Henry hands France a seed in incredibly tight rankings; Portugal miss out despite #5 ranking

More than just a win, Henry's handball gets France a seed

Yesterday, we speculated on whether a surge by Portugal in the FIFA world rankings would allow them to overtake France for the final all-important seed for the World Cup draw. What no one could have predicted was how movement among other likely seeds would tighten the race for the final few spots in Pot 1. There is great opportunity for mischief from FIFA if it wants to put its thumb on the scale, something it does often to benefit top teams and players. If it uses the same formula that decided the seeds for the 2006 World Cup, the four teams vying for the last three seeds will be separated by just one-third of a point each, Portugal will barely miss out and Thierry Henry’s handball that earned France a draw will be decisive in getting Les Blues one of the coveted seeds.

We expect FIFA to use the same system for determining the seeds for the World Cup draw that it did in 2006. We broke down the seeding formula and how it is applied in October, but in sum, it consists of a combination of performance points from the last two World Cups and ranking points from the last three year’s end FIFA world rankings. Because South Africa automatically gets a seed as the host country and is well outside the top eight, only the first seven places based on the seeding formula will receive a seed. Brazil, German, Italy, and Spain are comfortably assured of a seed. But the four* teams vying for the last three spots, England, Argentina, France, and Portugal were quite close and their positions could affected by changes in the final FIFA world rankings used in the formula released today.

There was significant change in the rankings. Portugal was the biggest mover, capitalizing on its two wins over Bosnia and jumping 5 spots to world #5. France, with a win and that controversial draw thanks to Henry, also moved up, bumping both Argentina and England down and rising two places to #7. Both Argentina and England, having already qualified and playing meaningless friendlies which they lost, slipped two places each, to #8 and #9 respectively. If you want to see how the complicated system to assign points based on the rankings works, go here.

Despite its recent slide, Argentina’ 28 was the most points based on the world rankings, benefiting from finishing the 2007 ranking #1. Portugal came next with 26.3, followed by France at 26. England’s 23.3 was the fewest points based on the world rankings.

While England suffered in the rankings points, it gained in the performance points, thanks to consecutive trips to the quarterfinals, giving them 26.3. Next was France at 23.3, riding its runner-up finish in 2006 to balance its first round exit in 2002. Portugal was just narrowly behind the French, with 22.3, and Argentina brought up the rear with only 21.

The race for the last seeds is incredibly tight:

Country Performance Ranking Total
England 26.33 23.33 49.67
France 23.33 26.00 49.33
Argentina 21.00 28.00 49.00
Portugal 22.33 26.33 48.67

Entering the last world rankings update, France stood in 9th position. If France had stayed level, a reasonable assumption if the only results had been one win and one loss (as would have happened without the hand ball) yet still gone through to the World Cup on penalties, it would have lost .67 points in the seeding formula and been tied with Portugal for the last seed. I don’t know what the tiebreaker is (probably because FIFA have never publicly revealed if there is one), but it would be another reasonable assumption that ties would go to the team with the higher current world ranking, and Portugal would get the nod over France.

So not only did Thierry Henry’s handball deny Ireland a chance at getting to the World Cup, it just may have “earned” France a coveted seed and a much easier path into the knock-out stages of the competition.

*Despite being ranked 3rd in the final rankings each of the last two years, the Netherlands were some distance back because they failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup and were not able to overcome that deficiency in their performance points.


One Response

  1. […] up drawing England in the first game (not to mention France pulling the South Africa group after mysteriously not being seeded). I am personally not one for conspiracy theories – people, in my experience, are usually […]

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