At the conclusion of the weekend qualifying draw for the World Cup to be staged in Russia during 2018, the UEFA section provided some rather intriguing groups with Spain and Italy paired amongst others in Group G while Netherlands will play two games against France as they seek a successful outcome from Group A. Yet England have been allocated a fairly easy group in comparison with Scotland, Slovakia and Slovenia deemed their most difficult opposition with the seeding for the draw determined the current FIFA international rankings as of July 2015. Such a method has already provoked some discussion as to their relevance on this occasion.
The award of points in the FIFA rankings is based on the results of recognised international matches over a four year period with current form deemed of greater importance than earlier performances. For example, England were allocated one of nine places in Pot 1 for the draw as they are now ranked ninth best team in the World despite the fact that they failed to emerge from their group during the 2014 World Cup tournament in Brazil. Maximum points have since been claimed by England during the current qualifying process for Euro 2016, but this recent winning sequence has been helped by playing in a fairly benign group with Switzerland offering the most potent challenge.
England were beaten by Italy in Brazil but their conquerors are ranked as low as 17 by FIFA while they also failed to secure their passage to the World Cup Round of 16 phase in Brazil. Yet the Italians are unbeaten during the Euro 2016 qualifiers with Croatia, Norway and Bulgaria providing much tougher opposition than being encountered by England.
Italy were allocated a place in Pot 2 for the World Cup draw alongside a French team unable to play a competitive game until June 2016 due to their hosting of the UEFA tournament next summer. However, France were quarter-finalists in the World Cup and may have played experimental formations during their more recent friendly games but current calculations now suggest that the French are the 22nd best team in the World.
Using current form in such FIFA calculations can also be misleading especially for the UEFA based teams, as qualification for the Euro 2016 tournament has yet to be finalised with several teams still to face difficult opposition within their groups.
Then there is the case of a Poland team leading Euro 2016 Group D in which they are unbeaten and having also inflicted a 2-0 defeat on World champions Germany. Their reward for this recent success was a place in Pot 3 for the 2018 World Cup although they could have fared much worse than facing two matches apiece against Romania and Denmark, with the Romanian’s place in Pot 1 attracting some discussion given their failure to qualify for any international tournament since participating in the 2008 European Championships.
There is obviously no perfect scenario in formulating the seeding for international tournament qualification, but it could be argued that using contentious FIFA rankings for the UEFA section of the 2018 World Cup draw has allowed for some teams to clearly emerge at an unfair disadvantage.