Lately I've had an increasing level interest in the 2004 Euro Soccer championships (an interest stoked by the Vox Day reports). This has led me to checking out the FIFA Web site. FIFA stands for the Federation of International Football Associations. In English, that means they're the world governing body for soccer. Didn't know we needed such a body, but we got one. Say what you will about your interest in the sport, but for stats freaks, geography nuts, and political junkies (and crystal meth fiends), I think they may have the best Web site in the world. And all because of this page, the FIFA World Rankings.
I don't know of any other milieu where every nation on Earth is subject to a rigorous, hierarchical ranking scheme. I love it. It tells every person alive exactly where their society stands in this world. To me, that knowledge provides some level of comfort in these uncertain times, even when the context is soccer. Makes we wish somebody would do the same thing with armed forces. I think seeing the USA on top by miles would make all of us all feel justifiably good. Plus, then I could finally prove my theory that Ecuador would fight Canada to an absolute standstill in a ground engagement. Their FIFA rankings, by the way, Ecuador #37 and an appalling #95 for Canada. Let's just hope our northern neighbors never have to run into relative powerhouse Togo (#94) and be thusly humiliated in a public exhibition.
Because even soccer alone is an interesting measure of national health. For example, according to these rankings India (#143) would get its tail kicked by the Faroe Islands (#134). Population of India: 1 billion. Population of The Faroe Islands: 50,000. I realize soccer may not be India's national sport (I think it's cricket or bubble and squeak or something). But when you've got a talent pool roughly 20,000 times greater than your opponent, you ought to be able to find 11 guys who can be a little more competitive.
These rankings also allow you to think about geographically goofy match ups you'd like to see. Like say, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan (#189) vs. Caribbean island paradise Montserrat (dead last at #212). Wouldn't that be fascinating? Well, wonder no more, because they actually held the match, back in 2002:
Aptly named the "Other Final", the game saw the Caribbean side travel half the way across the world to face Bhutan to determine, as the Montserratians themselves put it, the "worst team in the world".
The game, played in front of 10,000 fans some 2,000 metres above sea level in the Bhutan capital of Thimphu, finished in a 4-0 triumph for the Asians. The two sides then sat down together to watch the "real" Final between Brazil and Germany on TV. They may not be the best team in the world but the boys from Montserrat could certainly claim to be the best losers!
The FIFA ranking is so exhaustive that it includes countries that aren't even countries, and never were countries. Like Palestine (#132). It would be nice if FIFA required that those folks stopped sponsoring terrorism and slaughtering Israeli women and children with human bombs before getting let into the club. But in the club they are, and actively attempting to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Sadly, things haven't gone so well for the Pals, who were thrashed 3-0 by Uzbekistan in a recent Asia Zone Group 2 qualifying match.
Call me a dreamer, but I'd like to see the upstart Palestinians play a match against the scrappy Israeli squad (#57). Maybe settle this whole intifada thing on the pitch, as they say. I'm not sure what would happen. Either brotherhood and mutual understanding via the noble crucible of sport or a crazed, bloodthirsty riot. Either way it would be interesting. And either way I suspect the Palestinians would be the losers. (Something tells me they wouldn't be quite as good sports in defeat as Monserattians.)
Speaking of which, yesterday the Elder updated us on his continuing fuedin' and fussin' with the island nations of the world. It all sounds like kind of a mismatch, a successful, savvy, celebrity blogger like the Elder, matching wits with the primitive denizens of various third world backwaters. But as FIFA shows us, sometimes the competition isn't always as it demographically appears to be. Given what the Elder has already faced and vanquished ( #65 Iceland and #114 Singapore), I still like his chances against Trinidad and Tobago (tied for #77 with Zambia). Island-wise, my prediction is he has nothing to worry about until he finally pisses off the Japanese (#23). That should be a war.