The Socceroos’ FIFA rankings explained


Australia’s rankings rise after the success of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup – from 100 to 63 in February – was one of the largest monthly leaps for the Socceroos since FIFA rankings began in the early 1990s.

Yet it appears many fans are still wondering how the national team got to such a lowly ranking in the first place, especially when not so long ago it seemed Australia was embedded in the world’s top 30 nations.

From 2008 to 2011 the Socceroos’ W-L record was an impressive 32-10 (13 draws). Consequently Australia maintained a ranking of around 20 throughout 2009–2012, before embarking on a slide that accelerated between July 2013 (ranked 40) and December 2014 (102). 

A fall of 43 places by Australia over 2014 was its largest ever rankings decline in a calendar year.

The reason for the drop is straightforward. In the 18 months to December 2014 the Socceroos played 18 games, winning just three (against Canada, Saudi Arabia and Costa Rica) and losing twelve. During 2014 Australia played 11 times, for one win and eight losses.

The basic premise behind FIFA’s current ranking system is simple: wins earn points, losses don’t. Wins against harder (higher-ranked) teams earn more ranking points, and wins in more important matches (such as World Cups) produce even higher points. 

Similar to most of the world’s league systems, a win is worth three times as much as a draw, while no FIFA rankings points can come from a loss. 

Matches played in the more recent past are worth more than earlier matches (for example games played in the past 12 months are worth twice as many points than games in the previous 12 months). 

And extra provision is made for matches involving countries in stronger confederations.

While additional factors have been tried in the past such as goals scored and conceded, home or away match locations, and even allowing for losing teams to earn points, these aspects made little difference to the end result of rankings points. 

The current system, established in 2006, replaced a more complex (and more criticised) rankings procedure after it was shown in earlier systems that extra complexity did not provide a better outcome.

While the current rankings system still has its critics, the relative places of teams on the world governing body’s official rankings has proven to be a very good predictor of match results for Australia over recent times. In the five years to March 2015, the Socceroos played 70 matches: 
– against teams ranked more than 20 places lower (worse), Australia’s W-L record is 23-4 (4 draws);
– against teams ranked at least 20 places higher (better), Australia’s W-L record is 2-10 (0 draws); and
– against teams ranked within 20 places at the time, Australia’s W-L record is a very even 9-9 (9 draws).

Australia’s biggest monthly FIFA rankings jump occurred in June 2004, on the back of the Socceroos’ win in the Oceania Nations Cup group stage in Adelaide. 

Australia rose from 89 to 49 after the 2004 tournament (which featured the national team debut of Tim Cahill) with four wins and a draw.

Following the move to Asia in the meantime, Asian Cup success in early 2015 led to Australia’s second-biggest monthly rise of all-time.

As the poor results of past 18 months lose impact on Australia’s ranking calculations, and newly-found confidence and inspiration in Ange’s team hopefully leads to better results throughout 2015, it could be just the start of a prolonged world rankings rise for the green and gold.

Follow Andrew Howe’s Aussie football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto