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.
10-6 An Outside Chance
Trying to find the redo button after disappointing campaigns in Brazil World Cup 2014 and France Euro 2016, Croatia have seemed earn that redo, looking like quiet contenders with Luka Modrić in the captain’s chair. Croatia have a certain fluidity to their play with Ivan Rakitic keeping the energy and Ivan Peršić helping the creative cause. Their defense is a little slow to react, but they do have the dynamic right full-back Šime Vrsaljko who has had a spectacular season at Atletico Madrid and continues to improve each game. In a tough Group D, there is a slight possibility The Vatreni lose out to Iceland or Nigeria, but with a certain belief in themselves this time around, the Croats could be dark horses to make the quarter finals.
There is always a big hoo-raw with Portugal because of the freak-of-nature that Cristiano Ronaldo is. Truth be told, Fernando Santos’ side can still be got at. Defensively, whoever sits next to Pepe is going to have a tough time, with the choice between Jose Fonte, Bruno Alves or the unproven Ruben Dias. None of the three are particularly bad, however you would like to see a better compliment to Pepe. The Portuguese midfield and attack has obvious quality with Bernardo Silva, William Carvalho and a number of others, playing with guile when they want to. They conquered Euro 2016 with a similar cast and it worked well, yet there is a cautiousness when approaching Portugal with real hopes of competing against the favored top 6.
Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are back as one of the best, and only, striking partnerships in Russia this summer. Uruguay are as strong as ever, with a backline of Diego Godin, Jose Gimenez and a rekindled Martin Caceres. A young midfielding core of Rodrigo Bentancur, Lucas Torreira, and Giorgian De Arrascaeta mixed with the level-head veterns Matias Vecino and Carlos Sanchez will give them what they need going forward while still protecting their back four. Easily topping Group A, this group has their sights set one what is ahead of them, possibly facing a Portugal or Spain in the Round of 16.
Gareth Southgate wanted to bring a youthful and exciting side to on the plane, and in doing so brought one of the quickest squads in the cup. The speed of Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy and number of others will be tough to cope with for any side, no matter how good of a defense they have. Southgate has continued to play to his squad’s strengths as well, lining up in a 3-4-3 which has given a once dull English side, a bit of spunk. The Three Lions are sure to finish above Panama and Tunisia and could be quiet villains, making a run into the quarter finals or even the finals, as England has come to win the World Cup, according to captain Harry Kane.
Arguably a side with one of the best managers in the competition, Jorge Sampaoli has began his Argentinian reign in rough fashion. The former Chilean coach looked a perfect fit for La Albiceleste and, honestly, still might be. But, the best of Sampaoli’s sides need time to learn and adjust to his system, which is something he has had zero time to implement. Their pre-tournament matches have been far from perfect, including the 6-1 loss to Spain that made Leo Messi into a meme as he watched on from the rafters, head in hands. There are holes in this squad that are too big of questions to answer including their slow defense and aging midfield. Messi will have to pull off a miracle to bring glory back to his homeland, and even then, a miracle may not do the trick.
5-1 The Favorites
There is only one reason España has dropped this low, the sacking of Julen Lopetegui and the appointing of Fernando Hierro. Lopetegui was set to join Real Madrid after Spain’s World Cup campaign and that seemed to rub the Spanish Federation the wrong way, instantly sacking the undefeated manager against the players’ wishes. Spain still has the unstoppable quality they had before Lopetegui’s departure, but truthfully, they looked clear favorites to win it all under the former Porto man. Now tasked with the impossible, Hierro has to sculpt his remarkable outfit back into World Cup favorites, while history shows, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
It is tight in these top four spots, but Belgium have to drop lower than the rest. Their front three of Mertens, Hazard and Lukaku look devastating in attack, with Thomas Meunier and Ferriera Carrasco back to their best as wing-backs and Kevin De Bruyne picking up where he left off in Manchester this season. The Red Devils are the golden generation for Belgian football and have some of the best talents in the world at any given position, but they still can look disjointed at times or simply just out of ideas. The exclusion of Radja Nianngolan doesn’t help creatively either, with very few in the reserves able to come in an add flare apart from Thorgan Hazard and Youri Tielemans.
If Euro 2016 taught us anything it’s that France are force to be reckoned with, and really should have been crowned champions with the talent they possess. Led by Antoine Griezmann, the French look menacing on the attack, using the speedy and unselfish play of Mbappe, Giroud, and Pogba to score beautiful team goals. Yet, there is still no blueprint to how France will play. Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante are the obvious starters in midfield and having tested Corentine Tolisso against veteran Blaise Matuidi, Didier Deschamps could opt to start the former. Deschamps could also decide to just play a two man midfield with Griezmann creating from deep like they did in their friendly against The US. Either way, if France are void of a final appearance, Didier Deschamps might need to start looking for a new managerial position.
Perhaps the most individual talent front to back, Brazil look ready to leave their 2014 woes in the past. They have a great manager in Tite and a fit, transcendent player in Neymar. Their pre-World Cup matches said it all as well, taking down Germany 1-0 in their first meeting since Germany’s thrashing of them World Cup 2014, as well as decimating Austria, and Croatia. There are such high hopes for the Selecao going into this, but if they allow themselves to play as if Neymar is the only difference maker in this side, they could drop out in the later stages.
It seems impossible that Germany could win back to back World Cups with essentially the same core, or does it? Yogi Löw’s squad is deep and perhaps more talented now that the youngsters have grown up. They will benefit from the always-injured yet ever-present ability of Marco Reus, who looks fit and had a fantastic run of form for Dortmund towards the end of the season. Up front, Die Mannschaft are livened up with the quick and clever Timo Werner, who wasn’t prolific this year for RB Leipzig but will still be vital for Germany’s all around play. Leroy Sané missing out does seem harsh after a star-studded year for Manchester City, but a young bench of Julian Draxler, Julian Brandt and Leon Goretzka was preferred and still looks intimidating to anyone. The Germans played under par through their preparation matches, but are sure to figure things out come their first game against Mexico and only get better from there on out.
The World Cup is just a breath away now. Fans are becoming crazed with the idea that their team can be the “Cinderella Story” this year or that their country is simply better than the rest. The first round will be telling of where everyone stands, as some of the best can be in trouble in an instant.
We will have weekly Power Rankings after each country play through their group right here on The Unfit Pundit. Don’t forget to follow us via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at The Unfit Pundit.