If you think Brazil is best, you think like SPI

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Brazil and its star Neymar stood above the rest at the Confederations Cup.

With today’s release of FIFA’s monthly rankings, here are some things to keep in mind that highlight the differences between the FIFA rankings and ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI).

SPI Ranking

1. SPI updates its rankings daily, while FIFA updates monthly. The recent Confederations Cup is a good example for the importance of this.

Brazil was still 22nd in the FIFA rankings for another few days, before vaulting to ninth today. For what it’s worth, Brazil was favored by SPI in Final against Spain because it was playing at home. Spain was the slight favorite according to the odds makers.

2. Speaking of Brazil, they outline a major flaw in the FIFA rankings. Since the Brazilians are hosting the 2014 World Cup and qualify automatically, they are not participating in World Cup qualifying. FIFA does not account for that, and penalizes them relative to other countries because they are not winning any matches in these important qualifiers.

Entering the Confederations Cup, Brazil had fallen 17 spots in the FIFA rankings the past year despite playing well in an impressive slate of friendlies. For comparison, here was Brazil’s SPI and FIFA ranking alongside a “comparable” squad in the FIFA rankings prior to today’s new FIFA release.

World Rankings as of July 3, 2013

It's worth noting that Brazil is now ninth (behind Croatia) in FIFA while Mali is 28th.

3. SPI uses full box scores from matches, and therefore can determine whether a team was using its full lineup, or “A” squad. If a team is fielding less than its full lineup, SPI will reduce the weight of the match and the overall importance to each of the participating teams’ ratings.

For example, in the upcoming Gold Cup, neither the United States nor Mexico will field any players from their “A” squad. Therefore we will learn very little as to the strength for each team. SPI accounts for that and will significantly lower the weight for each match. FIFA will not lower the weight, and instead will treat all matches as if both teams are taking the match seriously with their best squads.

4. For the fourth consecutive major international tournament (2010 World Cup, 2011 Gold Cup, 2012 Euros and 2013 Confederations Cup), SPI outperformed FIFA in terms of the correlation between each team’s pre-tournament rank and final tournament position.

If interested in accurate soccer predictions and want to learn more about SPI using a comparison from the 2010 World Cup, click here.

Contributions from Jeff Bennett, Albert Larcada and Jacob Nitzberg