FIFA Should Break Up the CAF Teams for World Cup Pots

It’s the right thing to do.

While FIFA still hasn’t revealed how the World Cup Pots will be set up, the popular opinion is that the draw will shake out similar to the 2006 draw, when there was a special pot set up for Serbia and Montenegro. Times have evolved, and they should revisit that simple strategy. First, let’s backtrack and take a look at some of the facts.

7 of the 8 seeded teams have been determined. They are:

  • Brazil
  • Spain
  • Germany
  • Argentina
  • Colombia
  • Belgium
  • Switzerland

Should Uruguay advance over Jordan, they would claim the final seed. As they currently lead 5-0 on aggregate with a home match remaining, it seems extremely likely that Uruguay will claim that place. From a confederation perspective, this gives us 4 UEFA teams and 4 CONMEBOL teams.

 

Remaining to be broken up are:

  • UEFA: 9 teams
  • CONMEBOL: 2 teams
  • CAF: 5 teams
  • CONCACAF: 4 teams
  • AFC: 4 teams

* For this purpose, we’re also assuming Mexico, who leads New Zealand 5-1 on aggregate, also advances.

 

Right now, most are assuming that CONCACAF and AFC will be paired together, as their 8 teams form a nice pot. The top 8 UEFA teams would form a pot. And the 5 CAF teams, Chile and Ecuador would form the final pot, with the lowest UEFA team joining a special pot as Serbia and Montenegro did in 2006.

This just simply is not the right way to do things for Brazil. While putting the top 8 UEFA teams in one pot is a foregone conclusion, how the other teams are broken up is certainly a matter for debate. Just because CONCACAF + AFC totals 8 teams does not mean these teams should be grouped together. The CONCACAF teams rank better in virtually every system out there, including FIFA’s own.

 

Teams

We’re going to make some assumptions which shouldn’t alter things too much. There are 8 World Cup places remaining to be determined. We are going to assume those spots go to: Uruguay, Mexico, Ghana, Ukraine, Portugal, Croatia, Greece, and Burkina Faso. All of these teams either currently lead in aggregate or are tied and have a home game remaining. If this pans out, the 32 qualified teams, and their October FIFA rankings are as follows:

Rank Team Confederation
1 Spain UEFA
2 Germany UEFA
3 Argentina CONMEBOL
4 Colombia CONMEBOL
5 Belgium UEFA
6 Uruguay CONMEBOL
7 Switzerland UEFA
8 Netherlands UEFA
8 Italy UEFA
10 England UEFA
11 Brazil CONMEBOL
12 Chile CONMEBOL
13 USA CONCACAF
14 Portugal UEFA
15 Greece UEFA
16 Bosnia-Herzegovina UEFA
17 Côte d'Ivoire CAF
18 Croatia UEFA
19 Russia UEFA
20 Ukraine UEFA
22 Ecuador CONMEBOL
23 Ghana CAF
24 Mexico CONCACAF
31 Costa Rica CONCACAF
33 Nigeria CAF
34 Honduras CONCACAF
44 Japan AFC
49 Iran AFC
52 Burkina Faso CAF
56 Korea Republic AFC
57 Australia AFC
59 Cameroon CAF

 

Pots

Let’s take the 8 seeded teams and the top 8 UEFA teams out of the pool. Those two pots would look like:

 

Pot 1

Rank Team Confederation
1 Spain UEFA
2 Germany UEFA
3 Argentina CONMEBOL
4 Colombia CONMEBOL
5 Belgium UEFA
6 Uruguay CONMEBOL
7 Switzerland UEFA
11 Brazil CONMEBOL

 

Pot 2

Rank Team Confederation
8 Netherlands UEFA
8 Italy UEFA
10 England UEFA
14 Portugal UEFA
15 Greece UEFA
16 Bosnia-Herzegovina UEFA
18 Croatia UEFA
19 Russia UEFA

 

Here are the remaining 16 teams with their FIFA rank:

Rank Team Confederation
12 Chile CONMEBOL
13 USA CONCACAF
17 Côte d'Ivoire CAF
20 Ukraine UEFA
22 Ecuador CONMEBOL
23 Ghana CAF
24 Mexico CONCACAF
31 Costa Rica CONCACAF
33 Nigeria CAF
34 Honduras CONCACAF
44 Japan AFC
49 Iran AFC
52 Burkina Faso CAF
56 Korea Republic AFC
57 Australia AFC
59 Cameroon CAF

 

The Others

Right off the bat, it’s easy to notice that the AFC will represent 4 of the 6 worst teams by FIFA ranking at the World Cup. Should Algeria advance over Burkina Faso, they’ll have 4 of the worst 5. Our ranking coincides with this thinking that the AFC represents the weakest contingent being sent to Brazil. And here’s where we differ with the conventional wisdom.

FIFA should group the AFC teams and the 4 lowest CAF teams together. They should put the Ivory Coast in the stronger pot.

You can still keep the conditions with a max of 2 UEFA teams and a max of 1 team from other confederations. This creates a much more even balance of teams. Of the remaining 16 teams, this would put the teams ranked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10 together. This would put the teams ranked 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 together. This setup is significantly more balanced than the other scenario.

If the CONCACAF and AFC teams are together, remaining teams ranked 2, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, and 15 are together while 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13, and 16 are together. This is according to the FIFA rankings.

 

Our rankings paint a similar picture. We have the USA ranked #11, Chile #12, Ukraine #13, Mexico #16, Ivory Coast #17, Ecuador #23, Costa Rica #26, and Honduras #38. From the other pot, our best ranked teams are Nigeria #25, Japan #30, and Ghana #36. It makes a lot of sense to put CONCACAF with the stronger teams to create the most balanced World Cup groups.

By creating this scenario, there would be no “Group of Death”. You won’t see something like Argentina, England, USA and Chile. The 4th team is very significant, and at worst it’s a team like Honduras or Costa Rica with an Asian side. That still isn’t too bad.

 

Conclusions

It makes you wonder what things would look like if there were no such thing as a “Confederation Coefficient” (The USA would be #7 in the world). This is a coefficient that devalues games teams from CAF, CONCACAF, AFC, and OFC play, strictly based on performances at prior World Cups. Using this to determine World Cup places is one thing, but this is a circular reference.

The FIFA rankings are used to determine seedings at the World Cup. Teams which are seeded largely have an advantage of not having to play the other top teams in the world. The World Cup performance of teams then determines confederation coefficients. The confederation coefficients are then used to calculate FIFA rankings. The only way confederations can dig themselves out of a hole is to have an amazing run in the World Cup, or be seeded. Teams need to be given a chance to make that run, and creating balanced groups is a step in the right direction.

FIFA should create balanced groups, even if that means breaking up a confederation into multiple pots. They already penalize teams for being located in a specific region in the world. When will it finally be enough?

 

You can reach us on Twitter @We_Global or by email at info@weglobalfootball.com

There is always room to change for the better.

 

 

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