FIFA is awful

Before I begin this rant, let me assure you that I am not one of those Americans who hate soccer (or as everyone but Americans say, football). I love soccer. I played soccer in junior high. In high school, I became the team manager when I wasn't good enough to make the team, just so I could play a little bit during practice. I'm not obsessed with the game (I don't have a favorite team or own any jerseys), but I love to watch it. I enjoy watching kids in the neighborhood play (actually, watching kids play is some ways more enjoyable, since they don't dive and act injuried like the pros do). I like to watch games here on TV even though the commentary is in Arabic and I have no idea who the teams or players are. The game is great.

FIFA, which runs soccer, on the other hand... FIFA I wouldn't trust to run a kindergarten tourney. Take, as an illustrative example, the 2006 World Cup.

As you probably know, the World Cup is coming up next year. So last week FIFA had the draw to determine the groups for the cup. If you don't know, the World Cup involves 32 teams. The first part involves dividing the teams into 8 groups of four, which play round-robin. The top two teams from each group then advance to a 16 team single-elimination stage.

So any sensible person would know that you need to create balanced groups, with the goal being that, unless there is an upset, the 16 best teams to advance to the elimination round.

Now, you might say "how do we know who the best 16 teams are?" Well, FIFA claims to know. They rank all the national teams every month. Here are the rankings for November 2005.

So, how balanced are the groups? Well, Group A has Germany, currently #16 in the world with Costa Rica (#21), Poland (#23), and Ecuador (#37). Group E has France (#5), Switzerland (#36), South Korea (#29), and Togo (#56). So in Group A, FIFA has ensured that at best the 17th highest ranked team in the tournement will be in the round of 16, while in Group G the best that can happen is the 20th highest ranked team will. Meanwhile in Group D, one of Mexico (#7), Portugal (#10) or Iran (#19, but the 15th highest ranked team in the tourney) will be sent home early. But in Goup E, FIFA has cleverly arranged to send home early at least one of the 12 best teams in the world by their own rankings (Czech Republic #2, USA #8, Italy #12).

Here is how the groups should be set up:

Rank Team
1 Brazil
16 Croatia
17 Costa Rica
32 Angola

9 England
24 Ecuador
25 Ukraine

4 Argentina
13 Japan
20 Korea
29 Ghana

5 France
12 Sweden
21 Paraguay
28 Austrailia

2 Czech Republic
15 Iran
18 Poland
31 Togo

7 Mexico
10 Portugal
23 Switzerland
26 Cote D'Ivorie

3 Netherlands
14 Germany
19 Tunisa
30 Trinidad

6 Spain
11 Italy
22 Saudi Arabia
27 Serbia

Now, this runs afoul of FIFA's rules that only one team from each region should be in a group, except for Europe, which can have two. I think that this is bogus, but ok, let's make a few small changes to keep with this rule while still having relatively balanced groups. Swap Japan (#13) with Germany (#14) so Japan and Korea are separated. I believe that the groups are now properly balanced geographically.

No comments: