Germany overtook the United States as the new No. 1 in the FIFA women’s world rankings on Friday, ending the USA’s reign as No. 1 after almost seven years.
That Germany overtook the Americans for the top spot should not come as a surprise, and it certainly plays true to the general consensus of which of the two teams is in better form. But FIFA’s rankings are always a bit out of whack. FIFA says in its rankings procedures that teams “are ranked according to a value that is a measure of their actual strength.” There are mathematics involved, including predicted results vs. actual results, weighting games based on which team is at home and factoring the “importance” of a match. Here is the full system of calculations.
Let’s throw out the math and look at the top 10 teams in the world based on a “measure of their actual strength” as it relates to the World Cup and chances of winning it (excluding horrendous or favorable group draws), if the tournament were to start right now. Who is the best team in the world?
Germany: This is the best team in the world, even given the recent loss to France. If you didn’t notice, Germany came out and smacked around England in late November to remind everyone just how good they are.
France at No. 2? Yes. before the World Cup Draw I believed that France would win the World Cup. The talent has been there for years, but finally the French have the right mindset under Philippe Bergeroo. Drawing the U.S., beating Germany, Brazil, Sweden and England this year all shows that Les Bleues are ready to finally jump over the 4th-place hurdle they got stock at under Bruno Bini. In a one-off against Germany in the World Cup, I think the French are capable of repeating October’s result. (More on that here.)
Japan over the U.S. at No. 3? There are a couple reasons for this. Firstly I give Norio Sasaki the edge on in-game and pre-game tactical adjustments. The man is a mastermind. Japan recently beat Canada easily, 3-0, then decided he wasn’t happy with the way his team played and he made nine changes. Result? Another Japan victory. Japan and the U.S. tied 1-1 at the Algarve Cup in March in a game that saw a lot of Japan keeping the ball and the U.S. looking to play on the counter-attack. The Algarve Cup was, of course, disastrous for the U.S., but it wasn’t all Tom Sermanni’s fault. I’d say Japan can’t quite deal with physicality — which would give the Americans the edge — but the recent Canada results (and 2011 World Cup) suggest otherwise, as Canada is as physical as any team.
On the United States… The outcry regarding the downfall of the U.S. typically borderlines on hyperbole when context is lost. But the struggle is real. No. 1 in the world is the only acceptable place for this team to be by its own standards. The Americans held that ranking for nearly seven years, and while they have won two Olympic gold medals since, they still haven’t won a World Cup since 1999. Anything short of a title in 2015 is another failure. Some suspicions that arose during World Cup qualifying against inferior teams were confirmed in Sunday’s loss to Brazil, but expect the rematch this Sunday to feature a fired-up U.S. team.
Will the real Brazil please stand up? Well, we’ve been asking this since what, 2004? Let’s see if Brazil can string together two straight wins against the U.S. on Sunday. Brazil’s first appearance in the Algarve Cup in March will be a challenging one, too. Establishing a legitimate residency program could finally be the answer…maybe.
Nigeria: Yes, Nigeria. The team’s placement on this list at No. 10 could be overshooting things, but Nigeria’s No. 32 ranking on FIFA’s list is insulting to the Falcons. They are listed behind 12 teams who didn’t even qualify for the World Cup and directly behind Thailand, considered to be potentially the weakest team in the 24-team World Cup field. Nigeria’s U-20 team was brilliant in its journey to the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup final. The star of that tournament, Asisat Oshoala, will join the seven-time African champions at the senior World Cup. By the mathematics, Nigeria can’t climb in the FIFA rankings in non-World Cup or Olympics years because the team doesn’t play enough high-level friendlies. But don’t write-off Nigeria as capable of being a top-10 team, despite previous World Cup struggles.
On Canada and dreams: There are some hopeful Canadians who believe their team can win the World Cup on home soil. For starters, the U.S. women are the only women’s team to have ever done that, in 1999. It hasn’t happened in the men’s game since 1998 in France. As much as Canada has promising, up-and-coming talent in 16-year-old midfielder Jessie Fleming and 19-year-old defender Kadeisha Buchanan, plus veterans Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt, Canada just isn’t at the level of the world’s top-four teams. Diana Matheson’s injury won’t help those odds. Yes, Canada finished third in a London Olympics without Germany. Canada also finished 16th of 16 in 2011. Worst to first isn’t a thing in World Cups. Worst to semifinals, maybe.
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