Nigerians may have been surprised to find their darling team the Super Eagles dropping instead of rising in the latest International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) ranking released on the 24th of October 2019. Since in 1994 when the Super Eagles rose to 5th in the world, its best ever ranking, they have not gotten anywhere near that rank. In the one released on the 19th of September (incidentally my birthday), the Super Eagles gained points to be placed 34th in the world.
Nigerians believed that there will be an improvement for that of October because in the month in consideration the Super Eagles drew 2-2 with Ukraine and 1-1 with Brazil. But what most Nigerians don’t know or have forgotten is that games played by the Super Eagles team B also affect the overall ranking of the Super Eagles.
Recall that just after the release of the rankings in September the home-based Super Eagles lost 4:1 to Togo away from home in an African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifying match. Togo is ranked 124th in the world while Nigeria ranked 34th before the match. The match was a competitive one so it carried weight. As far as FIFA is concerned there is only one Nigerian team whether they are based abroad or at home. And whatever results they get affect the team as a whole in the FIFA ranking.
FIFA’s rankings have for long seemed shrouded in mystery. But perhaps it could also be because FIFA itself hadn’t found the best way to rank teams. Before now, it used the annual average points system. But after working on different methods, in August 2018 FIFA Council approved a new method. Well, it is not actually new.
The Elo system that FIFA now uses has always stood side by side FIFA’s rankings. Then it looked like it was a counterfeit, now it’s to be reckoned with. It was developed by Arpad Emmerich Elo, a Hungarian-American professor of physics as a chess rating system, but it can be used for other sports. FIFA adopted this because it wanted an “algorithm that is not only intuitive, easy to understand and improves overall accuracy of the formula, but also addresses feedback received about the previous model and provides fair and equal opportunities for all teams across all confederations to ascend the FWR.”
FIFA calls this adopted method “SUM”. It adds/subtracts points (as against averaging points) for specific matches to/from a team’s existing total point. The points which are added or subtracted are partly gotten from the relative strength of the two opponents, believing that higher ranked teams should do better than lower ranked teams. This method also has the modified version for the FIFA Women’s World Ranking.
There is less importance to friendly matches with more importance given to final round competitions, like the FIFA World Cup Finals. Knock-out stage matches also have more importance than group stage matches in final competitions. It excluded losses in knock-out rounds of final competitions.
The formula for the SUM algorithm is:
P = Pbefore + I * (W – We)
Pbefore: Points before the match
I: importance of match
• I= 05 Friendly matches played outside of International Match Calendar windows
• I= 10 Friendly matches played during International Match Calendar windows
• I= 15 Group phase matches of Nations League competitions
• I= 25 Play-off and final matches of Nations League competitions
• I= 25 Qualification matches for Confederations final competitions and for FIFA World Cup final competitions
• I= 35 Confederation final competition matches up until the QF stage
• I= 40 Confederation final competition matches from the QF stage onwards; all FIFA Confederations Cup matches
• I= 50 FIFA World Cup final competition matches up until QF stage
• I= 60 FIFA World Cup final competition matches from QF stage onwards
W: result of the match
• 1 = win; 0.5 = draw; 0 = defeat
We: expected result of the match
We = 1 / (10(-dr/600) + 1)
With dr=difference in ratings of the two playing teams, i.e. dr = [Pbefore of Team A – Pbefore of Team
FIFA also gave an example: Team A has 1300 points before the match and wins a continental qualifier against team B that has 1500 points.
For team A the formula is: P=1300+25*(1–(1/(10 exp (-(1300–1500)/600) +1)))
For team B the formula is: P = 1500 + 25 * (0- (1 / 10(-(1500-1300)/600) + 1))
So, team A wins 17 points and has P = 1317 points after the match. Team B loses the same amount of points and so ends up with 1483 points after the match.
Additionally, Penalty shoot-out (PSO): Matches decided in a PSO are taken as a draw for the team that lost and as “half a win” for the team that won: W for the winning team is 0.75 instead of 1.0 for a win after extra time.
If PSO, then W for losing team= 0.5
W for winning team= 0.75
FIFA said the old method made teams outside Europe, or South America difficult to rise. But now there seems to be a level playing field. Furthermore, friendlies played during International Match Calendar windows had more value (10) compared to those not played during the international break (5).
Some might say FIFA rankings don’t matter, what matters is the result after the match. But it’s like saying school pupils’ position in class doesn’t matter. Even beyond that having a higher FIFA rank gives the higher ranked team a psychological advantage even before the first kick of the ball. While the players in the lower ranked team are battling their inferiority complex which ultimately makes them forget what they learnt in training, the higher ranked team just enjoys the game.
And barring any upset the higher ranked team usually wins. It’s the bookmakers guide. It’s already playing out at the ongoing FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Brazil where the Golden Eaglets have turned their group stage matches around. You will think they are possessed. It’s all about the higher ranked team naturally having the mental strength. While the lower ranked team players can barely move their legs the higher ranked team players still have the energy to go all the way.
For the Super Eagles and football administrators in Nigeria what all this means is that the B team of the Super Eagles can no longer be trifled. Coach Gerhot Rohr must also coach the home-based team or supervise whatever the local coach is doing. Any contract that Nigeria signs with any foreign coach without adding this as part of the terms then we have done ourselves a disservice.
He must be part of our local league to monitor our players and groom them so that they can measure up to the largely foreign-based A team and ultimately grow our football. But if the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) can’t ensure this, better we forget about the idea of home-based players and their participation in any Confederation of African Football (CAF) organised games, so that we won’t be continually embarrassed by scandalous results that lower the nation’s reputation.
Dr Odoemena, medical practitioner, writes from Lagos