Posted December 02, 2013

Rethinking World Cup draw seeding as anticipation for Fútbol Friday grows

2014 World Cup, FIFA World Cup, Grant Wahl, International Soccer
World Cup draw

David Beckham, Charlize Theron and FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke on stage at the draw for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (Karel Prinsloo/AP)

SÃO PAULO — The draw for World Cup 2014 takes place this Friday, and for 90 minutes more than a billion eyes on Planet Fútbol will be focused on the Costa do Sauipé resort on Brazil’s Bahia coast. (FIFA, bless its heart, knows how to do boondoggles, choosing the Brazilian beach for this one and Mauritius for its congress earlier this year.)

For Americans, the best comparison for the World Cup draw is Selection Sunday of the NCAA basketball tournament, the moment when everyone gets to see the tournament bracket for the first time. But Fútbol Friday has some significant differences from Selection Sunday:

1) The delay before the payoff is a lot longer. Imagine having to sit through 40 minutes of EuroPop before seeing the NCAA tournament brackets. That’s the World Cup draw for you, with the exception that this year the music should be Brazilian, i.e., a lot cooler (we hope). Whether FIFA boss Sepp Blatter will do his King Leer impression again with an onstage supermodel, as he did with Charlize Theron four years ago in South Africa, remains to be seen.

2) The variability of the outcomes at the World Cup draw is far greater than it is on Selection Sunday, which isn’t exactly fair but ratchets up the drama to a fever pitch. FIFA only seeds the top eight of the 32 teams for the World Cup draw, a huge difference from the NCAA hoops tournament, in which all 68 teams are seeded. For 24 of the 32 World Cup teams, the rest of the draw is based on geography (the only continent allowed to have two teams in the same group is Europe) and dumb luck.

Some groups will appear easy. Some will seem excruciatingly hard. Because the U.S. is the highest-ranked team in the worst draw pot (see below), there’s a greater chance than ever that the U.S. will end up in one of the hardest groups.

The easiest potential U.S. World Cup group: Switzerland, Greece, Algeria, USA.

The hardest potential World Cup group: Brazil, Netherlands, Ghana, USA. (Some would say France would be tougher than Ghana, but the Black Stars have eliminated the U.S. in the last two World Cups and are the last team the Americans want to see again.)

STRAUS: USA likely to face treacherous World Cup group

3) Ping-pong balls are involved. There is no real equivalent to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee in the World Cup draw. Instead, the eight World Cup opening-round groups (with four teams each) will come from four draw pots, each filled with eight ping-pong balls.

One pot has the eight seeded teams: the host (Brazil) plus the top seven other World Cup teams from the October FIFA rankings. A second pot is expected to have the unseeded European teams, except for one (likely to be France, the lowest-ranked European team). A third pot is expected to have the five African teams, the two unseeded South American teams and the European straggler. And the fourth pot is expected to have to have the four teams from CONCACAF (including the U.S.) and the four teams from Asia.

The pots should look something like this:

Draw Pot 1 (seeds): Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay, Switzerland.

*Quick take: The unfortunate quirks of the FIFA rankings allowed Switzerland, Belgium and Colombia into the seeded pot even though those teams having had little to no World Cup success in the past two decades. Long story short, everyone will want to draw into Switzerland’s group.*

Draw Pot 2 (unseeded Europe): Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Russia.

*Quick take: The Netherlands, England and Italy all have good arguments for seeds ahead of the three who got in above, but there’s no arguing it at this point. Clearly, nobody will want to draw the Dutch (who made the 2010 World Cup final) or the Italians (who won the ’06 World Cup).*

Draw Pot 3 (Africa, unseeded South America, Euro straggler): Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Algeria, Ecuador, Chile, France.

*Quick take: Ghana is the only African team to advance to the knockout rounds in 2006 and ’10. France has the most talent here but often struggles with chemistry.*

Draw Pot 4 (CONCACAF, Asia): USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Australia.

