The FIFA organisation, with its 208 member nations, governs the international game of football, the laws of the game and its ongoing development around the globe. The highest profile tournament FIFA are responsible for is the World Cup, which takes place every four years.
By FIFA’s reckoning, all international teams are ranked according to their results, whether they’re from friendly or competitive matches. This doesn’t mean you can play a bulk of meaningless games and affect the rank position; comparative opponent strength is taken into consideration (which in turn varies the points a team will gain or lose).
Any team who does well in a tournament, should theoretically, rise up the ranks; have a bad tourney and it is expected a big fall is due. Strangely, this isn’t quite how the FIFA rankings are playing out (if the recent 2010 FIFA World Cup is anything to judge).
England were favourably ranked as the eighth best team, according to the pre-tournament rank. After a lacklustre group-stage performance, they were humiliated in their second round match, a 4-1 demolition by Germany (ranked fourth).
Exiting the World Cup at the second round would usually be weighted negatively in the rankings, but well after Spain had become World Cup champions (and risen to be the number one ranked team in the world), England miraculously climbed up one place to seventh.
Another query is how Slovenia, who had never been into the second round, still rose seven places to 19th, after failing to make it out of the group-stage. Ghana had a sensational run where they nearly made it to their first-ever semi-finals; they gained a respectable nine places but still linger down at 23rd overall.
There needs to be consistency with the ranking system; Egypt may be the African Cup of Nations’ champion but they weren’t at the World Cup yet still have a ninth-spot in the rankings (rising three positions). Uruguay reach the semi-finals and now sit at the sixth spot (up 10 places), England are just below, even after a poor campaign.
FIFA like to point out they do not always take the rankings fully into account for determining seeding and draw positions. If that is the case then why have the table and points system in place to begin with? England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup and the 2008 European championship, yet still get a strong position versus other teams when ranked against them.
In this case, FIFA rely on previous cup history rather than the relative current status of the teams. Until the rankings reflect properly the tournament competitiveness of the national game, then they can only be seen as an irrelevance and somewhat obsolete idea.