As expected, Super Eagles will not have an easy draw when the FIFA 2018 Draw ceremony holds on December 1 at State Kremlin Palace in Moscow Russia. Eagles moved up three places to 41st spot in the October FIFA rankings released yesterday. Nigeria is fifth in Africa.
Nigeria will be grouped alongside other ‘minnow’ representatives from Africa and Asia in the last pot at the draw ceremony based on their FIFA ranking released yesterday. The standings are the major determinant of the group all the participating teams will fall into.
Unlike in the previous tournaments when teams were grouped according to their co-efficient from last four appearances at the Mundial, this time around, ranking of participating teams is the lone parameter.
This development means no nation from the Africa, Asia and CONCACAF regions can be top seeded. While elite nations like defending champion, Germany and Brazil are already guaranteed to be seeded top (Pot one) as they have qualified for the finals while Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland and France complete the top pot seeding based on their respective rating in the first seven nations on the list.
Host Russia, ranked 65th yesterday by FIFA will be moved forward to be among the top eight seeds at the World Cup draw while Nigeria now number 18 in ranking among the 23 already qualified teams could further drop in ranking when all the 32 teams emerge.
The situation will definitely change when some of the expected nine qualifiers are added next month. Of the nine expected World Cup teams, four are expected from Europe as eight will be drawn into straight knockout fixture tomorrow.
Among the eight European teams struggling for qualification, Nigeria is only ahead of Greece in the FIFA ranking released yesterday morning.
But after the Europe play-off, Nigeria will be pushed three or four steps down the ranking ladder by the time the four new European qualifiers emerge.
The other seven European aspirants that are ahead in ranking to Nigeria are Switzerland (11), Italy (15), Croatia (18), Denmark (19) Northern Ireland (23), Sweden (25) and Ireland (26).
From the current 18th position among the 23 countries already qualified for the World Cup Nigeria will certainly go to 23rd or 24th spot when four more qualifiers emerge from Europe. Further threat to Nigeria’s position will also come from Africa where either Tunisia (to be ranked 28th by FIFA) or Congo DR (to be FIFA ranked as 35th) will emerge from Group A of the African qualifying round of matches.
Senegal that is set to pick the Group D ticket from Africa will also be ranked 32nd thus also further pushing Nigeria down in World Cup draw ranking.
Qualification of either Morocco or Cote d’Ivoire will have no significant effect on Nigeria’s position in the overall standing of qualified teams.
As it is, based on the 23 qualifiers so far, Nigeria will temporarily be in Pot 3, but Pot 4 is the ultimate destination after all the qualifiers have emerged.
Like in the past, teams in the same pot will not meet in the group stage of the World Cup.
Based on this new FIFA ranking formula, the Pot 2 will potentially have England, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, Iceland, Costa Rica and Egypt.
Changes are expected in this pot as Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Croatia, Northern Ireland, Sweden and Ireland are potential entrants who are currently involved in European play offs.
They will know their opponents today when a play off draw will be made at the FIFA headquarters.
Most likely to be in the Pot 4 when all the 32 teams must have emerged next month are: Nigeria, Iran, Serbia, Japan, Panama, and Saudi Arabia.
Significantly, of the 23 teams already assured of a place in the 2018 World Cup, the host country, Russia is the least ranked.
OCTOBER RANKINGS OF THE 23 TEAMS THAT HAVE QUALIFIED FOR RUSSIA 2018 SO FAR:
22nd Costa Rica