FIFA world ranking: How it is calculated and what it is used for

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Goal takes a look at the system used by the game's world governing body to chart the progression of the national teams under its umbrella

The FIFA world ranking is an important component of world football, but it remains a mystery to many fans and probably even a few within the game.

It is intertwined with a number of FIFA competitions, meaning that it has a direct bearing on the futures of national teams. However, it has proven controversial and the methods used have been changed on a number of occasions in response to criticism.

Brazil 6/1 to win World Cup

Indeed, FIFA has indicated that it will once again review the ranking system after the 2018 World Cup, meaning that more changes could be in store.

In the meantime, Goal has broken down how the current model works, with the World Cup draw looming on the horizon.


WHAT IS THE FIFA WORLD RANKING?


HD Germany World Cup final

As the name suggests, the FIFA world ranking is a method of ranking national teams used by football's world governing body. The ranking applies to FIFA's 211 member associations.

FIFA publishes an updated ranking each month, taking into account FIFA-recognised games that have been played during the course of the previous month.

It was first introduced in December 1992, undergoing a number of changes since its inception, and it has frequently attracted criticism from fans as well as those directly involved in the game.

In theory, the calculation procedure means that the most successful teams will rise to the top of the ranking.

In 25 years, only eight teams have reached the top FIFA's world ranking (Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands).

During that time, Brazil have held top spot for the longest overall period.


FIFA WORLD RANKING PROCEDURE


Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal

Are you ready? This may take some time!

The FIFA World Ranking is a points-based system which takes into account all senior (or 'A') international matches played by a national team over the course of four years.

A team's total number of points is calculated by adding the average number of points gained during matches in the last 12 months to the average number of points gained from games older than 12 months (which depreciates year-on-year).

So at its most basic, FIFA ranking is determined by the following: 12 month average + previous 36 month average

Calculation of points

FIFA has devised a formula for calculating the number of points a team can gain from a single match (P), which is dependent on the following factors:

  • Was the match won or drawn? (M)
  • How important was the match? (I)
  • How strong was the opposing team and the confederation to which they belong? (T & C)

So the formula is as follows: P = M x I x T x C

Calculating 'M'

Teams gain three points for a win, one point for a draw and zero for a defeat. In the case of a penalty shoot-out, the winning team gains two points and the losing team gets one point.

Result Points
Win 3
Draw 1
Defeat 0
Penalty win 2
Penalty defeat 1

Calculating 'I'

The importance of a match is rated from 1 to 4 and depends on whether it is a friendly (1), a competitive World Cup or confederation-level qualifier (2.5), a confederation-level finals game (3) or a World Cup game (4).

Match Importance
Friendly game 1
World Cup / confederation-level qualifier 2.5
Confederation-level finals game & Confederations Cup 3
World Cup finals game 4

Calculating 'T'

In order to calculate the strength of the opposing team, FIFA uses the following: 200 minus the opposition team's ranking position (using the most recent ranking). So, for example, based on the September 2017 ranking, third-place Portugal would have a strength rating of 197.

However, there are exceptions; the team at the top of the ranking is always assigned a rating of 200, while teams ranked 150 and below are assigned a minimum value of 50.

Calculating 'C'

The strength of a confederation takes into account the number of victories from its teams in the last three World Cup finals competitions*.

The current values are below:

Confederation Weight
CONMEBOL 1.00
UEFA 0.99
AFC 0.85
CAF 0.85
OFC 0.85
CONCACAF 0.85

For games between teams from different confederations, the mean value of the two confederations is used.

For confederations that have not had teams qualify for the World Cup, the weight of the weakest confederation is used.

*The calculation is limited to interconfederation games at the tournament, with matches between teams from the same confederation excluded in order to avoid distortion, according to FIFA. The full breakdown of confederation weighting can be found here.


WHAT IS FIFA RANKING USED FOR?


Diego Maradona World Cup draw

As well as being used to chart the progression of national teams, the FIFA world ranking has been used for the purposes of seeding for the finals and qualification stages of the World Cup.

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For example, the 2010 and 2014 World Cup seeding pots were determined by the ranking for the October prior to the tournament.

The same procedure (use of October ranking) will be applied to the draw for the 2018 World Cup, which takes place on December 1, 2017.

As well as the World Cup itself, the seeding for this year's UEFA qualifying play-off draw is based on the October ranking, which will be announced a day before the draw on October 16.

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