With just a couple of days to find out where you’ll be watching the World Cup this summer, there are still questions of who are the favorites and who are going home in two weeks time. People want the security of seeing their country’s side ranked higher than the rest, but only about 6 countries can say their superior without question. Here are our pre-World Cup rankings for all 32 teams competing.
32-30 Happy To Be There
Panama were extremely fortunate to make it into the World Cup following the United States’ meltdown against Trinidad & Tobago. They have CONCACAF stand outs Roman Torres and Anibal Godoy, but Hernan Dario Gomez’s side have to get past Group G with Belgium, England and Tunisia, and that just seems unlikely.
31. South Korea
A side that looked ready to compete against Mexico and Sweden in Group F has fallen off because of injuries and all around lack of play. Heung-Min Son and Hwang Hee-chan will lead the line, but, unless the two can outscore the defensively sound Group F, it’ll be a sad goodbye for the Koreans early this summer.
This might be a little harsh for the Tunisian’s after a decent showing against Portugal, Turkey and Spain, but it’s tough to see them get out over a rejuvenated England and an Undefeated Belgium.
29-25 The Question Marks
29. Saudi Arabia
There is only one team in this competition who can look incredibly threatening and shambolic all in one attack; Saudi Arabia is one of them. Essentially an entire squad of club teammates, Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side look ready to do some damage in Group A, including self-inflicted wounds. They can put together an attack like it’s no one’s business, playing some fluid, eye-catching football in the process. But, as was seen against Germany, Italy and Peru, they are easily punishable after their own counter-attacks are not capitalized on, which means they’ll be torn apart by the likes of Uruguay and Egypt in the group stage.
After changing their manager following World Cup qualification, this Australian side could have looked a train-wreck. Truth is, they look pretty good. Lead by Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy in the midfield, the Socceroos have some fierce attacking play thanks to Mathew Leckie and the experienced Robbie Kruse. They also have one of the better goalkeepers Russia will see in Mat Ryan. Watch out for the youngest player in the World Cup, Socceroo Daniel Azani, who displayed his attacking prowess against Hungary in their send off game last week with a whipping effort from outside the box.
An outfit with talent, but maybe not the identity to compliment. A rough couple of friendlies saw Japan get manhandled against Ghana and Switzerland, not scoring a single goal over both matches. However, their last friendly saw the Japanese put 4 goals past Paraguay, who are usually a defensively astute team, with new Real Betis man Takashi Inui scoring a brace. Lots of questions going into one of the more difficult groups and facing Colombia right off the bat.
Although they were unable to play two of their friendlies before taking flight to Russia, this Iranian squad have some real talent to build on their 2014 World Cup campaign. Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Sardar Azmoun, or the “Iranian Messi” as he’s been dubbed, are the emerging, young talent for Iran, both scoring and assisting goals by the dozen this season for club. Getting out of Group B with Spain, Portugal and Morocco will be nearly impossible, but it’ll be fun to watch them while we can.
The hosts don’t look great coming into what is one of their biggest summers as a sporting nation. The retired Sergey Ignashevic comes out of retirement to deal with the insurmountable injuries the Russians have faced, but it may be a lost cause, still having a brittle defense and midfield. Star striker Aleksandr Kokorin’s injury will be tremendously missed upfront.
24-20 The Scrappers
Perhaps not quite “scrappers” but this Nigerian side will be fighting for their lives in Group D. The original thought of their defensive solidarity has quickly turned to worry as they were given the run around by England, Czech Republic and DR Congo in their pre-World Cup matches. England have real quality, but the other two, not so much. Maybe the Super Eagles will get lucky and their kits will blind opposition keepers or Alex Iwobi will have an out-of-skin tournament, but we’ll have to see it to believe it.
The signature Thunderclap shook world football in Euro 2016, but a tough group stage draw and a weaker Iceland squad is not promising for the small country. Gylfi Sigurdsson looks to have recovered well from his knee injury, while Alfred Finnbogason and Johann Gudmundsson enjoyed super seasons with Augsburg and Burnley, respectively. Again, in a group with Leo Messi and a stunning Croatian attack, Iceland may get the wrong end of the stick in a few weeks time.
22. Costa Rica
This is not the Costa Rica who challenged The Netherlands for a semi-final spot in 2014 in the reality that, the world knows their tricks now. Oscar Ramirez will set up his side to frustrate again and Marcos Ureña’s current form for LAFC in MLS may help them in the goal department. Keylor Navas is still at his best, winning the Champions League again with Real Madrid and proving he can still keep his defenses from looking a fool with his stellar hands.
A Sweden without Zlatan? Yes, that is the headline, of course, but Marcus Berg has been scoring plenty for his country, netting 10 goals in qualifiers for Sweden, albeit four of those being scored against Luxembourg. This squad is ready to bore the masses with their defend-first mentality while Emil Forsberg will be the only exciting thing in all of Sweden’s camp.
Egyptian fans are sure to grab the torch from Liverpool fans signing Mo Salah’s name as the forward will look to carry on his brilliance for his country. The Pharohs are fairly talented through the squad front to back, but still don’t have the quality without him in command. Watch for Mohamed Elneny and Ramadan Sobhi who can both show their true quality in Russia.
19-11 The Underdogs
Many don’t know about Peru apart from the doping ban that surrounded captain Paolo Guerrero, which has now been lifted. However, this Peruvian side have come to compete and may surprise opposition fans in Group C. Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Hurtado have been promising for their clubs this season, the latter who will feel at home after playing in Russia all season for Lokomotiv Moscow. Expect them to be pests for France, Denmark and Australia to get past, possibly finishing second in the group as a result.
There is a lot of experience on the Swiss’ side this summer. A defense of Stephen Lichtsteiner, Manuel Akanji, Fabian Schär and Ricardo Rodriguez look solid, while Breel Embolo is coming off a wonderful resurgence at Schalke under Domenico Tedesco. Xherdan Shaqiri is back again with his monster calves, while Granit Xhaka and Mochengladbach standout Denis Zakaria will be an interesting holding midfield to watch.
A possible huge upset that can come out of Group G above one of Colombia or Poland. Sadio Mané and Keïta Balde will make for a dangerous attack, while decisions seem to have been made about who lines up next to Kalidou Koulibaly with Salif Sané playing the majority of the pre-tournament friendlies next to the Napoli man.
Another sleeper ready to emerge from their layer, the Atlas Lions are ready to tear Portugal’s World Cup dreams to shreds… or at least give them a run for their money. Morocco are outstanding at the back, with captain Medhi Benatia organizing. All play will go through 25-year-old Hakim Ziyech. The Ajax man has a knack for the spectacular, sending crosses from any angle into the path of an attacker or weaving his way through an angry crowd of midfielders who can’t stop him, legally at least. There would be no surprise to see the Moroccans make their way to the Round of 16 or maybe even the Quarter Finals.
Juan Carlos Osorio has one of the best young talents in Hirving Lozano. The PSV winger racked up 19 goals and 11 assists in the Eredivisie and was a major reason for PSV winning the league. Carlos Vela will join the attack, after revitalizing his career at LAFC, while Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado will return to man the middle for another international tournament. Mexico likes to use their speed to explore opposition’s defensive weaknesses which will surely work against Sweden and South Korea, but may only get them as far as the Round of 16.
The weight of an entire country seemed to rest on Christian Eriksen’s shoulders when they fell to the playoffs in qualifying. The Tottenham magician worked his magic with a hat-trick against Ireland, sending Denmark to the World Cup in style. He is still the cog of Åge Hareide’s men, but there are a couple of key players including Thomas Delaney and Simon Kjær that will propel this Denmark side a notch above the middle tier talent.
Probably the last of “upset alerts” on this list, Serbia come into Russia with a perfect mix of experience and youth. Sergej Milinković-Savić is the youthful midfielder who is set to breakout after scoring 14 goals and assisting 9 for Lazio this season. Next to him will sit a familiar face in Nemanja Matic, while the familiarity doesn’t stop with Aleksandar Kolarov and Branislav Ivanović manning the backfield. There are goals in the side with Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrović as well, making Serbia a favorite to upset Switzerland and Costa Rica in order to get out of Group E.
The Poles are back with Robert Lewandowski continuing his brilliance up front. However, Kamil Glik has pulled up with an injury and will miss the entire tournament, which may prove to be the beginning of the end for Poland’s hopes.
An exiting backline took a bit of a hit with Frank Fabra sustaining an ACL injury during their friendly against Egypt. They still have Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina, two of the best young center backs in world football, whose friendship off the field will only help them with their communication on the field. James Rodriguez found peace in Bayern after a couple of rocky seasons at Real Madrid and is looking to replicate what he did four years ago, while Radamel Falcao is fit and firing for the Colombians this year.
That concludes our 32-11 rankings. We will be posting more in-depth analysis of our top 10 tomorrow, so keep an eye out for those.
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