*Quick take: The U.S. and Japan will be the teams that no one wants to draw from this pot. It’s unfortunate that the U.S. never gets to play any of the Asian teams in the group stage (except when an Asian team hosts the tournament) due to the configuration of the draw.*

USA to face South Korea in February friendly

Of course, there would be a way to produce more evenly balanced World Cup groups and still fit FIFA’s geographic constrictions. And as much fun as it is to come down to Brazil this week, that way would involve not having a draw at all.

What if you determined the World Cup groups much like the NCAA basketball tournament bracket, using a reputable seeding system for all the teams and a simple S-curve, making slight adjustments as necessary to preserve the geographic rules? Well, that’s what I did using the most recent Elo ratings, which have fewer quirks than the FIFA rankings. (They’re not foolproof, though: Belgium and Ghana seem ranked too low.)

Here are the groups this system gives us:

Group A: Brazil, Russia, Greece, Algeria

Group B: Spain, Ecuador, Belgium, Cameroon

Group C: Germany, Switzerland, Ivory Coast, Honduras

Group D: Argentina, USA, Croatia, South Korea

Group E: Netherlands, France, Mexico, Ghana

Group F: Colombia, Italy, Bosnia, Australia

Group G: England, Chile, Japan, Costa Rica

Group H: Portugal, Uruguay, Iran, Nigeria

Only two slight line adjustments are required (switching Russia with Ecuador and Croatia with Mexico). No group is absurdly easy or exceptionally hard. Everything more or less makes sense.

And it’ll never happen this way — which is why the anticipation for Fútbol Friday will be so high around the world.

49 comments
JohnSmith23
JohnSmith23

The USA may not dominate the sport and may not win each and every match but they will the 2nd round regardless of who else is in the group.  The naysayers want to act like the USA are "James Madison" of the NCAA final four tournament but it really sucks for them when the USA outmaneuvers them to advance.  Such as winning our group last time with England finishing second.  Or beating Portugal in the previous cup.  Also, the draw vs world cup champ Italy.  Or beating Spain and giving Brazil all they could handle in the final of the confederations tournament a few years ago in S. Africa.   

How easily Europeans forget USA beat Italy, Germany, and Bosnia this past year.  It's going to be embarrassing to them when the USA beats them out.  So talk now and pay later.

Quasimodo
Quasimodo

Well if you want to be the world champion you have to be able to beat any team in the world. So it doesn't really matter in what group you are drawn into, if you don't get out of it you just don't deserve to win the cup (which is the point of playing in the tournament, not viewer ratings or just for fun). Yes this drawing will result in some easy and some tough groups, but does this mean it is unfair? Hell no, it is still 11 against 11 and in football upsets are quite common (hard work can make up for a lot) more than in eg basketball. Furthermore every seeding system used will be flawed since it is very hard to compare the quality of teams from the different federations as they only compete against eachother once in every 4 years (I don't call friendlies competing, it is exercise). So it's no more than reasonable to make a drawing based upon geography (and than you can still debate on how to do that, it's fair to argue it's strange Asia and Concacaf will not be able to play against each other).

But the bottom line is: there are no excuses to not get out of your group.

sportsGuy12
sportsGuy12

does anyone know what time it will be and what channel?

John97
John97

Here is how you do it.  You combine North America with South American qualifying which would most likely get rid of the 4 weak CONCACAF teams, and keep 6 south american countries.   You get rid of Oceania and Asia and get the 8 best European countries and  2 best African countries and call it the world cup, with the legitimate 16 best "soccer" countries in the world.  No groups just 16 teams that all play each other once or twice, and then narrow it down to 8,4,2.  A 16 team League tournament.  No point in having 32 teams when only 3-4 have a legitimate chance of winning.

The difference with NCAA basketball and world cup soccer is that i believe in the ncaa a lot of teams have a good chance of reaching the final 4 and winning.  Whereas in the World Cup there is almost never a dark horse or huge upset champion. 

morejunk
morejunk

Call me old fashioned but how about this solution:

Don't suck.

