Wednesday, April 28, 2010

South Africa Falls to 90 in Fifa Rankings

Hard not to feel pessimistic about the Bafana Bafana Bafana. (If the same name twice is good, can't three be better?) South Africa's soccer team hasn't had an impressive performance since the Confederations Cup, which was in June, and by "impressive" we mean spirited defeats to Brazil and Spain.

The new Fifa world rankings are out, and South Africa's fall to No. 90 has alarmed and depressed the Johannesburg Times. Well, anyone in South Africa who is paying attention. Rankings are for show, but when they have Brazil and Spain at the top we must concede that perhaps the list has some basis in reality. Or predictable performance, anyway.

Concepts to consider:

--South Africa will be the lowest-ranked team to host a World Cup. (Previous low: South Korea at No. 40 in 2002.) And absolutely is at risk of becoming the first host not to survive group play. We can assume the Bafana Bafana Bafana will play better than they are, in front of home crowds, but will it be enough to earn them results against Mexico, France and Uruguay? Seems as if the first match, vs. Mexico, is critical. A point out of that changes everything for the BBB. A defeat might just do the impossible: Silence the vuvuzelas.

--Brazil is back up to No. 1, slipping past Spain. Seems about right. Lots to like about Spain, but hard to rank them over Brazil, especially with the coldly efficient Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri (Dunga) coaching the team. All that Brazilian talent inside an actual system? Look out.

--Portugal is third, its highest ranking since Fifa began doing this in 1993. Which is interesting, because the global opinion of Portugal seems to be that it was a bit lucky to make the tournament at all. And certainly this crop of players is not remotely as well-received as the Luis Figo generation, considered a darkhorse choice to win it all in 2002. Remember, Portugal is stuck in the 2010 Group of Death (along with Brazil and Ivory Coast and the Walking Dead, North Korea). If Cristiano Ronaldo and the lads survive Ivory Coast and escape the group, the rankings would seem to indicate Portugal has a fairly good chance of seeing Brazil again -- in the final.

--The highest rankings that don't quite feel right begin with Argentina at No. 7 (Maradona is still coach, right?), continue with England at No. 8 (a bit low for a team that has won everything for a while now), Croatia at No. 9 (third in their qualifying group and not in the World Cup), France at 10 (hello! Raymond Domenech still coach!), and then Greece, Egypt, the United States and Chile at Nos. 12-15. Are they really surpassed by only 11 teams?

--More meaningful rankings are on the way. Fifa's story on the April rankings notes that almost no international matches were played in the past month, so teams are moving around incrementally bases on minimal results. As the story notes, we can anticipate some serious movement when the last batch of rankings come out, one month hence, after a whole bunch of pre-Cup friendlies are played.
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