How friendly matches caused Malaysia to suffer in FIFA World Rankings

By Seng Foo 23 November 2017 1647
How friendly matches caused Malaysia to suffer in FIFA World Rankings
As per the latest FIFA World Rankings released on November 23, Malaysia have dropped to 174th, equalling their previous worst ranking in April and May 2016. The Harimau Malaya’s abysmal ranking was partly contributed by their winless 2017, which also saw them failing to qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. However, that was not the only, or even the biggest, reason. A bigger contributing factor to their poor ranking was the friendly matches they played over the last 48 months. Here’s why.
 
(Note: Before you continue reading, it’s better if you understand how the ranking points are calculated)
 
Between December 2013 and November 2017, Nelo Vingada’s team played a total of 48 international "A" matches, winning just 11. Here’s a full breakdown of their results during this period:
 
MATCH TYPE P W D L
Friendly 22 3 10 9
AFF Championship 10 4 1 5
AFC Asian Cup qualification 8 3 1 4
World Cup qualification 8 1 1 6
TOTAL 48 11 13 24

22 of the 48 games were friendly matches (although the AFF Championship is considered as a series of friendly matches by FIFA, we will ignore that), and Malaysia only managed to win three. Below are the opponents they faced.
 
TEAM P W D L
Philippines 3 0 3 0
Indonesia 2 0 0 2
Myanmar 2 0 1 1
Papua New Guinea 2 1 0 1
Syria 2 0 0 2
Afghanistan 1 0 1 0
Bangladesh 1 0 1 0
Cambodia 1 1 0 0
China 1 0 0 1
Fiji 1 0 1 0
Hong Kong 1 0 1 0
Kuwait 1 0 0 1
Laos 1 1 0 0
Macau 1 0 1 0
Oman 1 0 0 1
Singapore 1 0 1 0
Tajikistan 1 0 0 1
Vietnam 1 0 0 1
 
The poor win ratio in these friendly matches severely affected their ranking because the FIFA World Rankings formula, without boring you too much, divides total points gained by total games played to get an average score. In layman’s terms, the more matches you play, the lower average score you get, especially if you don’t win.
 
Due to that, Malaysia would’ve actually been better off if they did not play any of those 22 matches. According to our calculation, they would’ve garnered more points and been ranked higher at around 161st (an improvement of 13 spots).
 
YEAR TOTAL POINTS WITH FRIENDLY GAMES TOTAL POINTS WITHOUT FRIENDLY GAMES +/-
2017 (as of November) 17.94 16.39 1.54
2016 46.08 76.50 -30.42
2015 19.05 20.01 -0.96
2014 13.67 15.04 -1.37
TOTAL 96.74 127.94 -31.21
 
Now, you might be thinking: “We are still ranked below 150th in the world, so there’s no difference!” Yes, you are not entirely wrong, but that is because you are looking at a bigger picture. The effects or consequences of the ranking difference are clearer if you zoom down into the continental level.
 
There are 46 teams competing under the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) banner and their rankings determine the round of qualification that they will begin a World Cup qualification campaign. As it currently stands, Malaysia are 35th, one of the bottom 12 teams in the AFC.
 
# TEAM TOTAL POINTS (AS OF NOV 2017)
32 Iran 798
39 Australia 747
55 Japan 623
59 Korea Republic 563
60 China PR 561
63 Saudi Arabia 539
73 United Arab Emirates 474
77 Syria 442
79 Iraq 438
80 Uzbekistan 437
82 Palestine 427
87 Lebanon 404
101 Oman 350
102 Qatar 336
105 India 320
107 Jordan 311
112 Turkmenistan 292
114 Korea DPR 283
115 Bahrain 282
115 Kyrgyz Republic 282
118 Philippines 280
121 Yemen 268
125 Vietnam 265
127 Tajikistan 255
132 Thailand 230
135 Chinese Taipei 221
143 Hong Kong 189
147 Afghanistan 181
150 Myanmar 176
154 Indonesia 144
157 Maldives 135
170 Nepal 98
170 Singapore 98
170 Cambodia 98
174 Malaysia 97
182 Macau 65
184 Laos 62
185 Bhutan 55
188 Kuwait 52
190 Brunei Darussalam 45
191 Guam 43
192 Bangladesh 38
196 Timor-Leste 32
199 Mongolia 17
200 Sri Lanka 16
201 Pakistan 15
 
If we used the AFC’s 2018 World Cup qualification structure and assumed the draw for the 2022 edition began today, Malaysia would've found themselves in the first round and, should they make it to the second round, being seeded in the last pot. Meanwhile, if they did not play those 22 friendly matches, they would've been in the second round straightaway and seeded in the second last pot.

What all this means is that although it is important for the national team to perform and win games on the pitch, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) can assist them off it by being more efficient in organising friendly matches and understanding how the ranking system works. Unlike qualification matches and AFF Championship ties, an international friendly can be easily arranged as long as the two national bodies involved are agreeable to it.

Furthermore, things can be tweaked in Malaysia’s favour. For example, beating a relatively weaker opponent like Guam (191st) gives as many ranking points as a tough win over Indonesia (154th), and winning against Singapore (170th) is worth more than drawing with the United Arab Emirates (73rd).


 
With January 2019 the likely month the 2022 World Cup qualifying draw will be held, Malaysia have around one year left to improve on their ranking for a more favourable draw. However, their opportunities to score high ranking points in 2018 are limited because they only have one official match to play (their dead rubber match against Lebanon in the Asian Cup qualification).

This means the FAM, who previously announced they would hire a FIFA ranking consultant, will be tested on how well they utilise next year’s international breaks and find the right opponents at the right time. Otherwise, the Harimau Malaya are almost better off not playing any friendly matches at all.
 
(Pictures: asiana.my/Naim Mahamud)

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