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Nigerians upset with FIFA rankings, but do they need to be?

Nigerians reacted with shock, anger and not a little incredulity at the release of the November FIFA rankings on Thursday.

Despite their excellent recent run, the Super Eagles plummeted nine places down to 50th on the latest rankings, while dropping down to eighth on the African continent, behind the likes of Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Congo DR.

Of Africa's five qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Nigeria are the only team outside of the continent's top five.

This forms part of the surprise among Nigerians, as the expectation was that, after the good World Cup qualifying run this year, and the immediate results in November against Algeria and Argentina, their team would make a jump on the rankings.

Instead, the country tumbled down the rankings, and Super Eagles fans have been so riled by the news that they took time out to rail against the seeming injustice.

Leading the charge was World Cup-bound midfielder Ogenyi Onazi, who told AOIFootball.com that the ranking was 'not fair' to the Super Eagles.

His cue was taken by Nigerians all over social media, and on television and radio. Temitayo Oladapo called the rankings a joke and asked what the country had done to deserve the treatment.

Influential sports journalist Sola Aiyepeku expressed shock, while Woke Popoola called for a deeper understanding of how the rankings work.

This last sentiment was one of the more rational of the responses, and one that demands some explanation.

While the ranking process is a tad complicated, it is explained in FIFA's Ranking Procedures.

Nigeria's tumble in the rankings is explained in part by a drop off in results from November 2013, and by other countries also playing high-scoring World Cup qualifiers within the same period.

Senegal's two victories over South Africa for instance, earned them over 1600 points compared to the combined 862.52 points Nigeria earned from the draw over Algeria and victory over Argentina.

At the same time, Nigeria lost 20 percent of a total of 855.81 points from the 2-2 friendly draw against Italy in November 2013 and the 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over Ethiopia the same month.

While this is a simplistic rendering of the way the rankings work, it still goes some way to explaining how much value a World Cup qualifier (with a multiplier of 2.5) takes over a friendly game (with a multiplier of just 1), irrespective of the quality or ranking of the opposition.

And so Nigerians, like citizens from many other countries, have a right to be aggrieved about the position of their teams on the FIFA Ranking, which is by no means perfect, a fact that FIFA itself have acknowledged and promised to address after the World Cup in 2018.

However, some consolation for Super Eagles fans would be that the current rankings count for little in the overall scheme of things, or at least not as important as they were last month.

The 2017 October FIFA rankings were used to determine the World Cup seeds, and also the placement of teams on FIFA's World Cup draws pot.

Nigeria ended up in Pot 4, the bottom pot, and will now be at risk of facing any, or most, of the top countries when the draw is made on December 1.

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