World Cup Power Rank
The Weak Links
Saudi Arabia is the bottom team for me at this year’s World Cup. They managed to take the last automatic qualification spot in the Asia qualifying ahead of Australia, but since then have rarely shone. They lost to all the top teams in that qualification process as well (even Australia!) and the rich Saudi FA paid for their players to head to the Spanish league to gain experience…however none of them have played at all. Add to that they now have a new manager in charge; it does not bode well for them, even if they have an easier group than others.
Panama is next on the list and has in all fairness earned their spot in this World Cup through hard work and determination. Stopping the mighty USA from entering Russia this summer they are an experienced bunch with six members of the squad all having over 100 caps. However age is an issue in this squad so being pushed to the limits in Russia in a tough group should spell a bridge to far for them.
Australia, the Socceroo’s themselves make up spot 30. They are another ageing squad who also struggled in their qualification process meaning they had to play a playoff with Honduras in which they won 3-1. After this match the then head coach Ange Postecoglu quit his position and now Bert van Marwijk who was at the helm of the Netherlands when they reached the final in 2010…however the Aussies aren’t at a luxury of having an Arjen Robben or 2010 Wesley Sneijder.
Tunisia emerged through qualifying in Africa unbeaten, but were aided by a relatively easy group, missing the big hitters and instead facing Guinea, Libya and a DR Congo side shorn of its best player, Yannick Bolasie. Aymen Abdennour stands key in defence, while Wahbi Khazri gives their attack creativity. Coach Nabil Maaloul has travelled the long road to the top job - he was assistant in their 2004 AFCON win and led Esperance de Tunis to the 2011 CAF Champions League - and is something of a pragmatist, not wedded to a particular style or formation. Handed a dreadful draw with England and Belgium in their group though.
Russia is a far different team since it reached the semi finals of Euro 2008 who played some great attacking football and even scaring eventual champions Spain in one of the great European games. They now struggle and head coach Stanislav Cherchesov prefers a 3-5-2 system which certainly does not suit the majority of the squad. They crashed out in 3rd place in the warm up tournament last year and if anything they have gotten worst and their group is even harder now with Egypt and Uruguay awaiting them.
South Korea are far different team compared to the one that made heads turn when joint hosting the World Cup in 2002. They arguably have a better “star man” than back then in Son Heung-Min but he is literally the sole man in the Korean line up. They will need some sort of a miracle to not finish bottom of their group with Germany, Mexico and Sweden awaiting them.
Iran is a well organised defensive team, conceding twice in 10 qualification games in the Asian round 3 stage. However they struggle to score goals and if you can’t score you are not getting out of a group with Spain and Portugal in it. They might hold Morocco to a draw in their opening game, but they are not a threat to this year’s World Cup even if they do impress with their organised structure that Carlos Queiroz has implemented successfully.
I might be a bit harsh on Japan here but they do not look like anything of the solid technical sides of the past. They'll rely on Shinji Kagawa and Hiroshi Kiyotake for creativity quite heavily and Okazaki will need to bring his best game to help them score but their group is horrible. Senegal are arguably the best all round side in Africa, Colombia are no mugs and Poland seem to improve every year. Not looking good for the Blue Samurai im afraid.
Ranked 42 in the world are Morocco according to the great FIFA rankings and they will need some form of a miracle to get out of their group with Spain and Portugal awaiting them in Russia. But a defence marshalled by Juventus' Medhi Benatia and Wolves' Romain Saiss has proven itself tough to break down, while an attack containing Ajax star Hakim Ziyech and Southampton's Sofiane Boufal is full of (albeit inconsistent) talent. Opening up vs Iran might give them some hope but they will need to somehow beat Portugal or Spain to advance, surely not?
The Unknown Potential
The Super Eagles of Nigeria can never catch a break it seems, matched with Argentina AGAIN for the 5th time at World Cups and they have only played at 6 in total! However their squad is now getting a lot younger and pacer than that of the last World Cup. Captain Job Mikel Obi will be the only guaranteed starter over 30 and with Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanach and Ahmed Musa they have pace to burn and put fear into any defence. Though defensively themselves they are very inexperienced and their famous long standing keeper Vincent Enyeama has retired and with Messi staring back at them again, they will need a super human effort to get out of their group.
