One of the bigger talking points at the FIFA Women’s World Cup this past week has been how FIFA “rigged” the World Cup draw in December by pre-allocating the seeded teams (Canada, USA, Brazil, Germany, France, and Japan) to specific groups in order to sell tickets and increase TV ratings for the group matches. By doing so, they also pre-determined certain potential match-ups in the knockout round should all the seeds win their groups (Germany vs. France in quarterfinals, winner getting the US, placing the top three teams in the FIFA World ranking in the same half of the draw; Canada and the US being the two seeds that would not have to face another one until the semifinals). Writers such as Grant Wahl and Jeff Kassouf had asked whether FIFA could have kept the city placement for the seeds, but randomize the group letters (and therefore their landing spots in the knockout bracket) to create a “fairer” bracket. Hence, I went ahead and played with a random number generator to see what would happen if you tried it. My controls/parameters for this experiment:
* I gave the generator a range of numbers from 1 to 24 (equal to the number of teams in the World Cup)
* I allocated the numbers 2-6 to the seeds based on their FIFA World Ranking (Canada given 1 as they are automatically placed in Group A)
* I ran six tests/draws of the numbers, with the order in which the numbers 2-6 came out in the list being slotted to Groups B-F.
* The group make-up does not change, only their letter designation in the bracket.
This is the bracket for the first test:
Round of 16: Canada/Colombia, South Korea/Norway, USA/Cameroon, France/Netherlands, Brazil/Switzerland, Germany/Australia, China/England, Japan/Sweden
Quarterfinals: Canada/Norway, USA/France, Brazil/Germany, England/Japan
Semifinals: Canada/France, Germany/Japan
Quarters for the remaining tests were:
Test 2: Canada/Norway, Japan/France, Brazil/Germany, Switzerland/USA
Test 3: Canada/Australia, France/Brazil, Japan/USA, England/Germany
Test 4: Canada/Norway, USA/Brazil, Japan/Germany, Australia/France
Test 5: Canada/Australia, Japan/Germany, USA/Brazil, China/France
Test 6: Canada/England, Brazil/France, USA/Japan, Australia/Germany
So this is what pseudo-randomness could have given for the knock-out rounds. The US landed in the coveted Group D only once in the six tests (Germany twice, France twice, and Japan once), the dreaded B/F and C/E quarterfinals (the two where group winners face off) only once gave us a match-up of two of the top three ranked teams (USA/France in Test 1), and the US and Germany end up on the same side of the bracket in half of the tests (Germany and France only end up in the same half once). FIFA COULD have given us a bracket like you see above, but either they chose not to or were beginning with the end in mind (a possible USA/Canada final). That’s my take, what’s yours?