It's a revolutionary concept I know but it's impossible for Germany, Spain or Brazil to be in a "group of death".  The problem the U.S. side (along with the vast majority of sides) has is that's it's not very good and just has the good fortune of qualifying in an area where there are plenty of not good sides.

Don't get me wrong, the way FIFA does it (like most everything that FIFA does) sucks but whining about your group assignment is like whining about media bias... it's a loser's move.

EnashWaca
EnashWaca

The World Cup is only every 4 years.  Wouldn't you want to make it as fair and balanced of a tournament as possible?  Why would you want Groups of Death where one of the good teams will be eliminated in the group stage?  Why seed the Concacaf teams and the Asian team together in one pot where they can't play each other?  Why take a chance and seed a Switzerland over Holland when the difference in rankings is small but the historical allure and pedigree of the Dutch is WAY above the Swiss?  This guy's possible groups that he did are far from perfect but I bet they end up looking better than whatever FIFA kicks out of it's ping pong ball system.

brs386
brs386

Somebody please explain to me how this ranking system is superior to the current FIFA rankings? The problem with the ELO ranking system is that it is an all-time ranking system which takes into account every international match by a particular country. Whereas, the FIFA ranking takes into account the countries performance based on the past 4 years of international play. It would seem that taking into account all-time rankings does nothing but benefit large countries with storied pasts. Why would you further suggest that any country would prefer Switzerland from pot 1? Switzerland was the only country to defeat Spain in the World Cup 2010 and won their group in rather convincing fashion. Regardless, these are opinions and you're certainly entitled to yours based on who you would rather face. I can absolutely assure however that no country in Europe is concerned about facing either Japan or the United States or any other country from Pot 4.

I don't see how anybody could complain with the current system. It's based on luck! Every country has the possibility of being drawn into the Group of Death or into an easier group. The best teams in the world don't complain about it however, because any team with aspirations of winning the World Cup doesn't worry about the group they're drawn into.

John97
John97

Another ignorant and arrogant American soccer article,, let us do it the "American" way!  If the USA ever wants to be a world soccer power, they need to give up their arrogant views and accept the fact that they need to adopt to the world, and not the other way around.    The world doesn't revolve around the USA and USA sports.  For arrogant Americans and  former american players like Alexi lalas and commentators like Grant Wahl, Taylor Twellman,,, I hope the USA get France, England, and Brazil or Argentina and are knocked out after two games.  If you compare FIFA to NCAA the USA would be the James Madison of the tournament.

The hardest group for the usa would be Brazil, England, France and the easiest would be Swizerland, Bosnia, Algeria. 

DSmithy3211
DSmithy3211

"It’s unfortunate that the U.S. never gets to play any of the Asian teams in the group stage (except when an Asian team hosts the tournament) due to the configuration of the draw."

1994 - Could have drawn Saudi Arabia or South Korea (drew Switzerland instead)

1998 - Iran

2002 - South Korea (OK, this falls under the exception)


Puskas
Puskas

Totally agree that the FIFA  world cup draw seeding is miserable... but i don t like your ELO Rating either.... Colombia, Chile and the United States are rated way too high there.

Django
Django

Yes. They should be seeded. It would still be a great tournament.

mcnamara.mark1994
mcnamara.mark1994

This plan makes too much sense for FIFA to even consider following it.  Even with options to create great match-ups and potentially a more balanced knock out phase, FIFA will not change.  Elimination of at least a couple "Groups of Death" will give more of the top teams a better chance to advance to the knock out rounds and lead to higher TV ratings.

redwingdave
redwingdave

You can even use the stupid FIFA rankings and still stay within the geographical boundaries already in place  and have groups that involve a 1-8, 9-16, 17-24 and 25-32 ranked team (the host being the only exception at times).

This would make the groups more geographically diverse as a matter of fact (allowing a CONCACAF vs. AFC or CONMEBOL vs. CAF) and avoid what will inevitably be at least two Groups of Death.

But that makes too much sense, I'm sure.

brs386
brs386

@JohnSmith23 

The United States also recently tied Scotland and lost to Austria. Those are weaker European nations. Look, the United States is one of those countries that has "upset" written all over them, but don't be fooled into thinking that the States has a legitimate chance of competing in the later stages.

M20
M20

@JohnSmith23 I'm American. Let's be real here. Those Euro teams we beat this year were not playing their first teams. Even against Bosnia, we didn't take the lead until they removed their stars. The US didn't have its full first team for those games either, but let's not pretend we beat the same versions of those teams that will be playing in the World Cup.

It's true that the US has gotten results against the top teams in its group for three straight World Cups, and that does give me hope. But we could easily end up with a group with three giants in it, and advancing out of a group with three top teams is very different from advancing out of a group with one. "2nd round regardless"? There are no sure things here. The US could advance, or the US could go winless. The US has only won three games total in the past three World Cups combined. So we'll just have to wait and see.

AdibAltallal
AdibAltallal

@Quasimodo Spain were dominated by and lost to Switzerland in 2010. They almost didn't even make it out of the group stage. Are you saying they didn't deserve to win it? 

You know there two groups that are very hard (with three world cup winners/runner ups in them) and two groups that have barely any good teams. Uruguay BARELY qualified to the World Cup, yet they're ranked higher than Holland (runner up), Italy, AND England? 

AdibAltallal
AdibAltallal

@sportsGuy12 FIFA World Cup 2014 begins on Thursday,June 12 and ends on Sunday,July 13. Check the FIFA website for times.

AdibAltallal
AdibAltallal

@John97 So represent barely three continents and call it a World Cup? No thank you. You do have ONE good point though. Combining the Americas is a great idea. I am American, and even though the USA might not get to the World Cup easily if at all. Not allowing Asia or Oceania to go to the WORLD cup is flat out stupid. You sound ignorant saying that...

RickPotts
RickPotts

@John97 Your assumption that S American teams would take all the qualifying spots in a combined group with CONCACAF is laughable.  Other than Brazil and Argentina which S American sides have been regulars in the later rounds of the WC?  Columbia...no.  Uruguay...not regulars.  Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay,,,no, no and no. Your opinion of the strength of S Americana teams certainly does not match mine.

M20
M20

@John97 Uh, no. It's the WORLD Cup. Not the Traditionally Strong Soccer Nations Cup.

DavinLassiter
DavinLassiter

@John97 so you're for not even allowing teams to try to get in? The World Cup was meant as a worldwide celebration of the sport. That's not me talking; that goes back to Jules Rimet. A World Cup that won't even allow certain nations to even try & get is totally against the idea of a World Cup really is supposed to be. Everything's not just about winning & losing.

M20
M20

@morejunk ... What? It's not impossible at all for Germany, Spain, or Brazil to be in groups of death. In fact, any of them may be in a group of death together with the U.S. A top team like that and the U.S. together would go a long way toward making a group a group of death.

MrGameandShow
MrGameandShow

@morejunk  Well Said, I get sick of these CNNSI writers trying to make excuses for the US Team or finding workarounds to make it seem like the US should get a "fair shake" versus group of death. CONCACAF is a WEAK federation and bunch of weak teams. Stronger than Oceania and Asia possibly, but not by much.  


At times, Grant Wahl seems like the biggest apologist for US team...

gjdj
gjdj

@brs386 ELO weighs more recent games more heavily.  So technically every year is counted but only the recent ones really matter.

There aren't precise numbers to give but it might be:

2013 :35% 

2012: 23%

2011: 15%

2010: 10%

2009: 6%

2008: 4%

2007: 3%

older stuff: 5%


If all-time records were the only thing that mattered, why would Switzerland be 14th with a record of 246W- 328L - 163D, while Russia is 15th with a record of 366W- 144L - 181D?

