2015 may not have been a year of many Worst in the World matches but it has seen a raft of changes to those struggling at the wrong end of the FIFA rankings. The year began with just Bhutan cut adrift from the other 208 members of FIFA as the lone, and therefore undisputed, worst national team in the world, with no ranking points and little hope.
Just twelve months later, how things have changed for the men from the Himalayan kingdom Shangri-La. They now sit 188th in FIFA’s list with an impressive 64 ranking points. These points came from a most impressive World Cup qualifying debut. Drawn into the Asian zone first qualifying round – a group of two-legged ties designed to weed out the weakest of the weak before the first group stage – Bhutan played two matches against Sri Lanka, who sat comfortably ahead of them in the rankings.
A remarkable 1-0 win for Bhutan in the away leg in Colombo was followed up by an edgy, exciting and, for those in Thimphu to witness it, truly magnificent 2-1 win in the scenic and delightful Himalayan setting of the Changlimithang Stadium. There are not many countries in the world to have had such a successful, and unlikely, World Cup debut. At the time, Bhutan had made themselves the only nation in the world with a 100% World Cup record. It also earned them a place in the first group stage of Asian qualifying where they would face a rather sterner test.
Hopes of going all the way to Russia were extinguished in quick style. At the end of the year, Bhutan have played seven of their eight group matches, and lost them all – conceding double figures on two occasions – 12-0 in China and 15-0 in Qatar – while also losing to the Maldives and Hong Kong. Only the return trip to the Maldives remains, but in spite of the crashing return to Earth that this group has provided, there is no escaping the wonderful improvement Bhutan have achieved this year.
Replacing them at the bottom of the rankings were the tiny Caribbean island of Anguilla, who lost their own two-legged World Cup play-off to Nicaragua just prior to Bhutan’s impressive rise. Even if it hadn’t been for Bhutan’s achievements, Anguilla would have slipped to the bottom of the rankings a few months later anyway as their only remaining ranking points dwindles away to nothing.
They were joined over the summer by another Caribbean nation, the Bahamas whose ranking points similarly disappeared. Neither side played any additional fixtures this year, and so remain worst in the world. Both, though, should be in action next year in the qualifiers for the Caribbean Cup.
As 2015 wore on, these two would be joined by four more nations sinking to the bottom. First up was Djibouti, the tiny nation in the Horn of Africa. Unusually, having dropped to the bottom in November, Djibouti had an instant opportunity to escape the clutches of the bottom rung with three group matches in the regional CECAFA Cup. They faced an uphill challenge of course, but if they could have avoided defeat in any one of their three matches they would have seen a small rise up the rankings. Sadly, this wasn’t to be. An opening 2-0 loss to South Sudan was followed by a 3-0 defeat to Malawi and a 4-0 loss to Sudan.
Each defeat was progressively worse than the one that had gone before, and as opponent took the lead against Djibouti there was a certain inevitability about the impending defeat, Djibouti exhibiting no credentials that may indicate a fight back was ever on the cards.
With December came confirmation that Djibouti were stuck at the bottom, though they do at least have the prospect of some matches next year with four more African Cup of Nations qualifying clashes to play in 2016. However, prospects there are not exactly great. After two matches of a qualifying group with Tunisia, Liberia and Togo, Djibouti sit bottom with no points, losing 2-0 at home to Togo and 8-1 in Tunisia. First up for the Shoremen of the Red Sea are back-to-back fixtures with Liberia in March. Those matches will likely be the next Worst in the World action.
Somalia had, like Djibouti, also achieved three defeats from three in the CECAFA Cup to confirm their descent. Eritrea hadn’t even been given that opportunity, being unable to take part in their regional tournament due to ongoing political tension with the host nation, Ethiopia. Tonga hadn’t been in action since their opening World Cup action in the autumn, but three defeat there left them perilously dangling above the abyss. All three have succumbed to the inevitable to take their place in the basement of world football.