ireland
37 Scotland
72 Wales
75 Northern Ireland
Ron Kessing, a member of the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation, has established his own rankings.

He said: "The first incentive to do this came in 1995 when I saw Fifa had Norway ranked second in the world.

"I thought 'Geez, even I can develop a better system than this!'"

His study of match results over a four-year period showed that his rankings produce a better relative rating of the involved teams for more than 60% of all matches.

He said: "The big difference is that Fifa takes each team's top seven results and counts them for over half that team's ranking!

  Elo rankings Top 10
1 France
2 Brazil
3 Italy
3 Portugal
5 Argentina
6 Netherlands
7 Spain
8 Czech Republic
9 Yugoslavia
10 Croatia
Others
15 England
24 Ireland
37 Scotland
87 Wales
98 Northern Ireland
Kessing's latest rankings still have Brazil on top ahead of France, although Holland are fourth compared to eighth in Fifa, while England rise to 14th from 17th.

Another ranking system applies the Elo chessing rating system to football. This system has France in first with Brazil back in second.

Whatever about the relative merits of the various ranking systems, they all seem to agree on one thing.

17th in the official Fifa rankings, 14th in the Kessing table, and 15th according to the Elo rankings, England's place outside the world elite is certainly not in doubt.

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See also:

20 Dec 00 |  Football
Brazil still number one
18 Dec 00 |  Football
Bizarre, brilliant and Brazilian
17 Oct 00 |  World Cup 2002
Brazil left without coach
29 Oct 00 |  Football
Brazil face world ban
17 Dec 00 |  Football
Ronaldo to start training
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