2014 FIFA World Cup and the Middle East Odyssey

Dr Nnamdi O. Madichie

Posted: June 23, 2014

As the 2014 FIFA World Cup gets underway in Brazil, business and management scholars may find it worthwhile to consider further exploration of some contentious issues that are contingent upon the global event. In this article, I would limit the areas of concern to three broad categories. The first concerns the relationship between team rankings and performance of the 32 national teams who made the cut. A perusal of the teams in the showpiece once in four years event, which has been in existence since 1904, reveals some inconsistencies in the rankings. This has methodological implications as the dependent and independent variables may require some scholarly scrutiny and enquiry. The second area would be the impact of effective leadership (managers) and team effectiveness. Indeed there are some indications that leadership issues may have a role to play in terms of team success. For example the strategies adopted by the coach of Iran, Carlos Queiroz and his Nigerian counterpart, Stephen Keshi, may have been instrumental to their appearance in Brazil this summer (coincidentally both team are in Group F). Furthermore interference by governments may also fall under this grouping. Third and final area is related to the investment in the sport. How much effort is put into developing the national team through either adequate infrastructure or development of domestic leagues. How much pride does membership or call up to the national team mean? We have seen the difficulties of first team selection especially in the case of hosts Brazil and we have also seen the below-par investment in the national team taken from the purview of sports federations in Belgium (see Winand, Zintz, and Scheerder, 2012) and Iran (see Estiri, Aghazadeh, Rayej, and Raoufli, 2010).

FIFA Rankings – Quo Vadis?

Going into more detail on these contentious areas, the ranking vis-à-vis performance record deserves further illustration. In the most recent FIFA ranking (as at May 2014, revised ranking would be 6 June 2014) the top-10 nations included six European nations in ranking order (Spain, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Italy and Greece) and four South American nations (Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, and Argentina). While the top six European teams all qualified for the World Cup, the same cannot be said for their South American counterparts where Chile (ranked at #13 is in Group B) and more interestingly Ecuador (ranked at #28 being in Group E) joining Brazil and Mexico in Group A, Colombia in Group C, Uruguay in Group D, and Argentina in Group F. The ranking dilemma is more prominent when the Asian and African teams are considered – the highest ranked in terms of the latter being Cote d’Ivoire at #21 closely followed by Egypt at #24, Algeria at #25 (in a three-way tie with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sweden), Ghana at #38, Cape Verde Islands at #42, Nigeria at #44, Tunisia at #49, and Cameroon at #50 (now revised to #56 placing the country below Guinea and Sierra Leone respectively) . Obviously neither Egypt nor Cape Verde are in South America this summer – and both Algeria and Cape Verde have been elevated by 3 places each in the June 2014 rankings.

Group F makes a curious case as it contains the only Middle Eastern nation to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, i.e. Iran, nicknamed “Team Melli” and currently ranked #37 (above Ghana at #38, and Turkey at #39) playing in an unenviable grouping with behemoths like Argentina (ranked #7), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ranked jointly with Sweden and Algeria) who have been tipped to win the group. However, the Middle East representative, Iran, has come a long way in the long-drawn Asia’s qualifying campaign which lasted just under 30months, with 43 teams involved and a total of 116 matches played. Interestingly in the May 2014 FIFA ranking list of top-50, only two nations from the AFC made the list (Iran and Japan) and eight nations from the Confederation of African Football or CAF (Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Algeria, Ghana, Cape Verde, Nigeria and Cameroon). However both Korea and Australia (ranked #55 and #59 respectively) qualified ahead of Uzbekistan ranked at #53 from the AFC grouping. More puzzling is the observation from the CAF grouping where the likes of Nigeria ranked #44, below Cape Verde Islands at #42, Cameroon ranked at #50 below Egypt at #24 and Tunisia at #49 are at the tournament.

Leadership & Football Governance

In the second area, both Carlos Queiroz and Stephen Keshi have demonstrated different leadership styles, but with some effect beyond qualification for the World Cup 2014. While the latter has been tapping diaspora Iranians, the latter has taken on a non-nonsense posture requiring players to fight for their shirts – without any guarantees. In a broader context we have witnessed the difficulty when it comes to team selection – probably worse for the likes of Scolari who has over forty players to pick and choose from. Talking about football governance, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Crimea has brought about is exclusion from the G8, which has now returned to the G7 with a meeting only held yesterday in Brussels. Among the targeted sanctions would be the investments of oligarchs – does this also apply to the likes of Roman Abramovic and Alisher Usmanov owners of Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC? What could this mean for football and the interference clause enshrined in the FIFA statutes?

