Despite their best ever appearance in a major tournament, the Matildas have tumbled in the most recent FIFA Rankings to the bewilderment of many. But why?
The FIFA World Rankings have long been fraught with problems. A prime example of this is the latest Matildas drop in the rankings despite a fourth place finish at the Olympics. It has led many to scratch their head in confusion.
To understand what occurred in the last Matildas rankings tumble, one has to look at the methodology used to calculate the rankings, Australia's recent individual game performances and what is not factored in.
The basic formula of the Women's World Rankings (WWR) is in fact quite simple:
WWR,new = WWR,old + ( Actual - Predicted )
Under this system the result of each match, including goal difference and goals scored, are taken into account. If the ground is neutral, home or away is also factored in. The competitive nature of the match, if it is a major tournament, qualification or friendly also weighs in. As does the difference in rating points between both sides.
These factors are used to calculate the actual and predicted values. Wins over higher-ranked teams result in more point gains than lower-ranked ones and therefore are the best way to rise in rankings.
As Australia lost to Sweden twice and the United States in the Olympics, both of whom were higher ranked, as well as slightly lower-ranked Japan in a friendly, their chances at big point gains were lost and instead the Matildas obviously received points deductions for those games.
They won against New Zealand, who is lower ranked, and Team GB, who are not ranked at all, as England are ranked separately. The Kiwi point gains were therefore not large.
They also drew against the US, which statistically was a nominal points gain, but combined with the Kiwi positive points were not enough to offset all the negative points from their four losses.
This is how Australia ended with a negative result of -16.88 and tumbled from ninth to eleventh in the FIFA World Rankings. While the logic behind the tumble is clear, the logic behind the ultimate result is not.
How a team like Australia, who were one goal away from a possible Olympic medal, could tumble down the rankings while other teams like Spain and Korea DPR could rise above them despite not having played a single match in the same calculation period is arguably not only illogical but also unfair.
Moreover, while the methodology is comprehensive, a number of extenuating factors that can greatly affect overall positive or negative results are not included.
First off, the rankings do not accurately reflect the tactical decisions teams may make in their competitive play.
For example, both Australia and the US needed a draw to proceed to the knockout stage of the Olympics. Their last group stage match was arguably one of the most boring affairs one has watched in recent years, with neither of them pressing seriously for a win. This tactical draw, like all other tactical decisions, does not factor into the points calculation.
Another example is if a team chooses to bench their starters to rest them or to try out newer players, and then suffer a lower than expected statistical result. Their opponents still get the same points as if they had met their strongest team. Again this tactical decision does not accurately feature.
Second, they do not factor in or give bonuses to the final results of major tournament play. While the Australian results over the latest period were not positive on paper, their performance in the Olympic tournament was their best ever.
The only result they had a negative points differential compared to the positive one Brazil had, which was eliminated at the quarter-final phase, is because of the two losses they had in the semi-final and final of the Olympic tournament.
In this case, proceeding further in the Olympic competition and losing put the Matildas in a worse situation than earlier eliminated teams points-wise in the rankings.
Third, the rankings do not take into consideration the game flexibility that certain nations may have over others.
The most glaring example of this is the United States of America, rated number one for the majority of its existence.
The US play in the CONCACAF confederation which has little competitive play, less than a month and a half of game time every four years. While this will change slightly with the confederation's announcement of increased competition, CONCACAF still has one of the least burdened match calendars of any confederation.
For the last twenty years, this lack of competitive play has allowed the US to host 12 to 25 friendlies a year with hand-picked opponents in front of home crowds. The US almost never lose at home, thus giving them positive points to keep them in the top two positions.
Few nations have both the game flexibility, geographic location and financial resources like the US which allows them to build a numerical advantage in the ranking system through copious friendlies.
Lastly, for teams who do play in more competitive confederations, should they meet and win against a drawn tournament team that is significantly lower-ranked, this could give them little gains in points, even with tournament games weighing heavier. Should they draw or lose against one of these drawn teams, this could result in a significant points deduction.
Australia often falls into their situation. As they are consistently highly rated, there are few Asian teams which they could meet in the qualification campaigns that rank high enough to significantly bolster their position through points gained in Asian competition.
In the long run this could be troublesome. FIFA rankings are used to rank teams for both the FIFA Women's World Cup and the Olympics. A lower ranking could mean a space in a lower pot and a less advantageous draw.
Arguably, the current system is fraught with issues. While many now almost completely ignore it as a metric of how their country's team is performing, the system can create significant problems for nations.
It can also result in a farcical example of its own shortcomings. For Australians at the moment it is mainly a bewildering head-scratcher.