Belfast Telegraph

Are Northern Ireland sliding that badly ...or are rankings a sham?

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington has often said that he’s not interested in the FIFA rankings.

It’s easy to agree with him — a manager has enough things to worry about other than statistics.

Of course we all know that 60 per cent of statistics are made up — or perhaps I just made up another one.

If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the chorus of boos coming from the Kop Stand at the news that Northern Ireland have slipped a massive 25 places in the latest league table.

Worthington’s men have tumbled from 40th to 65th and perhaps it’s hardly earth shattering news given that his side lost to Serbia and were held by Slovenia in vital Euro 2012 qualifiers.

And it won’t make Worthington’s cornflakes taste any nicer in the morning when he digests the news.

But the former Norwich supremo has a ‘glass half full’ approach to life and he will point out that if his side win their next two qualifiers at home to Faroe Islands and Serbia, then the picture will change again.

And he’s right, but football is a results based business and if you don’t win football matches you won’t qualify for major tournaments and you will fall down the rankings, making the prospect of clambering back onto the big stage for the first time since the Mexico 1986 World Cup even more of a mission improbable.

Scotland fell 16 places from 50th to 66th in the new list and Craig Levein's side have lost their place among the third tier of European seeds.

Northern Ireland’s problem is that other nations such as Montenegro (now 24th) are literally moving up in the world so any lack of progress or backward step will be cruelly exploited further afield.

Even Libya — hardly a stable nation — occupy 58th position!

Northern Ireland’s movement in the wrong direction is a source of concern as fans will recall when we occupied the dizzy heights of 27th in the world.

In January, 2004, Lawrie Sanchez dragged a side that was ranked 124th in the world by its bootstraps, ended a 1,298 minute-long goal drought and masterminded famous wins over England, Sweden and Spain along with a draw in Portugal.

Fans are craving a return to those heady days but they would do well to cast their mind back even further to 2004 when Northern Ireland fell as low at 124th — behind some of the giants of world football like Rwanda, Liberia, Swaziland and Azerbaijan.

None of us believe that every team ranked higher than Northern Ireland are better than them, or that every team below them is worse, but supporters need positive performances to give them optimism for the future. If David Healy could find his shooting boots again, it would help.

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