England began the year where they
ended the last, in 10th place, up seven places from last year's January
ranking, thanks to the turnaround in their fortunes under coach Sven-Göran Eriksson, and they remained there in February. They did not play during the period reflected by those rankings.
their impressive 1-1 away draw with Netherlands in February, they fell two spots
to 12th in the March ranking as Germany and Yugoslavia jumped ahead of them.
Yet, in the wake of their 2-1 home loss to Italy in late March, they climbed a spot
to 11th in the April ranking, jumping over Germany, who fell from 10th to 12th
after beating the U.S.A. at home, 4-2. According to FIFA, "The
reduced importance in the ranking calculation of matches played last year when
the World Cup qualifiers were reaching their climax explains why more teams
lose points than gain them in the current pecking order."
Paradoxically, at least on the face of it, England fell a spot to 12th in the May ranking,
trading places with Germany, although they had drubbed fellow World Cup
finalist Paraguay 4-0 at home in April. No ranking was released in June
because the World Cup final tournament occupied the entire month.
England's 6th place performance at the World Cup finals
thrust them up four places to 8th in the next ranking in July, the highest
level they had achieved since holding 5th place under manager Glenn Hoddle just before World Cup 1998.
They gained 51.6 ranking points for their 3-0 World Cup victory over Denmark alone,
FIFA hailed as "highly elusive." And although they
remained idle, they rose another spot to seventh, level with Portugal, in the
August ranking, as older results were discarded from the ranking
But after their 1-1 home draw with Portugal, they fell two
spots to 9th in the September ranking as both Turkey, their European Championship 2002 group rival, and
the U.S.A. leaped past them to achieve their highest ever rankings.
Turkey's rise, on the heels of an impressive 3-0 home win over Slovakia in a
Euro 2004 qualifier, resulted from two factors: competitive matches are given
more ranking points than friendlies and, of course, victories get more points
than draws. The U.S.A. had been idle during the ranking period and
must therefore have benefited more than England did when older results were
discarded from the ranking calculations.
The tables were turned next time around after England returned to competitive play.
Despite the unimpressive away win against
Slovakia and the shocking home draw with FYR Macedonia in their opening Euro
2004 qualifying campaign matches, England climbed three spots to 6th in the October ranking,
level with Mexico, jumping over the U.S.A., which remained idle, and rival
Turkey, which won at home against Macedonia and away against Liechtenstein.
And, although idle, like most of the world's teams, they took over sole
possession of 6th place in the November ranking, pulling slightly ahead of
Mexico. England's 6th place October and November rankings were the highest achieved
under Eriksson, approaching the Hoddle team's
4th and 5th place rankings of late 1997 and early 1998.
But England remained idle while most of the rest of
the world's teams played friendlies later in November. Netherlands, on the
strength of a 3-1 away victory against Germany, climbed from 10th
to 6th, supplanting England, which sank to 7th in the
December rankings. FIFA's end-of-year rankings are critical
may well be used to
seed the teams at World Cup final draws, and even a difference of a
ranking spot or two can make the difference between heading a
World Cup group as top-seed or becoming one of the
lower-seeded teams at risk to be drawn into a "group of death,"
as England were at World Cup 2002 (although only the last three end-of-year
rankings were used then). With a friendly victory against decent
opposition in November, England might well have maintained 6th place or
perhaps even climbed above Argentina, which beat Japan away, 2-0,
and Germany, demolished at home by Netherlands. Instead, yet another
concession was made to the top Premiership clubs, always hostile to friendly
matches, and England lost ground which might hurt them later on.
The bright side is that England finished in the top 10 for
the fifth time since the rankings began in 1992 and for a second year in
succession, only the second time they had accomplished that. Their 7th
place in December was the third highest end-of-year ranking they had achieved,
behind only 1992's 5th place and 1997's 4th place. For the last half of
the year, England were ranked among the top 10 teams and they
appear to be well on the way to entrenching themselves once again as one of the world's top-ranked