With the first round of matches done and dusted, the World Cup has done exactly what it does. The bugs and jitters of each team mechanical parts were shown through careless challenges, goalkeeping errors and shots going astray. Many of the so called “favorites” were brought down a level, while some of the lesser sides thrived from nationalistic spirit or individual masterclasses.
32. Saudi Arabia (-4)
It was the worst possible outcome for KSA as they were manhandled by the hosts 5-0. They looked a shell of what they had been in their pre-tournament friendlies, playing none of the attacking football that Juan Antonio Pizzi has instilled in them. Anything less than a win against Uruguay in their next match could have the Saudi’s be one of the first sides eliminated from the World Cup.
30. Panama (+1)
Hernan Dario Gomez’s side looked ready to upset Belgium in the first half, holding their own defensively while getting a few chances to nestle in a shot. But, it was inevitable that Belgium would blow the CONCACAF side out of the water,eventually lossing 3-0. They only ranked just above Saudi Arabia because they showed the bravery and skill to hold a side like Belgium up, even if it was only for 45 minutes.
31. South Korea (+1)
It was an extremely fruitless match against Sweden after Kim Min-woo’s late penalty give away sealed the Korean’s fate. Keeper Cho Hyun-woo was outstanding for the Warriors, making two or three saves that kept his side in the game for much longer than they should’ve been. South Korea took another injury hit as well Park Jo-hoo was stretched off with cling wrap around his leg after diving for a cross-field pass.
29. Tunisia (+1)
The Eagles didn’t make it easy for England, but lose out in the dying minutes after leaving a world class striker unmarked during a set piece. They seemed to do everything right otherwise, containing the Three Lions, with the knowledge that England don’t have a central creator, by forcing Harry Kane to drop back and not be the focal point of England’s attack. They got lucky with Kyle Walker’s quite foolish clothesline on Fakhreddine Ben Youseff, which was slotted away easily by Ferjani Sassi.
28. Nigeria (-4)
After a 2-0 defeat against Croatia, it is back to the drawing board for Gernot Rohr. The Super Eagles kept with the Vatreni for most of the game, only going down because of that American football tackle by William Ekong that gave Luka Modrić a chance at the penalty spot. But, the defense wasn’t the entire reason for Nigeria’s loss, as their was no offense to be seen. Alex Iwobi and Odion Ighalo looked lost roaming the penalty box as Victor Moses repeatedly put in crosses. It was also veteran John Obi Mikel who could create nothing for his side, mostly sitting running around the midfield as a bystander. A lot of work to do here, but with Argentina and Iceland only a point above, the Super Eagles could still have a shout to advance.
27. Costa Rica (-5)
A big drop for the Costa Ricans, not seizing any of their opportunities against the previously weak defense of Serbia. The needless foul from David Guzman that set up Aleksandar Kolarov summed up Costa Rica and Oscar Ramirez’s day. They play Brazil next and a positive result there could be a difference maker for the Central American team.
26. Australia (+2)
The Socceroos were the physical, worrying wake up call France needed, even if they lost 2-1 because of a Paul Pogba’s skillful goal. There were a couple of worrying moments for the Aussie’s at the back, particularly the penalty given away by Josh Risdon when Antione Griezmann flew past the full-back. Coping with France’s speed was tough for Australia, but they were able to get some quality chances. The Socceroos have a must win game against Denmark, or else we can say goodbye to the best nicknamed sides in the World Cup.
25. Egypt (-5)
An unfortunate start to say the least, Jose Gimenez scored a “I wanted to win more” header in stoppage time against the Pharaohs. Mo Salah did not play all game and without him, Egypt could not seem to score, even with more than enough chances to do so. Next up is Russia, a match in which Salah will be licking his chops as he attempts to resurrect Egypt back from the dead.
24. Morocco (-8)
The Atlas Lions played well against Iran and should’ve won in truth. But, a lapse in concentration and an own goal by Aziz Bouhaddouz left Morocco with a tough road ahead of them. Portugal and Spain can both be taken down, but doing so seems unlikely for Herve Renard erratic defending tactics.
23. Iceland (Stay)
The smallest country in the tournament took down the biggest name in the world football. It was an impressive defensive showing by Heimir Hallgrimsson’s men, giving zero space to Messi and company then punishing the Argentine’s with their few chances. They’re in a perfect position to pull off an group upset, but more goals are going to have to come from Alfred Finnbogason and more creation from Gylfi Sigurdsson.
22. Peru (-3)
A week or so after the doping ban was lifted allowing captain Paolo Guerrero to start against Denmark, coach Ricardo Gareca decided to keep Peru’s talisman on the bench till late in the match. Peru are intensely quick, moving from a defending position to an all out attack in mire seconds. But, that is exactly where they got caught out as Christian Eriksen picked out Yussuf Poulsen for the goal, after Peru lost the ball in their half. They face France next, and after that we’ll know more about this side.
21. Sweden (Stay)
They’re incredibly boring to watch, not even having Zlatan Ibrahimovich to stir up controversy. Yet, they are great at grinding out the result they want, one way or another. South Korea proved a bigger task to top than Janne Andersson might have planned for, due to the heroics of keeper Cho Hyun-woo, but it will be Forsberg, Berg and Claessen that the Sweds will ride to the finish line for goals.
20. Russia (+5)
Winning the opening match while hosting the biggest sporting event in the world is achievement enough. To win 5-0 at the same time, was impressive. Coming into the summer, many counted Russia out, some not even advancing them past the group stages. Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev were the stars of the first match, the latter most likely to keep his starting spot with Alan Dzagoev still injured, and will continue to spark the attack. They now sit top of Group A, on goal difference, and play a Egypt next where they will have a true test of their skill.
19. Iran (+7)
A lucky break, albeit for a result they probably deserved, Iran are now 3 points closer to upsetting one of Spain, Portugal or Morocco. Their defense is well organized under Carlos Queiroz, eventually turning a stop into a rampant counter through Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Sardar Azmoun and Vahid Amiri. Playing Spain next will be tough, but if they can catch Fernando Hierro’s side out like Portugal did with their counter attacks, Iran could grab a positive result and being an outside favorite to get out of Group B.
18. Colombia (-7)
A 2-1 loss was not exactly what Colombia, or the world, had in mind and the Carlos Sanchez blunder didn’t help either. James Rodriguez did not start due to a minor knock in training, but Juan Quintero played well in his place, scoring their only goal on the night. Jose Pekerman will have a lot to think about at the back as Colombia will be up against much better attacks than Japan’s very soon.
17. Poland (-5)
A big and bulky side with not quite the creative midfield they need, Poland were taken down by Senegal 2-1 to put them under pressure in Group H. The Poles played with a lot of overhead balls, hoping their height advantage would win them arial duels. But, they were met with constant pressing by Senegal which made it difficult for them to create anything through their midfield.
16. Japan (+12)
A massive three points for Akira Nishino’s side, as they were thought to be the worst of Group H’s parity, sees a huge jump in our rankings. After a lucky opening goal from Carlos Sanchez’s terrible mistake, Japan looked outclassed the first half by the Colombians. But, the Samurai Blue took the game to Colombia, eventually forcing an Yuya Osako’ placed header from a corner. Japan now look poised to compete in Group H, with everything to fight for against Senegal in less than a week’s time.
15. Denmark (-1)
A game they arguably could have lost, and by a vast scoreline, Denmark showed their guns as their backline, with mostly Kasper Schmeichel to thank. The Leicester goalkeeper was tremendous for the The Danes, keeping them in a game they probably shouldn’t have been in. Playing through Christian Eriksen will continue to be vital for Denmark as they have Australia and France ahead of them.
14. Serbia (-1)
A day recognized by a moment of sheer class by Aleksandr Kolarov as left-footed free kicked fell just out of reach of Keylor Navas. The Serbians don’t look the greatest in their own half, but that could be made up for with the attacking prowess or Aleksandr Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Serbia only fall because of Senegal’s outstanding performance.
13. Senegal (+4)
Quick, powerful and tricky describes Aliou Cisse’s men. They overcame the odds by taking down a higher ranked Poland, showing they are not only a massive attacking threat, but also a handful in midfield and defense. They were dispossessing the Polish left and right and countering with intent to kill the game. A big underdog with the possibility exit Group H.
12. Switzerland (+6)
The Swiss held an unbridled Brazilian attack to only one goal, while managing to profit off of a well taken corner by Xherdan Shaqiri. There is no doubt that Switzerland are hard to break down, and that will work to their advantage against Costa Rica and especially against Serbia, as they will fight to top the group.
