October 17, 2013

Criticism on the way for World Cup top seedings

The Associated Press

GENEVA – Brazil vs. Italy. Twice a World Cup final, it could be the World Cup opening match in Sao Paulo on June 12.

And the second match the next day could be a 2010 final repeat: Spain vs. the Netherlands.

Thank the FIFA rankings that decide which teams are seeded if the World Cup receives such a blockbuster kickoff.

The often-criticized rankings will surely be criticized Thursday when they decide the eight top seeds in the World Cup groups being drawn Dec. 6.

The powerful Dutch, runners-up in 2010, and Italians, the 2006 champions, should miss out despite going unbeaten through qualifying, according to unofficial calculations provided by FIFA’s website.

Belgium and Colombia are likely in despite failing to qualify for the 2010 tournament. They will join Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina plus Uruguay, if it beats Jordan in a playoff.

Also likely is Switzerland, which will spark questions about how FIFA grades national teams over a four-year results cycle.

Switzerland’s surge up the rankings, fueled by a 14-match unbeaten run in qualifying and friendlies, might cast doubt on the value of being seeded.

The intention of seeding is rewarding the best by ensuring they avoid the other strongest teams in the group stage.

Host Brazil is automatically seeded in Group A. The decision to allocate the other seven seeds by the October rankings alone was agreed on by the FIFA executive committee this month.

That leaves the Netherlands, Italy and England, all seeded at the 2010 World Cup when FIFA rankings were again decisive, lurking as potential opponents for Argentina early in the tournament.

England Coach Roy Hodgson expects “two very, very good teams in every group,” with FIFA set to allocate the other places by geographical spread rather than ranking.

“It’s pretty unnecessary to worry too much about whether we are the first or second out of the hat,” Hodgson said Wednesday.

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