The luck of the draw

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-11 5:03:03

How UEFA’s ranking system makes for a tougher Euro 2016

Gareth Bale of Wales celebrates at the end of the UEFA European Championship qualifier against Andorra on October 13 in Cardiff. Photo: IC

The draw for Euro 2016 takes place in Paris on Saturday and one thing that has become clear as the permutations are discussed is that FIFA and UEFA rankings are very different. And it's a difference that might count for something as the groups are drawn.

The two organizations use different methods to calculate their national standings. FIFA takes into account the last four years, with the last 12 months the most heavily weighted and the weighting decreasing over time. They also count friendly matches. Meanwhile, UEFA ranks only from the last three tournaments, including qualifying matches, so the rankings for the pots in Paris are weighted as Euro 2012 qualifiers and tournament (20 percent), World Cup 2014 qualifiers and tournament (40 percent) and Euro 2016 qualifiers (40 percent) with matches until October 14 taken into account.

What this means is that UEFA overweights teams who have qualified for major tournaments and underrate form teams, so some countries are placed in pots for the draw that don't reflect recent history.

What does this all mean for Saturday? Here's a look at the most underrated teams that everyone will be looking to avoid. And the few glimmers of hope in the pot.

Wales - Pot Four (Pot Two based on FIFA ranking)

The Welsh ended a 58-year wait for a major tournament appearance by qualifying from Group B alongside Belgium, who FIFA ranks as the best team in the world. This was mainly due to Gareth Bale, as the Real Madrid star shook off his club struggles to thrive for the national side game in, game out. A strong supporting cast, led by Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams, makes Wales the most underrated team at the tournament according to FIFA, and the one that everyone will want to avoid from Pot Four.

Romania - Pot Three (Pot Two based on FIFA ranking)

This is not a team in the image of the ­Golden Generation of Hagi, Dumitrescu, Petrescu and Popescu that won hearts at the 1994 FIFA World Cup but the class of 2016 have a steely effectiveness. Players such as Rat and Chiriches are hardly household names, and they are the high-profile ones, but Romania had the best defensive record in qualifying, conceding just two goals on the Road to France. That parsimony has served them well and FIFA ranks them as the 16th best team in the world for their quiet effectiveness. Don't bet against them to channel Greece and their famous win at Euro 2004. 

Turkey - Pot Four (Pot Three based on FIFA ranking)

The other team in Pot Four who can feel chagrined at their being there, the Turks are oft-cited as European soccer's only superpower in waiting. They return to the Euros in 2016 after qualifying as the best third-placed team. That Barcelona's Arda Turan - who will be champing at the bit after being made to wait until next month for his debut for the Catalans - is the side's skipper gives some idea of the class of footballer at Fatih Terim's disposal in his mix of home and European-based players. And reason why they are another team to avoid from the last pot.

Austria - Pot Two (Pot Two based on FIFA ranking)

If we were using FIFA rankings and hosts France were not guaranteed a place in Pot One, then it would be Austria making up the numbers at European soccer's top table. A squad of mostly German-based players is lent a sprinkling of stardust by Bayern Munich's imperious David Alaba and Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic, whose form this season has gone from strength-to-strength. It's a mix that works for them, as nine wins out of ten in an unbeaten qualifying campaign proves. They may be only mildly underrated but no one will be praying for Marcel Koller's side being drawn in their group.

Hungary - Pot Three (Pot Two based on FIFA ranking)

The once Mighty Magyars made it into the pot in Paris after a playoff victory over Norway to end a 44-year wait for a European Championship appearance. A mix of youth and experience, veterans such as Gabor Kiraly and Zoltan Gera will remain familiar to fans of the English Premier League. They are part of the Hungary-­based contingent that makes up the majority of the squad but it is backed by players dotted around the world, including Akos Elek of ­Changchun ­Yatai in China. The goals of Tamas Priskin were vital in qualifying, and the Slovan Bratislava striker will be a marked man in France. The only team with the same FIFA and UEFA ranking, the Hungarians have an argument for being in Pot Two if the hosts were unseeded.

Drawing any of those teams - or worse still a combination of them to make a genuine Group of Death - will be the bad news but the good news is that there are teams who are given a kinder run thanks to their UEFA standings. There is always the argument that form counts for nothing at major tournaments but you'd surely much rather face the out-of-form teams given the choice.

Keep your fingers crossed for Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Sweden coming out of the pots with your team, if that's the case. All of those teams would drop a pot lower based on their FIFA rankings and getting one of those is likely as good as ­Saturday's highly competitive draw will get for anyone.

Posted in: Feature, Soccer

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