11. Croatia (-1)
The Vatreni got the job done against the Super Eagles and only drop because of Mexico’s heroics. Croatia weren’t particularly great in attack, but they can defend superbly. Electing to play Luka Modrić next to Ivan Rakitic seemed a good move by Zlatko Dalić, having the front four be a speedy, dynamic group of attackers. With a win against Argentina, Croatia would be likely to advance to Round of 16 in style.
10. Argentina (-4)
The story that Messi was the entire reason for their loss is a bit dramatic. Truthfully, Iceland got the better or Argentina, defending like animals and capitalizing when they had the chance. Jorge Sampaoli’s side was simply not good enough, looking predictable in the final third. They’re in a tough group and finishing second might be all Argentina can hope for now.
9. Germany (-8)
The defending World Champions couldn’t get the job done against a fierce Mexican side. There was the major tactical error of leaving only Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng to defend Mexico’s express pace upfront in Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Carlos Vela and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. It was almost arrogant from the Germans to think Juan Carlos Osorio’s side couldn’t get through them, but a wretched performance in midfield by Sami Khedira left the two center backs helpless. Mesut Özil showed no signs of dusting off his indifferent season at Arsenal, while Julian Draxler was the only bright spot in the side.
8. Uruguay (Stay)
They are second in, statistically, the worst group in World Cup history, but they have the three points that Egypt and Saudi Arabia don’t. La Celeste looked unenthused to create anything most of the match and couldn’t make good of the chances they did make. Cavani and Suarez will need to be sharper if Uruguay want a chance after, most likely, advancing through the group stages.
7. Brazil (-2)
Being stopped 1-1 by Switzerland wasn’t entirely shocking for the Seleção. The Swiss proved to be too physical for Brazil, often powering Brazilians off the ball, fairly or not. Tite had looked as if he would abandon the “Neymar first” mentality of this side, but this talented bunch still try to play through the superstar, a lot of time to no avail. Still favored to advance, these problems will surely come back to haunt Brazil later in the Cup, if not assessed.
6. England (+1)
The Three Lions got the job done in dramatic fashion. A brace from captain Harry Kane gave England the much needed, and probably much deserved, win against Tunisia. The boys in white came out fantastically in their first 30 minutes, playing some of the best football the Three Lions have ever played, yet they only converted one chance out of the many. Hopefully this mark progression for Gareth Southgate’s side, as they hope to grow into this tournament every game.
5. France (-1)
A case of the first game jitters, France almost dropped important points because of Didier Deschamps failed starting 11 being disjointed. It took a skillful, yet hopeful, Pogba goal to save the day. Although they looked frazzled by Australia’s physical, there is little doubt they will miss out on advancing out of the group round and figure it all out to make a late run this summer.
4. Portugal (+5)
They are a team with their hopes on the back of a superstar, but it might just work for the Portuguese. Cristiano Ronaldo was individually outstanding against Spain, almost singlehandedly winning the match with his hat-trick. Their center back pairing of Pepe and Jose Fonte looked dodgy at best, both maybe being just past their prime, and will be the biggest problem for Fernando Santos to fix if Portugal want to be considered real contenders to win it all.
3. Mexico (+12)
A win that ignited two countries simultaneously, although in separate ways, El Tri pulled off the impossible by taking down the defending champions. Juan Carlos Osorio had said to have game-planned for this opener for 6 months now, and to see his tactics be validated was just one of many things this World Cup is about. Facing South Korea shouldn’t be too difficult for Mexico, but Sweden could cause them some issues with that match possibly being vital for El Tri’s advancing out of the group.
2. Belgium (+2)
While the rest of the so-called favorites were faltering, the Red Devils were taking care of business, albeit against a weak Panama team. The Belgians were frustrated by the Panamanians early, showing no will to create or attack. After a wonder goal by the inform Dries Mertens, the men in red settled down and started to become to the scary attacking side they are. Roberto Martinez’s lack of detail to defense is Belgium’s biggest problem right now, as Jan Vertonghen cannot lock down the entire left flank all by himself when they face better opposition.
1. Spain (+1)
With Julen Lopetegui’s sacking, it seemed Spain were close to done in terms of favorites to win the Cup. But, the Spanish looked as good as ever, arguably losing only because of the Cristiano Ronaldo’s brilliance. Fernando Hierro’s ability to adjust his side is still in question, throwing in Thiago and Iago Aspas towards the end of the match when they obviously needed another defensive-minded midfielder. But for now, they are the best in the tournament.
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