The minnows of Iceland took the European championships by storm and followed that impressive feat up by qualifying for another major tournament in the World Cup. However Russia does look a step to far and performances have definitely dropped post European championships and with pacey Nigeria, a strong Croatia and Messi’s Argentina awaiting them, they will come out a lot worst in Russia…..or will they serve up another miracle this time in Russia?
Peru where the surprised qualifiers from the tough South American region as they snatched 5th place from Chile and then went on to beat New Zealand to get here. They had a bit of an issue when their captain Paolo Guerrero was banned for failing a drugs test but for then the whole world to back him to get reinstated into the tournament; which successfully happened. Pragmatic coach Ricardo Gareca's focus has been on creating a side that is pragmatic but, while not giving up defensive solidity, looks to attack and be positive. It worked at the 2015 Copa America, when they reached the semi-finals and again in the following year's Copa America Centenario, where they eliminated Brazil before losing to Colombia in the last eight - albeit only on penalties. Their group is tough though and will need something out of the Denmark game to advance.
Costa Rica where the huge surprises in Brazil 2014 where they topped a group featuring Italy, Uruguay and the big power house of England (haha!). They went on then to not only go through to the knockout stages but continue upsets all the way until losing on Penalties vs the Netherlands in the last 8. Their group minus Brazil is an interesting one for them, they have two European sides who are very up and down, if they can play at their best and catch either Switzerland or Serbia cold, we could be seeing them advance for a second successive time.
Switzerland just missed out on automatic qualification after winning nine straight games to then lose and fall apart in Portugal meaning they had to play a play off game vs Northern Ireland. They did not look very convincing there, but did win and advance to Russia though. Not since Ottmar Hitzfeld managed them have I been that impressed and a side which lacks goal scorers are going to struggle this year I fear. Shaqiri is their star man and is a match winner on his own, as he was in Brazil, however he had an awful campaign and was relegated with Stoke City. Can’t see them advancing from their tough group.
There's enough talent, experience and brute force in the Serbia squad to worry most teams, with the likes of ex-Chelsea stalwart Branislav Ivanovic at the back, Nemanja Matic and Lazio's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in midfield, plus battering ram Aleksandar Mitrovic up top.
Like Rudyard Kipling's 'If' however, the big question surrounding the Orlovi is whether they can keep their heads. The Serbian FA dismissed coach Slavoljub Muslin - despite him guiding them through a tricky qualifying group - replacing him with Mladen Krstajic; hardly ideal preparation.
With a tough group, they need a good start and beat Costa Rica to try and get through behind Brazil
A new rating was made for Egypt after their talisman Mo Salah got injured during Liverpool’s Champions League final. He might be in fact playing in their opening game in Russia, but at what cost? Without him they would have finished far away from qualification and they lack goals. They do have a manager with pedigree at the helm in Hector Cuper who was at the helm when Valencia hit back to back champions league finals at the turn of the millennium. They should take second spot behind Uruguay in Group A but that is surely as far as it goes for the Pharaoh’s.
Senegal are arguably the best all round squad in Africa right now with stars littered through out their side from back to front. Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye, Ismaila Sarr, Keita Balde and Sadio Mane. Pace, energy and structure, all mixed neatly by former Senegal World Cup midfielder Aliou Cisse. I have high hopes this side can at least take second spot in their group and I fancy them to be a tough, tough opponent for anyone in the last 16.
The King is dead, long live the King. Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden finished second in their qualifying group - behind France but ahead of Holland - before defeating Italy 1-0 in a play-off to book their finals spot which is impressive to say the least. They have been handed a great opening start vs South Korea and if they can win that they can put huge pressure on Mexico and Germany.
El Tri looked set for the quarter-finals in 2014, only to concede an 88th minute equaliser and an extremely-contentious 94th minute penalty against Holland, thus dumping them out in Fortaleza. Under Juan Carlos Osorio, they'll look to play entertaining, attacking football and if their Confederations Cup clash with Germany last summer is anything to go by, they'll have no fear in Russia. Even with the old man Rafael Marquez in their squad they still have the likes of Hiving Lozano, Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez and Hector Herrera and could make a splash if they can build a head of steam in Russia.
Denmark are an interested team with bags of potential and headed by Christian Eriksen in midfield. Their European qualification looked set in stone after a 4-0 thrashing of Poland but they dropped points in games they should have not and had to go via the playoffs. However they thrashed Republic or Ireland 5-1 in Dublin as Christian Eriksen led from the front. If he turns up in Russia they will be a huge threat in their group and might even give France a good game. Not saying we will get Euro 1992 Danish surprise this time around but they might give Argentina a worry in the last 16.
Croatia are blessed with talent and their midfield should never be shunned boasting the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic ready to feed their attacking players at will. However Croatia continue to struggle to qualify for every tournament for some reason and need to fix this mentality issue sooner to be able to compete for the top spots in World Cups. They have replaced their former coach Ante Cacic who was known for his dour defensive tactics that was a waste with such an offensive talent at his disposal and new man Zlatko Dalic instantly changed this as they blew past Greece in the European playoffs to get here. They will however most likely face France in the last 16 and well that might a bridge to far for this side.
Top seeds in their group and back into the World Cup for the first time in 12 years, Poland will be looking to at least get out of their group at the bare minimum. Boasting European powerhouse Lewandowski up front and defensive general Kamil Glik, Poland have slowly fought their way into the Top 8 sides in the world according to FIFA. They should progress through their group and then await a tough tie vs England or Belgium.
Arguably the most entertaining side in 2014, a Colombia side led by tournament top scorer James Rodriguez reached the quarter-finals before falling 2-1 against Brazil.
James experienced a couple of down years post-Brazil, but has rediscovered his mojo on loan at Bayern Munich this term. Jose Pekerman continues to preach an attractive, attacking style and his side's bid will also be aided by the rise of two outstanding young defenders: Spurs' Davinson Sanchez and Barcelona's Yerry Mina.
They're the best side in a tight Group H and should pose a threat in the knockout stages vs anyone in form.
Oscar Tabarez is into his 12th year as Uruguay coach and there is much to be said for not only his being there still, but the consistency of his selections. With Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani upfront they have goals to burn, supplying them has always been the issue on the grandest stage for Uruguay though after a disaster in Brazil four years ago, but maybe redemption is on the cards here with an easy group awaiting them. They should top this group and then maybe might make something happen in the knockout stages, probably the last chance for most of their stars as well with Suarez, Godin, Cavani all pushing 30+ now.
England come into the World Cup on the back of trying a new system with a back 3 that allows them to actually keep the ball a bit better whilst also continuing to feed their top striker Harry Kane. Most of the squad are under 25 and are playing their first World Cup but they have experience in playing top games in European competitions and Premier League. They will be looking to dispel their demons of Euro 2016 and the defeat to Iceland with a better performance here in Russia and surely at least a top 8 finish.
The squad with arguably the best all round 23 in the competition, even without star midfielder Radja Nainggolan who manager Roberto Martinez clearly doesn’t get along with. They have pace, talent, strength and big game experience right through out the side, however they were awful under Marc Wilmots and their already seems to be bad air around Roberto Martinez’s squad. Can they pull together and show what they are made of in Russia? Surely if this side can play to even half of its potential they will cause anyone in the world a problem or three. They too will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing European championship and should fancy themselves to make the semi finals in Russia.
The conundrum that is Argentina. They have so much attacking talent it shouldn’t matter about anything else in the team, but somehow, they continue to struggle and mostly in the ability to put the ball in the net. With one of the best players in the world in Messi leading them to Russia for probably the last time, he will be looking to somehow add the World Cup to his name to be recognized as the best ever in his home country and around the world. They haven’t had a good coach in a long while Argentina in fairness but when they picked up Jorge Sampaoli the manager who took Chile to Copa America champions (at the expense of Argentina!) I thought they were going to be a changed side. However they still struggle, they were recently beaten 6-1 by Spain and with their pre tournament friendlies being cancelled left and right they are going into this tournament severely undercooked. I fear for Messi and co in their group and see a swift elimination at the round of 16 at best.
My personal dark horse favourites for the tournament; Portugal. They come into this World Cup on the back of their best qualifying campaign in sometime even with it going to the last game for automatic qualification. They won the European championships somehow in France which must have been the biggest roller coaster of emotions for any Portuguese fan after what happened in the group stages and then watching Ronaldo go off injured in the final and Eder somehow score a winner. Their squad is a lot better than that of Euro 2016 with the emergence of top, top talent from the youth ranks embedded into the team. The likes of Goncalo Guedes and Gelson Martins should make up for any lack of pace Ronaldo has lost and with Andre Silva, Bernado Silva and old school Joao Moutinho supplying them, it could be a dream World Cup win for Portugal on the back of Euro 2016. Don’t forget like Messi this too will be Ronaldo’s last World Cup and both of them will be desperate for this title, I give the edge to Ronaldo on making it happen
France is littered with top talent but as in the past, they can never seem to get the right combination of talent and structure and really take the world by storm. In their backyard, in the European championships they struggled to break down a Portuguese side and came up short. Tougher tests will be awaiting them in Russia as they will be more than likely will be playing Spain or Portugal in the quarterfinals. I can’t see them going any further than that even with the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and co at their disposal. If they do manage to progress past Spain or Portugal it really should be their World Cup to lose.
The Big 3
Reigning World Champion Germany is in at 3. They won the World Cup in Brazil after thumping hosts 7-1 in that famous semi final which will arguably never be topped ever. However since then they haven’t exactly set the world alight, they are still Germany don’t get me wrong, they are tough and resilient and have the maestro of Ozil ready to supply international goal scoring machine Muller up front, but they just seem lacking for me. They have not improved since 2014 that is for sure, they also are showing more chinks in their armour compared to before as well. Without Klose, without Bastian Schweinsteiger, without Phillip Lahm it is left to others who I am not sure are able to step up. They have a good starting 11 on paper, but Hummels and Boateng are question marks over fitness, Neuer a top 5 goalkeeper in the world has played just four times this season. They will be tested very much in this World Cup and with a tough knockout bracket I can see them failing to defend their title
Brazil in at two after a super impressive turn around under coach Adenor Leonardo Bacchi “Tite” as he is known. He has managed to change the perception of Brazil somehow, so fast after the shocking 7-1 defeat on home soil in the 2014 semi final. They are not back to playing that beautiful joga bonito football we all have seen through the years from the South Americans and with Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Coutinho upfront, they are looking ready to take Russia by storm after romping to top spot in South American qualification. Tite will stay loyal to those guys who got them here to Russia as well with the likes of Gabriel Jesus fending off Liverpool’s Firminho up front and Renato Augusto anchoring the midfield so successfully. A lot for their chance will depend on Neymar, the world’s most expensive footballer, but he seems over his broken metatarsal that ended his domestic season early and scored on his return to the national side in the latest friendly. They should breeze through their group and the last 16, but what happens when they go a goal behind vs a top side? They have only conceded 3 goals in the whole tenure of qualification games under Tite and it might unearth demons going a goal behind against a top side in the latter stages of the tournament.
Number 1 spot goes to the Spanish. For me they are by far the most improved team since 2014 and even with the disaster that was Brazil 2014 for them, they still boast 3 tournament wins in a row up to that point. I have them as no1 seeds and eventual champions in the making if they continue doing what they do best; pass you to death. They picked up a top coach in Julen Lopetegui who has seen success with the Spanish U21 side in his career as well so he knows most of the players who make up his squad. He has the best of the core left from the 2010 win in Sergio Ramos, Gerrard Pique, Sergio Busquets, David Silva and Andreas Iniesta still to work with and when you add to those strikers of the calibre of Diego Costa, in form Rodrigo, and Iago Aspas you have threats to score at will. That is what Spain do; make chances due to the technical ability of their midfield maestro’s and punish you. They thrashed Argentina 6-1 at the start of the year and are still improving, I fear any side that has to play them as they are so well balanced and have a Diego Costa upfront who is only 4 months into his season due to being suspended until January.