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FIFA rankings reveal a surprising truth about England

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By Mushtaq Quraishi

Thursday 09 August 2012

The latest FIFA rankings were released this week and to the amusement of many, England climbed to their highest ever position - third - above the likes of Uruguay, Portugal, Italy and Brazil.

The ranking table seems to be mocked each time it is published, with football fans genuinely perplexed as to how England can be placed in such a lofty position despite their lack of success in major tournaments. However, a closer look at the way the rankings are calculated and an open mind can help us to understand how Roy Hodgson’s side have climbed higher than all bar Spain and Germany.

While several football supporters constantly ask how England can be ranked so highly even though they have not progressed past the quarter-final stage of an international tournament since 1996, it is important to remember that FIFA rankings only take results from the last four years into account. The outcome of any matches played in the last year count most, but results become less valuable for previous fixtures. And in the last 12 months, England have won eight of their 12 games.

Points are calculated by taking into consideration the outcome of a fixture - with a win earning three points, a penalty shootout win gaining two points, a draw or a shootout defeat earning just one point and a defeat bringing in no points. The importance of the match, the strength of the opponent and the strength of the team’s confederation are all involved too.

It cannot be denied that the Three Lions have been good qualifiers for the previous two tournaments. In their 18 qualifying games, England have won 14, drawn three and lost just once. Friendly results have also been respectable, with just two defeats since the 2010 World Cup. Meanwhile, England’s record in tournaments may not appear to be impressive, but aside from a defeat on penalties against Italy, Hodgson’s side went unbeaten in Poland and Ukraine. Similarly, under Fabio Capello, the national team lost just once in South Africa.

England’s record then compares favourably to the likes of Portugal, Italy and Brazil The former team struggled to qualify for Euro 2012 and were knocked out at the same stage as England in the previous World Cup. Italy may have reached the final in Poland and Ukraine, but they were embarrassed in South Africa. Brazil are not playing competitive matches ahead of the next World Cup as they have already qualified because of their status as hosts.

A close look at results across the board over the last few years suggests that England have been producing results and are better, at least statistically, than fans would first think.

Of course, there are flaws in FIFA’s system. Qualifying matches appear to count for too much even though many of these games are against significantly weaker opposition, while some question whether friendly results should even be used to determine rankings. Are FIFA right to look at results from just the last four years or should they go further back than that? Is there a better method to calculate the rankings?

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