Investments & Team Performance

Winand, Zintz, and Scheerder, (2012) investigated sports federations in Belgium and attempted to develop a tool for the effective management of the financial performance of sport federations. Could this be the genesis for national football federations. Surely this avenue requires scholarly enquiry. We have seen the

investments made by Middle East countries in the football market with acquisitions of teams that have won tournaments such as Manchester City and PSG in the English and French leagues respectively. In terms of team performance (see Opute, 2012) unlike their European and South American counterparts, the Middle East has not established a footprint on the FIFA World Cup even as the region strives to become the future of sports (Madichie, 2013). The only exception being the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) that has made a record 4 consecutive World Cup appearances (1994; 1996; 2002; and 2006) but still ranked #75 just above its GCC sibling Oman, which is ranked #82. In addition to Oman, neither Qatar (ranked #95) nor has Bahrain (ranked #105) ever been at the FIFA World Cup. Kuwait (ranked #108) appeared once in 1982, the UAE ranked #67 (below Jordan; South Africa and the Republic of Ireland) has appeared at the World Cup once in 1990. Iran has matched the outing of KSA, having qualified for the World Cup a record 4 times (1978, 1998, 2006, and 2014). The mention of Iran remains a curious one, as it is the sole qualifier from the Middle East.


It is clear that global football and especially when taken from a FIFA perspective, deserves further scholarly research from the methodology of FIFA ranking, to the leadership and governance issues and the investments and returns on investments and how all these cumulatively impact upon team performance. Although FIFA has released a revised ranking (6 June 2014) not much seems to have changed except that England has moved into the top10, displacing Greece and Brazil only swapped places with Portugal, as Argentina moved 2 spots ahead of Uruguay.

Irrespective of its ranking Argentina topped its World Cup qualifying group closely followed by Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador (who escaped playoffs due to a superior goal difference over Uruguay). It is puzzling that Argentina on its 16th appearance having won the cup twice (1978 and 1986), been runners up twice (1930 and 1990) was ranked below Uruguay – albeit in the May 2014 ranking. Interestingly the latter also happened to be the ones to eliminate Jordan, another Middle East contender, in the intercontinental playoffs. Equally puzzling is how Nigeria, which has made 5 World Cup appearances since their 1994 debut (excluding Germany 2006) came about being ranked below Cape Verde in both the May and recently released rankings (at #44 and #39 respectively). Taking stock of the Middle East’s Brazilian Road trip, Korea Republic, progressed at the expense of Qatar, Australia at the expense of Iraq, and leaders Japan at the expense of Oman (after a long battle). As the summer dwell gets underway, Group F remains one to watch, at least from a Middle Eastern perspective – if FIFA rankings and number of appearances at the World Cup serve as a guide to progression into the next rounds, then Iran’s, and the region’s chances may have to be deferred for Russia 2018 or Qatar 2022 – with the latter still under international scrutiny thanks to a new Sunday Times revelation of corruption allegations.




IEstiri, M., Aghazadeh, H., Rayej, H., and Raoufli, T. (2010) A survey of marketing barriers of sports institutions in Iran, Business Strategy Series, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp. 169-176.

IIMadichie, N. (2013) Ode to a "million dollar" question: does the future of football lie in the Middle East? Management Decision, Vol. 51, No. 9, pp. 1839-1860.

IIIOpute, A. P. (2012) Maximizing Effectiveness in Team Sports: The Personal Audit Tool, Team Performance Management, 18(1&2), pp. 78-101.

IVWinand, M., Zintz, T., and Scheerder, J. (2012) A financial management tool for sport federations. Sport, Business and Management, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 225-240.

About Dr Nnamdi O. Madichie

Nnamdi O. Madichie, is Associate Professor of Marketing and International Business at Graduate Studies Division, School of Business Administration, Canadian University of Dubai. He has published extensively in the area of sports marketing and management covering topics from the English Premier League, to Middle East Investments in Sports, and Leadership lessons from Sports, especially football. His paper “Management Implications of foreign players in the English Premiership League football” has received 18 citations on GoogleScholar since it was published in 2009. He can be contacted at: