Rankings key as FIFA shakes up Cup draw
New, simplified format follows 2014 confusion
ZURICH — FIFA announced on Thursday a new and simplified format for the 2018 World Cup draw, with countries to be grouped by their place in the world ranking rather than their continent.
Soccer’s world-governing body said that the 32 teams would be divided into four pots, with the seven topranked teams plus host Russia in Pot 1, the next eight ranked teams in Pot 2 and so on.
Each first-round group would consist of one team from each pot, determined by the draw. FIFA said the only geographical constraint would be that no group could include two teams from the same continent, with the exception of Europe.
The draw for the previous World Cup in Brazil involved a complex system in which teams were divided according to rankings for Pot 1 and their continent for the remainder.
However, to even out the numbers, a “pre-draw” was held and a temporary Pot X was set up, creating a system that critics said was unnecessarily complex.
FIFA said the rankings, to be published on Oct 16, would be used for the draw, which will take place in Moscow on Dec 1.
This would avoid another controversy which emerged in 2014 when the November rankings were used, which critics said gave an advantage to teams involved in that month’s playoffs.
The top seven-ranked teams currently include Switzerland and Poland, while Peru and Wales could feature in Pot 2 alongside France and Spain, if they qualify.
Italy is currently 17th in the FIFA rankings which would land it in Pot 3 if all the teams above it qualify.
Brazil, Iran, Mexico, Japan, Belgium, South Korea and Saudi Arabia are the teams which have made sure of their places in next year’s tournament so far.
China moves up
Meanwhile, world champion Germany pushed Brazil back into second place to return to the top of the FIFA rankings, which were published on Thursday.
Thanks to victories over Uzbekistan and Qatar in the World Cup Asian-zone qualification, China moved up 15 places to a 12-year-high of No 62. It is sixth-best in Asia, behind Iran (25th), Japan (40th), Australia (50th), South Korea (51st) and Saudi Arabia (53rd).
China was 77th last month. Its previous best ranking was 37th in December 1998. In September 2005, it was 60th.
Germany’s 2-1 win away to the the Czech Republic and its 6-0 drubbing of Norway in the World Cup qualifiers lifted it over the already-qualified Brazil, which dropped points in a draw away to Colombia.
European champion Portugal climbed three places to third — even though it is second in its World Cup qualifying group behind Switzerland.
In another surprise, Argentina is fourth in the rankings despite struggling in World Cup qualification after drawing its last two games — away to Uruguay and at home to Venezuela.
War-torn Syria, which has reached the Asian playoff stage in the World Cup qualifiers despite playing its ‘home’ matches in Malaysia because of the security situation in the country, rose to its highest-ever ranking of 75.
Three other teams reached their best-ever place — Peru (12th), Northern Ireland (20th) and Luxemburg (101st), after the latter produced a massive upset by holding France to a 0-0 draw in Toulouse.
The next FIFA rankings will be announced on Oct 16 and will be used to determine the seedings in the draw for the four European playoff ties for next year’s World Cup finals in Russia.
Top 10 rankings: (previous positions in brackets) 1. Germany (2) 2. Brazil (1) 3. Portugal (6) 4. Argentina (3) 5. Belgium (9) 6. Poland (5) 7. Switzerland (4) 8. France (10) 9. Chile (7) 10. Colombia (8).