The past three months have been a whirlwind of speculation, projections, secret dealings, and missteps. The draw for the final round of World Cup Qualifying in CAF is set to take place on Friday in Cairo. Despite indicating in official World Cup documents that the procedure would be announced almost 9 months prior to the draw, it was not until two days before the draw that FIFA confirmed how teams would be seeded.
That in itself is a problem, but the larger problem, and the near certainty of foul play, was the method FIFA chose.
Before we get into the inner workings, it is key to understand why the seedings, or pots, are so important. For this draw, there are four pots of five teams each, for a total of 20 teams. One team will randomly be selected from each pot and placed into the same group. The intent is to have the five best teams in the top pot, the next five best teams in the second pot, and so forth.
By breaking teams up this way, it gives the illusion that the groups will be balanced. If you are in the top pot, it ensures you do not have to play the strongest teams in qualifying. Ask Romania or Wales if avoiding Germany, Spain, England, Netherlands, Belgium, and Portugal improves their odds to get to the World Cup. Teams try hard to move up and with good reason, and we’ll show below how the odds change for the teams in question.
For any draw related to the World Cup Finals or Qualifying, FIFA mandates the use of its rankings as the determining factor for seeding. Dating back to as far as available information permits, here is an exhaustive list of draw dates, ranking editions used for the draw, most recent rankings available at the time of the draw, and final confederation match played before the draw.
As you’ll see, for just about every draw, there is not much issue with determining which rankings to use. Matches are completed, rankings are published, and those rankings are then used for the draw. Most recently, in AFC, World Cup Qualifying Round 2 concluded in March, rankings were published in April, and the draw was conducted in April using those rankings. There were a few unique situations, such as the World Cup finals draw using rankings before the UEFA playoffs occurred to avoid overseeding of teams which did not win their group. While this isn’t ideal, it at least was done with the second to last rankings and the intent of rewarding teams who topped their qualifying group.
And that brings us to CAF. Notorious for delays in announcing match dates and procedures, CAF never seems to be planning ahead. For many, many years, as you can see above, CAF has used the most recent FIFA Rankings prior to the draw. They used the July FIFA Rankings for rounds 1 and 2 of the draw just last July. It was widely believed that whenever the draw was held, the rankings released just prior to the draw would be used.
The CAF Timeline
In FIFA’s official World Cup documents, they clearly indicate that the procedure for the Round 3 draw would be determined by the end of Round 2. That proved to be untrue. On November 20, 2015, FIFA announced that the Round 3 draw would be held in Cairo on June 24, 2016. Specifically, they indicated “the procedures for which – including pots and seeded teams – will be announced in due course.” It seemed that the June FIFA Rankings were destined to be used.
But there was, and still is, a dilemma regarding the June rankings. As there are two major tournaments taking place in June 2016, FIFA has historically released a ranking before, and after, these tournaments. Whereas normally there are 4-5 weeks between releases, there are 6 weeks between the June and July releases. Specifically, the Copa America Centenario began on June 3, so in line with normal procedures, June rankings were released on June 2 as opposed to June 9, which would be right before the start of EURO 2016.
The issue with that is the African Cup of Nations qualifiers, which were scheduled for June 2-5. Those matches would not make the June rankings and therefore would not be in any edition of the rankings released before the CAF draw. It seemed that only two options were available: don’t include those matches or conduct the draw on a different date. There was ample time to not only make that decision, but also communicate that decision to both member associations and the public.
Despite these known factors at the time of the draw announcement in November, it was not until 5 months later, in April, that even the slightest communication was disseminated.
Things Take a Turn
Speculation remained that it would be the June rankings used as the determining factor. As March AFCON qualifiers concluded and no CAF fixtures remained on the calendar, it was known what the order of 20 teams would look like. We posted a number of graphics indicating the Top 5 CAF teams in the June Rankings: Algeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal, Egypt. This information was not hidden, and seemingly, teams would be aware of these rankings on March 29th at the conclusion of the AFCON Qualifiers.
FIFA still had provided no indication of how the draw would be conducted. Teams sat and waited. All but one it seems. On April 5th, one week later, an article popped up on the Tunisian Football Federation website indicating that a “special ranking” would be created and used for the World Cup draw, to be released between June 8th and June 10th. This information was not reported by any other participating nation. We reached out to FIFA regarding this, and they indicated to us the following:
- Associations were notified that there would indeed be a special edition of the rankings to be released during those dates.
