The Roar
The Roar


Has Japan been dudded by the FIFA ranking system?

Roar Guru
30th October, 2017
Japan's Takuma Asano (18) celebrates after scoring an opener in the first half of the World Cup final-round qualifier against Australia at Saitama Stadium in Saitama Prefecture on Aug. 31, 2017. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )
Roar Guru
30th October, 2017
1245 Reads

Next month Australia will be entering a nervous two legged playoff against Central American opponent, Honduras.

The winner with the highest aggregate (or depending on away goals rule) over  the two matches will qualify for the World Cup  in Russia next year. A few weeks later on December 1, the FIFA World Cup draw will take place in Moscow.

The draw will be comprised 32 teams and will be divided into four pots. In previous World Cup draws, it depended on teams who are located geographically to form pots from two to four, following pot one, which is the seeded teams.

But for Russia 2018, the pots will be determined by the FIFA rankings. In the AFC confederation, Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Korea Rep have all directly qualified. While Australia and Syria were forced into a playoff tie after finishing third in their respective groups.

When the FIFA rankings came out in September, Iran was the top-ranked AFC nation at 25, while Syria was the lowest out of all the six teams at 75. Here is the overall overview of the teams rankings from the AFC in September.

Iran – 25
Japan – 40
Australia – 50
Korea Rep. – 51
Saudi Arabia – 53
Syria – 75

When the October FIFA rankings were released, there was a huge change, especially around Japan and Australia. The countries that had directly qualified, Japan, Korea and Iran all took part in friendlies, while Australia and Syria were involved in two world cup qualifying matches.

As has been the case, the rankings points are more heavily weighted when teams take part in competitive matches over friendlies. With Australia overcoming Syria, the Socceroos rankings went north. Here is the overall overview of the teams positions from the AFC in October.

Tim Cahill

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Iran – 34
Australia – 43
Japan – 44
Korea Rep. – 62
Saudi Arabia – 63
Syria – 77

Australia jumped seven places to 43, while Japan slipped four places to 44, and consequently, are now ranked behind the Socceroos. Other notable changes, Iran slipped nine places from 25 to 34, Korea Rep. slid down 12 places from 50 to 62, while Saudi Arabia’s rankings also went south from 53 to 63. 

Significantly what it has down to Japan, Korea Rep and Saudi Arabia is that it has condemned all three to pot four as they are all ranked below Australia.

In pot four, the three AFC teams are joined by CONCACAF entrant, Panama (49). In addition what it means is that the October edtion of the FIFA world rankings will be used to allocate all qualified teams into the four pots. Each pot will contain eight teams.

For Australia, they do have an outside chance of getting into pot three and avoid a possible group of death. For it to occur, the Socceroos obviously need to beat Honduras in early to mid November to qualify for Russia.

Furthermore the Socceroos need four other teams who are ranked lower  to qualify. These four equations need to transpire.


1. Ivory Coast (61) or Morocco (48) qualify. The good news with this scenario, is that they are the top two teams in their group. Only one can qualify.

2. Need Senegal (32) to not qualify. That may be unlikely as Senegal are on top of their group on eight points, leading by two over Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, and more importantly with a game in hand.

3. Greece (47) to beat Croatia (18)


4. New Zealand (122) to defeat Peru (10)

Both of those match ups are two-legged playoffs

As I said earlier, the Socceroos have an outside chance if all four possibilities come to fruition. But if Australia does qualify, it would appear more than likely that their name will be drawn out from pot four and the possibility of getting themselves into another group of death. But of course before we put the cart before the horse, there’s this little matter of downing Honduras.


Nevertheless, if those four outcomes surprisingly do occur in Australia’s favour, the green and gold would be delighted to be in pot three. But one country that won’t be so delighted is Japan. When the Blue Samurai directly qualified, they were positioned 40th, ten places higher than Australia.

Socceroos player Tim Cahill competes for the ball with Japan's Makoto Hasebe. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

It’s somewhat unfair on Japan that Australia has played two more extra world cup qualifiers to boost their rankings, while the team from the rising sun did everything right to directly qualify in the first place. Ironically, when Japan qualified, their ranking was 40th. A position, where they would’ve found themselves a better chance of landing in pot three.

Perhaps what FIFA should do is not include rankings points when there’s playoff world cup qualifiers. Or at the very least, playoff qualifying matches should be weighted the same way as friendly games.

For many years, the machinations and workings of the FIFA rankings have baffled football fans worldwide. But in fair play and justice, Australia should be denied pot three.

Anyway, first things first, Ange Postecoglou’s men need to overcome a tricky opponent in Honduras in order to get a plane ticket to Russia. If Australia don’t win, they will miss out on a pot of gold.