Costa Rica has just defeated Italy to advance to the Knockout Stage of the World Cup for the second time in their history. Beyond the joy will surely be an increase to possibly their highest ever position in the FIFA Rankings. They receive 2154.48 points for their monumental win.
4 days later in the infamous Suarez biting match, Uruguay also defeats Italy. They receive 2292 points for their win. The single reason for Uruguay receiving more points is because Uruguay plays in CONMEBOL and Costa Rica plays in CONCACAF. Despite beating the exact same team, according to the FIFA Rankings, these wins are not equal.
How does this make any sense? Why would FIFA do something like this and penalize teams from different confederations? There are many reasons for the implementation of the confederation coefficient, but it is time to admit that it does not work, and it is biased against teams outside of UEFA and CONMEBOL. In the last 2 World Cups, when the Confederation Coefficient became a part of the rankings, all 14 seeded, non-host teams have been from UEFA and CONMEBOL. And based on the results of the 2014 World Cup, it is fair to assume that all 7 non-host seeded teams will again come from these two confederations in the 2018 World Cup.
What is the Confederation Coefficient?
Before getting into the reasons and the effects of the coefficient, it is important to understand what it is. The Confederation Coefficient is a multiplier. Each Confederation has a multiplier that gets applied to the points awarded for every match. Currently, the multipliers are:
When factoring in scoring for a match, the average of the two participants’ Confederation Coefficient is used. For example: when Italy played Costa Rica, the coefficient for the match was (1 + 0.88) / 2 = 0.94. When Italy played Uruguay, it was (1 + 1) / 2 = 1.
The calculation for awarding match points is the product of 4 terms: Opponent Rank, Points Obtained, Competition, and Confederation Coefficient.
Costa Rica received : 191 x 3 x 4 x 0.94 = 2154.48
Uruguay received : 191 x 3 x 4 x 1 = 2292
Everything else is exactly the same except Costa Rica is being penalized for playing in CONCACAF.
How is it Calculated?
This is a bit more complex, and we apologize for the depth of detail. The best way to describe it is “How well did a confederation do in the past 3 World Cups in matches against other confederations?”
When two teams from different confederations play in the World Cup, a total of 1 point is awarded to both teams combined. A win is worth 1, a draw is worth 0.5, and a loss is worth 0. Every match total sums to 1. In each World Cup, a confederation’s total points are divided by the total number of interconfederational games to get a confederation average.
For example, in the 2014 World Cup, AFC played 12 matches against other confederations. They won 0, drew 3, and lost 9, for a total of 1.5 points. Their 1.5 points in 12 matches produces an average of 0.125. A confederation’s average over the past 3 World Cups is their overall average. The rounded AFC average in the past 3 World Cups is 0.25.
But we are still not done. The overall average is then divided by the highest confederation average to get a confederational ratio. CONMEBOL has the highest average, so the AFC average is divided by the CONMEBOL average.
Then, take the 4th root of the confederational ratio to come up with a Confederation Coefficient.
And finally, if that Confederation Coefficient is less than 0.85, assign that confederation 0.85.
Wow. Take a moment to try and let all of that sink in. Does it make sense? Who did FIFA hire to come up with that formula? Following this World Cup, the 3rd set of Confederation Coefficients will be created. Here are all 3 sets (UEFA will be either 0.98 or 0.99):
Why Does FIFA Do This?
What a process, huh? That’s some calculation. While nobody will ever come out and actually say it, the inclusion of the Confederation Coefficient is an admission that the calculation of the FIFA Rankings is inherently flawed. Or, at a minimum, it doesn’t produce the results they want.
Following the 2006 World Cup, FIFA changed the formula to their rankings due to (surprise) backlash with the results. The seeding for the 2006 World Cup in Germany was rigged to fix the errors in their own rankings. Czech Republic was #2, Netherlands was #3, Mexico was #7 and USA was #8 ahead of the Final Draw. Exactly one of those teams wound up seeded in the Top 8.
The goal had been to use the rankings to determine the seeded World Cup teams, but when that failed, FIFA went into damage control. They needed to create a more transparent calculation that appeared to be fair to all teams, so they adjusted the formula, and the results are without a doubt better than the previous system. The goal of the current system is to award points based on quality of opponent and type of match. Surely, FIFA did some testing on the system to see how it would look had the system been implemented earlier.
And that’s when they found the problem.
Let’s look at two World Cup Qualifiers played on June 7, 2013. The USA beat Jamaica, ranked #49 in the world at that time. Slovenia beat Iceland, ranked #61 in the world. Without any sort of adjustment, the USA would get more points for their win. And they should. They beat the “better” team according to FIFA’s own rankings.
