(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:
|AFC Asian Cup qualification||8||3||1||4|
|World Cup qualification||8||1||1||6|
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.
|Papua New Guinea||2||1||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|
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)|
|73||United Arab Emirates||474|
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)