The suggestion that FIFA would dig back into older World Rankings which could have cost England a place amongst the top seeds for the 2010 World Cup would’ve caused much anger in Fabio Capello and the England squad. Whilst England did not qualify for Euro 2008, our performances in the World Cup beforehand, where we reached the quarter finals, and our qualifying campaign should’ve led to us being among the top seeds – we did win our group comfortably after all and the World Rankings from the last four years place us happily within the top seven in the world. Yet the suggestion that FIFA could look into rankings as old as those of 2002 meant that we were in danger of losing our top seed ranking to the likes of France who only made the World Cup through a narrow and controversial play-off.
Such was the fear at losing a top ranking seeds that England staff were beginning to regret losing to Ukraine in what had seemed a meaningless group game back in October. Already qualified and with top spot in the group secured, England’s weakened squad fell to a narrow defeat in the Ukraine but felt there was nothing to worry about as the match was practically a friendly for the nation with World Cup football already assured. The result had more meaning than originally thought though as victory in that game would have edged England ahead of Argentina into 6th in the current World Rankings and meant that the furore over seeding could not have occurred for England instead of leaving all these last minute doubts.
I’m by no means claiming that England automatically deserve a top seed ranking on virtue of past success for there hasn’t been success – reaching the quarter finals for most competitions is decent and nothing more and I would not place England in the same bracket as Spain and Brazil although the seeding system is more complicated than that. Current seeds though should be determined by more recent matters though and England’s group performance in qualifying was highly impressive and one of the best out there. Compare this to the likes of France and Portugal who struggled to qualify and you have to wonder how those nations could be considered possibilities to replace England as top seeds. Yes they’ve enjoyed more past success but modern football does not rely on history and their former glories should not play a part in the decision.
Ultimately, FIFA have given the spot to England which means that the fear of being in the same group as the likes of Spain, Brazil, Italy or Germany is out of the window and now England have to hope for the easiest draw possible. Naturally there are still big footballing nations out there who aren’t seeded and we could easily be drawn with France or Portugal – though their qualifying campaigns indicate that they aren’t really anything to worry about these days. Drawing either of those sides along with the Ivory Coast and USA who are options from the other continents could really cause worry and a fear of another “Group of Death” – mirroring 2002’s supposedly impossible group. The seeding system gives options though and England could yet see themselves placed alongside the likes of North Korea and Algeria which seems considerably less challenging.
An end to England fears though has now led to claims that France are being victimised as a result of the controversy surrounding their playoff win over the Republic of Ireland. The French population are bound to see their lack of seeding as a revenge attack on them for Thierry Henry’s handball despite their lower World Ranking. FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke insisted that there was no agenda though, claiming
“In the past the seedings have been determined by a mixture of world rankings and performances in past World Cups but this time the feeling was the October rankings most closely represented the best teams in the tournament […] countries who had been involved in the play-offs would have had an unfair advantage because they would have played more games and that affects their rankings”
The likelihood is that France will continue to feel aggrieved whilst England can breathe a collective sigh of relief having been given the seeding their qualifying campaign warranted. The fact that FIFA took so long to decide on a course of action is worrying though and leads to questioning of the organizations decision-making. Still, with the World Cup just six months away now all focus turns away from FIFA and to the draw which will either make or break us.