But given the balance of power and qualifying formats in CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC, the percentage of points obtained by many nations gets to be very high. And the higher the percentage of points, the higher teams rise in the rankings. Without an adjustment, teams from these three confederations.would be very high up in the rankings, with the possibility of one or more teams from those confederations being seeded. FIFA needed a way to mitigate that, so as a result, the Confederation Coefficient was born.
Argentina, the team that finished first in CONMEBOL in World Cup Qualifying, only obtained 2/3 of their possible points. The best teams across CAF, CONCACAF, and AFC were in the 70-80% range, and even higher. Had the Confederation Coefficient not existed, at a minimum the USA would’ve been seeded, and Mexico, Algeria, and the Ivory Coast would all be in the Top 20 of the rankings. And that’s just a recalculation without the Confederation Coefficient. Surely, teams from the 3 devalued confederations would’ve been ranked higher in previous editions, which would’ve resulted in other teams subsequently being ranked even higher.
What is the Effect?
The whole problem with the Confederation Coefficient is the disadvantage that it puts CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC at. There’s a significant amount of money at stake in the World Cup. Disregarding the money teams make for qualifying, advancing to the Round of 16 is worth an extra million to every nation. Advancing to the quarterfinals is worth $5 million more. The semis? Another $6 million minimum.
By having the FIFA Rankings as the determining measure for seeded teams, the teams that are seeded have a significant advantage of advancing out of the group stage and winning more in prize money. But it’s more than that. By keeping teams down, it is stunting the growth of football in these confederations. FIFA wants groups to look a certain way for the World Cup based on geographic location. Fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when you have groups that include Spain, Chile and Netherlands, or a group with Germany, Portugal, USA, and Ghana, you are being counter-productive. These groups are not fair. Let the best teams be seeded, determine pots based on a fair ranking, and then let your geographic influence come in.
These things have a long term effect too. By placing the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica in a pot with AFC teams, you are guaranteeing that they play not only the best of UEFA and CONMEBOL, but also 1 UEFA/CONMEBOL opponent at a minimum. If USA and Mexico were seeded, seemingly a group like Mexico, Greece, Ecuador, and Nigeria would be possible. But FIFA does not want that.
As a result, CONCACAF and CAF teams consistently get placed in difficult groups. Then, they perform poorly in the World Cup. As a result of the poor performance, they get docked via the Confederation Coefficient. As a result of the weak Confederation Coefficient, they are unable to get seeded in the next World Cup. And as a result of being unseeded, these confederations perform poorly in the next World Cup. There is no way out for CAF, CONMEBOL and AFC.
The system is absolutely rigged against the confederations. Even if Nigeria and Ivory Coast made a run to the finals and played each other, CAF would still be docked via the Confederation Coefficient for the next 4 years. It’s time to make a change.
FIFA, We’re Calling You Out
MAKE A CHANGE! We understand that the previous version of the rankings was not sufficient to determine World Cup seeding. Fine. No problem. But implement a transparent system that allows the results of the matches to dictate the rankings. Don’t let teams play matches and then dock them for being associated with a confederation.
What if USA and Mexico were to disaffiliate from CONCACAF? Would they be subject to the Confederation Coefficient? What if they wanted to join CONMEBOL? What is stopping them?
There has to be a way. There has to be a formula that FIFA can devise that does not have to be modified to devalue matches of teams affiliated with certain confederations. Make the change NOW before yet another World Cup goes by that puts teams from confederations at a disadvantage. The onus is on you to devise a system that is fair to everyone in the world. If FIFA is truly committed to developing the game as they say they are, they’ll take the necessary steps to not handicap teams for being located in North America, Africa or Asia.
At what point do the confederations say “enough is enough”. FIFA is counting the 2002 World Cup, which took place 12 years ago, as part of the Confederation Coefficient. Let it go! That has no bearing on what teams are doing today. The worst part is that FIFA is using an end to justify the means. “UEFA team #4 can beat CONCACAF or AFC team #4 and we’re going to penalize those confederations for that.” Of course that’s the case! If CONCACAF or AFC #4 regularly beat UEFA #4, UEFA wouldn’t have 13 spots while the others have 4. The reason those confederations have more teams is because they have more good teams as a whole. Nobody is debating that. But penalizing an entire confederation because Honduras doesn’t beat France is ludicrous.
Change is necessary, but until then, don’t expect a team from CONCACAF, AFC, or CAF to be seeded in the World Cup. Think about how much better than you have to be than your opponents when you start behind by 15%.