Football: Fifa to use rankings for World Cup

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The Independent Online
World Cup seedings have always depended solely on performances in the past three tournaments. So for England, who missed USA '94, the announcement that world rankings will also be used for France '98 is welcome news.

England's chances of being seeded when the draw for next summer's World Cup is made in Marseilles on 4 December 4 improved yesterday when Fifa, the sport's world governing body, said they would be using their world rankings as part of the process to decide the seeds.

It had been feared that Fifa would base the seedings on previous World Cup performances, which would penalise England for failing to qualify for the 1994 tournament. But yesterday Fifa said their rankings, which began in August 1993 and had not settled down enough to be used for the 1994 tournament, would be used this time in conjunction with previous results.

England's win over Camer-oon lifted them to sixth in the Fifa world rankings, their highest-ever position. Fifa are likely to use a complicated system which also takes into account performances over the last three World Cups, giving added weight to more recent competitions.

England are likely to be placed 11th in this particular table, but their high position in the rankings should enable them to overtake Belgium and Bulgaria leaving them contesting the last two seedings with Argentina (Fifa ranking 35, World Cup ranking 5) Italy (10, 3) and the Netherlands (12, 9). However Fifa may take an average of recent positions in their rankings rather than the current ones.

A decision will be made two days before the draw, when Fifa's World Cup executive committee meet in Marseilles.

"We have always believed that if there is to be a ranking system, it should be taken into account for the seedings," FA spokesman Steve Double said. "So with our ranking at its best ever level, the Fifa statement could be good news."

He was also realistic, however: "We can't be overly optimistic about our chances. Yet at the World Cup you have to beat the best anyway - so if we are not seeded, then so be it."