EnashWaca
EnashWaca

@brs386 It's called "The using common sense" ranking system.  Anybody with a decent background in world soccer and who can look at it objectively could up with a better system than the current one.

M20
M20

@John97 Are you English? If so, I hate to break it to you, but we wouldn't very much mind playing England. Remember how England's group last time was supposed to be "E-A-S-Y"?

EnashWaca
EnashWaca

@John97 He's arrogant to write a story on how he would prefer the seeding to be established?  Heaven forbid he doesn't agree with FIFA.  What a travesty

Ryan19
Ryan19

@John97 I'd be okay with that since England and France aren't  very good.  I thought you were trying to come up with a difficult group.  

gjdj
gjdj

@DSmithy3211 They switched the system for 2002 and have kept it ever since.

gjdj
gjdj

@Puskas Colombia and Chile finished 2nd and 3rd in South American qualifying (ahead of Ecuador and Uruguay).  And the US finished 1st in CONCACAF qualifying (well ahead of Mexico).


I think the system looks fine.

DSmithy3211
DSmithy3211

@mcnamara.mark1994 

Re: "options to create great match-ups" - Any system that does not involve an element of luck is ripe for corruption.  This is FIFA, after all.  How much would, say, Russia or England pay/donate/offer in tribute to FIFA executives, in exchange for getting "great match-ups"?

JoshGabriel
JoshGabriel

@redwingdave Agree. I think they should just use the rankings and seed the whole field of 32. As far as a US standpoint, they would then avoid teams like England, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, etc. FIFA hasn't announced the other 3 pots yet. I know it's likely to be the same as last time, but what are the chances of them actually changing it up?

AdibAltallal
AdibAltallal

@RickPotts @John97 Even though most of John's ideas are garbage, I do like his idea of comparing the Americas though. Here's way. I think the US and Mexico are falling behind because they don't have to competitively play strong teams. Honduras and Costa Rica have traditionally put up some fight in the recent years, but you know that's not enough.

brs386
brs386

@gjdj @brs386

So please explain how this model is superior to the current manner in which FIFA ranks teams?

Current system:

Win = 3 points

Win (penalty shootout) = 2 points

Draw = 1 point

Loss (penalty shootout) = 1 point

Loss (no penalty shootout) = 0 points

Then this is weighted against the match status:

friendly match x 1.0

Fifa World Cup and Continental qualifiers x2.5

Continental Cup and Confederations Cup finals x 3.0

World Cup Finals match x4.0

"Obviously, a win against a very highly ranked opponent is a considerably greater achievement than a win against a low-rated opponent, so the strength of the opposing team is a factor.

The new system uses an opposition strength factor based on team rankings. The previous system was based on points difference."


"In addition to the opposition strength multiplier, FIFA considers the relative strength of entire confederations in the calculation. Each confederation is assigned a weighting between 0.85 and 1.0, based on the relative performance of the confederations in the last three World Cups."

BobDeGrande
BobDeGrande

@Ryan19 @John97 Yes, who won the group when the US and England were in the same group four years ago?  The US team is far stronger than that one, and England is weaker, the US would LOVE to draw England in their group.

And there is nothing arrogant about trying to change a ridiculous system which is gimmicked to favor teams based on geography rather than ability, it is simple common sense.  I have never heard anybody claim that this is a good system.

DSmithy3211
DSmithy3211

@gjdj Yes, but the only reason Wahl's statement is remotely correct is because there are generally four CONCACAF team and four Asian teams in the World Cup, which makes for a very easy pot of eight teams.

If, say, Mexico were one of the top 8 seeded teams, that would leave only three unseeded CONCACAF teams.  In this scenario, those three teams would instead have been paired with the African teams, of which there are five.  In that case, of course, Wahl would be complaining about not playing African teams, but that is another matter altogether. 