- The ranking only applied to CAF teams.
- These rankings WOULD NOT be published.
This development truly came out of nowhere. When it seemed that the format, and the standings, of the draw were known, FIFA were now indicating that things were not yet final. But how would the calculation be done? When would the rankings be released? Remember, FIFA has a MANDATE that its own rankings be used in seeding. Page 26 of the Preliminary Competition rules state “Any seeding based on team performance for each confederation’s preliminary competition shall be based on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.” Period. It never occurred to anyone that they had the power, or balls, to create a ranking that was unpublished and off schedule and use that as the determination for seeding, especially as this was an unprecedented move.
Immediately, there was one nation who could benefit from this arrangement. Uncoincidentally, it was the only nation who had rushed to publish this information from FIFA, Tunisia. We wrote in length about the high likelihood of the culprit as soon as this was announced with a dissection of how, specifically, the ranking date mattered in identifying the final Pot 1 participant. The top 4 of Algeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Senegal were in no danger of losing their spots, but the final Pot 1 participant was truly determined by the date of the rankings. FIFA uses a rolling calendar that devalues matches as they become over a year old, two years old, etc. Teams can end up with a different ranking depending on the exact date of the rankings.
With the information known at the time, this is the chart we published with the date of the draw and who the final team in Pot 1 would be:
- 6/2 – Egypt
- 6/3 – Egypt
- 6/4 – Cape Verde
- 6/5 – Cape Verde
- 6/6 – Cape Verde
- 6/7 – Tunisia
- 6/8 – Egypt
- 6/9 – Egypt
- 6/10 – Egypt
- 6/11 – Tunisia
- 6/12 – Egypt
- 6/13 – Tunisia
- 6/14 & After – Egypt
Given that FIFA indicated to teams that the rankings would be published from June 8-10, it seemed that Egypt would still be OK. It seemed logical that June 9 would be the date, as that would be consistent with their Thursday release schedule. And remember, FIFA’s standing process for 10 years has been that the rankings are calculated as of the release date. If the rankings are released on June 2nd, they are calculated as of June 2nd. There was no reason to believe the rankings would be released on a different day than they were calculated, but we issued a warning. Given the extreme likelihood that it was Tunisia trying to get FIFA to go against their own rules and use something other than the official monthly rankings, don’t be surprised if the rankings are calculated on June 7th. And if they are, be ready to launch a formal protest.
As the June matches grew closer, Egyptian officials ensured supporters that they would remain in Pot 1 with a win in their June qualifier over Tanzania. But some details changed from April to the end of May. Tanzania’s June ranking was going to be lower than projected and Egypt would no longer be in Pot 1 if rankings were released on June 8th or 9th. Egypt had the opportunity to play a friendly against Congo DR and, with a win, gain their spot back on the 8th and 9th. They chose not to, as they were certain justice would be done.
One of the key proponents of this thinking was Hany Abo Rida. Abo Rida is not only the Vice President of EFA and a CAF Executive Committee member; he is also a member of FIFA’s organizing committee for the World Cup. If anyone would have an idea of what would unfold, surely it should be the man who is part of the organization making that decision. Now, he may not be among the group making that decision, but as it directly concerns his beneficiaries, he should be privy to information that has an impact on his association. He publicly indicated that Egypt had nothing to worry about.
The June matches came and went and both Egypt and Tunisia won their matches. All that was left was the waiting until June 8-10.
On June 8, FIFA sent a list to teams below with the ordering of teams and their points. After looking through the list and doing some calculations, these were not June 8th rankings.
Here is the list. Almost humorously, the document is named ‘African_rankings_neutral’.
The rankings were calculated on June 7th.
Not only was this the first time FIFA ever released rankings not calculated on the release date, this was the EXACT date we warned to be wary of. Tunisia wanted desperately the rankings to be calculated on June 7th, and they were.
It’s bad enough that FIFA had taken this route. Creating a “special” ranking was not only wrong, unprecedented, and in direct violation of their mandate to use the FIFA rankings for any World Cup related draw, the date of the rankings determined who wound up in Pot 1. If you think FIFA was not aware who would be in first place on each date, you’re being naive.
