Thursday, September 10, 2009

2010 World Cup Seeding, Summary Version

Note: This article was written with the assumption that FIFA would use a formula similar to the one they had used for the previous 3 or 4 World Cups. They instead went purely off of the October FIFA rankings making all of this incorrect. Here is a recent article on the draw setup.

I tend to write too much so as a service I'll at times have a summary article for those that just want the damn point instead of reading through all the methodology stuff. Here is the original article. Read it if you want the methodology.

Being seeded is a big edge because it means your opponents are not as strong.

The following teams will definitely be seeded:
1. South Africa
2. Brazil
3. Italy
4. Spain
5. England

The last three spots go in this order:
1. Germany
2. Argentina
3. France
4. Portugal
5. The Netherlands
6. Mexico
7. The United States

So Germany, Argentina and France will all be seeded if they qualify. Portugal will be seeded if they qualify and one of those teams slips up. The Netherlands need for two of those teams, including Portugal, to fail to qualify in order to be seeded. Mexico need for three of Germany, Argentina, France and Portugal to not make it to South Africa and the United States need for all four of those teams to fail to qualify.


  1. What bugs me about the seedings is the way that teams are rewarded for previous WC performance.

    In the last WC, I thought the US should have gotten the seed instead of Mexico.

    As a result, the US had a very tough group (Italy, Ghana, Czech Republic) and also played pretty poorly. So they ended up with few points toward getting a seed in 2010.

    Mexico, on the other hand, got the benefit of a seed and faced Portugal, Angola, and Iran. They played well enough to advance and are rewarded with more points toward a seed in 2010.

    I would be happy with a system that rewards prior WC performance if it was based on how you performed versus expectation. A seeded team that doesn't advance has surely underperformed. An unseeded team that advances over the seed in their group has exceeded expectations.

    Would the US have advanced out of Mexico's group? Maybe not. Would Mexico have advanced out of the US group? I really don't think so. But because of the current system, they've got a leg up on the US in earning a seed even though I would argue that the US has been a better side the last several years.

  2. That's a great point, thanks for the comment.

    Obviously we don't know what would have happened had the teams switched places or you just drew the groups again putting the US into the seeded pod. I think both the US and Mexico would have been underdogs to make it out of the tough group the US had. Probably either would rate as the least likely team to make it out. I also think both the US and Mexico would have been favored to get out of the group Mexico got.

    It's a bit of a cycle because getting seeded definitely made Mexico (and the other seeded teams for that matter) more likely to do well and doing well in turn made them more likely to get seeded this time.

    For Mexico I think it will stop here because it's hard to imagine two of Germany, Argentina, France and Portugal not making it. Portugal likely won't but those other teams are well over 50% if you include potential playoffs.

  3. You're missing the bigger picture by only looking at Germany 2006. Don't forget that Mexico's group in 2002 included Italy, Croacia, and Ecuador and it still came out as leader of that group. The US barely made it in a very poor group (of course, the US then went on to beat an overly confident Mexico, but that's a different story). In 1998 Mexico had no less than the Netherlands and Belgium in its group and still tied in points in the first place to advance to the next round. The US couldn't make it out of its group which included the soccer powerhouses of Iran and Yugoslavia (please note the irony). Finally in 1994, the US (even as hosts of the cup) barely advanced as third place of a very manageable group (Romania, Switzerland, and Colombia), whereas Mexico made it as first place of a group that included Italy, the Republic of Ireland, and Norway (yes three European teams).

    So it is really hard to argue that Mexico's better historical performance in WCups has anything to do with the difficulty of the groups.

  4. Historically you are right that Mexico have performed well even in tough groups. They have certainly been better than the United States overall.

    My point wasn't really about Mexico. They're the best example from 2006, mostly because of the seeding controversy then. The average group opponents that Mexico would have drawn was significantly easier than the other CONCACAF teams. The same is true for Brazil compared to Paraguay and France compared to the Netherlands.

    The point I was trying to make is that teams that are seeded have, on average, easier opponents than teams from the same confederation that aren't seeded. This makes them more likely to do well in the World Cup and that in turn makes them more likely to be seeded the next time. That creates a bit of a cycle where the same teams are always at the top, even if there are other teams that are as good or even better than some of them. I don't have any better suggestions, but that is certainly a downside of the system.

    I personally don't think the United States or Mexico are top 7 teams in the world. Looking at the teams above them in the list there aren't any that I think should be put below either North American team. Argentina right now look worse, but if you go by history at all then they have to be up there. There are also a few teams below them like Croatia, Sweden and Russia that I would rate above both the US and Mexico if they qualify.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. I absolutely agree that Mexico has been a much stronger performer than USA over the past several WCs. The current system only counts the last 2 WCs.

    Neither Mexico nor USA really deserved a seed in 2006. Mexico getting that seed put them into that virtuous cycle of getting a seed, advancing, then getting a seed in the next WC.

    I think USA really needs to step up and dominate the CONCACAF qualifying if them are to to establish themselves as a team to be taken seriously.

    I'm looking forward to a great WC next year.