Puskas
Puskas

The ELO Rating has rated Colombia and Chile better than Italy, France and Belgium... sorry, but i simply do not agree. 

Regarding the US, being better than Mexico, Jamaica, Panama or Honduras and winning none of the qualification games with a margin higher than 2 goals (and loosing to HONDURAS), they are simply not one of the top 16 teams in the world!

DavinLassiter
DavinLassiter

@positivewins @DavinLassiter @John97 they don't love you in your Reading Comprehension class. If you think my post was about pro-participation trophies, you didn't read it at all. "Class, turn your books to the page titled 'World Cup History.'"

brs386
brs386

@KenKing @brs386 @EnashWaca 

I agree with you up until your statement where you suggest the possibility of a group including Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, and Croatia, all from Europe. This is a World Cup. If you want to see a group like that, just wait until 2016 for the European Cup, but in the meantime, it's important that FIFA disperses nations based on geographic location. That's what makes it a World Cup.

DSmithy3211
DSmithy3211

@KenKing "Then why build it so that it is impossible for the CONCACAF teams to play Asia / Oceania?"

While I generally agree with your stance (although, four European teams does appear to be overkill), the only way to ensure a max of two European teams per group and one CONMEBOL team per group is at the expense of Asia/Oceania/CONCACAF/Africa.  It's simply mathematically necessary.  One of those four can luck out, as it were.  This time, it's Africa.

KenKing
KenKing

@brs386 @EnashWaca At this point, FIFA rankings for the purposes of the WC are just fine. the problem is that they finally got the rankings right, but then leave the seeds entirely up to chance.

Some people miss the point. A Group of Death is not defined by the top seeded team. It might not even be defined by the second highest team. It is when a relatively good team ( the US is a perfect example) is the third seeded team in a group.

None of the FIFA logic makes any sense. the whole draw is set up to ensure that European teams do not just play European teams. Then why build it so that it is impossible for the CONCACAF teams to play Asia / Oceania?

The NCAA model is really the way to go. If a deserving team is getting the shaft, move them to another bracket to make it fair. Otherwise, just plop the teams in by seeds. Take the first 8 and distribute them. Then take the second 8 and distribute them. Then the third and fourth octet, sticking to the FIFA rankings. It you want to ping pong the pots, that is fine. But let the committee see them before they go public, and ensure that the US is not playing Mexico, or Spain and Germany are not meeting.

Does the  world really end if a group happens to have Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and Croatia? Does swapping Algeria for Croatia make it a perfect bracket?

EnashWaca
EnashWaca

@brs386 @EnashWaca I didn't mean the rankings. I meant the way they seed the top 8 teams but not the rest seems counter productive.

brs386
brs386

@EnashWaca

 For anybody interested and since the author didn't deem necessary to link anybody to the current method in which FIFA does the World Ranking, you can look for yourself here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIFA_World_Rankings


This system was implemented in 2006 and is up until now, the most simplified method in which FIFA has ever done their international ranking.


DSmithy3211
DSmithy3211

@M20 I'm not sure if I would call it dumb. Arbitrary, perhaps.  A mathematical necessity, certainly.

There are a few guidelines that FIFA uses to create the eight groups.  One team from each group must be from the group of the top 7 teams + the host country (hence, Pot 1).  A group cannot have more than one country from the same confederation, with the exception of UEFA, which can have two.  

The pots need to have eight teams, by definition.  And with the exception of teams in Pot 1 and (in this case) the ninth European team in Pot 4, no confederation can have teams in multiple pots, if you want to meet the guidelines.  So you need to find combinations of confederations that add up to eight teams.

There are only so many permutations of confederations that can work.  Africa (5) + CONCACAF (4) could work if either one of those nine teams were seeded in Pot 1 or Mexico had lost to New Zealand.  CONMEBOL (6) + CONCACAF (4) could work if only Brazil and Argentina were seeded in Pot 1.  Asia (4) + CONCACAF (4) works just fine. UEFA + CONCACAF will almost never work.