Egypt naturally formed an appeal. It was weak. The points they hit on were correct, but they certainly were not strong enough to overturn the decision. Even worse, Egypt appealed to FIFA instead of CAS. That’s like submitting a wrongful termination letter to the boss who fired you, instead of going to HR. The chances of succeeding were so low. Here is that letter (and thanks to kingfut.com for having these available:
The problem with Egypt’s submission is that they cited the incorrect rankings. Using the 2014 FIFA World Cup draw was not a direct comparison. Egypt should have done their homework and found a direct example where the same conditions applied. Above, we highlighted two of those instances where there were matches played after the most recent rankings were released which did not go into the draw.
One particular example sticks out to us: AFC’s draw for 2014 World Cup Qualifying Round 3. The draw for Round 3 was conducted on Saturday, July 30th, 2011. The rankings which were used were released on Wednesday, July 27th, 2011. Round 2, however, did not conclude until Thursday, July 28th, 2011. The winners of Round 2 advanced to Round 3, and were part of the draw occurring on the 30th. The matches played on the 28th were not included in the July rankings, and there was no “special ranking” to get the games played on the 28th into the ranking. And these matches weren’t even continental qualifiers. They were World Cup qualifiers! But again, FIFA did not go out of their way to create a “special ranking” to include these matches. They took a stance: use the FIFA rankings that are published. Egypt should have used this example, highlighted it, circled it, and repeated it about 30 times in their appeal.
Why did you not use a “special ranking” in that instance FIFA? Why now? A response of “because Tunisia asked us to” doesn’t hold water in this instance. Pointing to a specific previous incident that is directly comparable and showing that they did something opposite is EXACTLY the type of argument you want to make in an appeal. Egypt did not do that, and their case was weak.
Surprisingly, FIFA reviewed the complaint, and issued a statement on the matter on June 15th. They indicated that they were reversing their decision on the special rankings, and would be issuing a special ranking on June 21st, right before the draw. This gave Egypt fans false hope, as on the 21st, Egypt would be ranked #5 in Africa, just as they were in the June rankings. This letter was issued on FIFA’s official letterhead and signed by Marco Villiger, Deputy Secretary General, and can be seen below:
But the madness does not end there. Following this decision, there were even more complaints. It was determined that FIFA’s Emergency Bureau for the World Cup Qualifiers needed to meet to get this ordeal sorted out. On June 22, just two days before the draw, this committee decided to reinstate the June 7th special rankings, call this decision final, and indicate that this decision was not subject to appeal.
Defeat and What to Do
Tunisia, for their part, did not even acknowledge the memo released on June 15th. They did, however, immediately celebrate their Pot 1 status upon the decision of the Emergency Bureau. A number of questions remain, and should be answered by FIFA entirely to justify their decision. Remember, qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup receive a MINIMUM OF $12 MILLION. If you show up, lose 3 matches in the group stage, and go home, you receive $12 million. If you can get out of the group stage, you receive much, much more.
The questions that we have are:
- Why was there no special ranking created for AFC’s 3rd Round draw in 2011?
- Given that there was no special ranking for that draw, why was it deemed appropriate to create a special ranking for CAF’s 3rd Round draw?
- Who, specifically, initiated the conversation of a special ranking being a possibility?
- Why was June 7th chosen as the rankings date? Why was the day after the matches concluded, June 6th, not the date chosen for the special rankings?
- Given that the date of the special rankings dictated who wound up in each pot, how can FIFA justify making a neutral decision in selecting a date?
- Why was Article 20, Paragraph 1 of the World Cup regulations citing “Any seeding based on team performance for each confederation’s preliminary competition shall be based on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking” not followed?
- Who decided on the procedures from the April 5th memo, and who decided on the procedures from the June 15th memo? If either were decided by FIFA’s Organizing Committee, wouldn’t those decisions be “final and binding and not subject to appeal” per Article 3, Paragraph 4 of the World Cup regulations?
- What makes this decision more “final and binding and not subject to appeal” than previous decisions made?
These questions may never be answered. That does not mean investigation into how things devolved into this point should cease. FIFA never in a million years should have created a special ranking. It is subjective, unfair, and does not follow any procedure conducted for the countless number of World Cup draws in history.
When all is said and done, before the draw, the pots change your odds to qualify for the finals by around 5%. While that doesn’t seem like a large number, going from a 2nd favorite to a favorite could make all the difference in the world. There is no doubt that FIFA did not make this decision on their own. This idea was almost undoubtedly planted in their minds by the Tunisian Football Federation. To bring this process to fruition took a lot of convincing, and what that convincing looked like is certainly out there to be discovered.