The World Cup is always a fun time. It brings together teams from all over the world. For many of us this is our only real chance to watch some of these teams. Over the past few weeks I have been reading about each of the teams and trying to get a feel for them. To produce the World Cup 2018 power rankings below I have combined my thoughts about what the team brings to table with fivethirtyeight.com’s Soccer Power Index (SPI). These rankings roughly predict how far each I think each team is going to get. Therefore, things such as potential last-16 matches do make a difference. Any further than that and it becomes hard to predict exact matches, meaning those games carry less weight.
Making up the numbers
31. Saudi Arabia
Prior to the first match of the tournament I actually had Saudi Arabia ranked 30th and in the next tier. While they played nice football between the boxes, once they got inside it all went wrong. As for Panama and Iran, they are both in top heavy groups. Both Group B and G have two teams significantly above the other two. However, Costa Rica would have been ranked here in 2014 and they got to the quarter finals.
Could spring a surprise
27. Costa Rica
25. South Korea
I think Tunisia have it toughest with two top 10 teams in their group. However, both of their opponents can stumble and Tunisia have a better chance than Panama to take advantage. Morocco have it slightly easier than Tunisia. Portugal are very hit or miss and Spain just sacked their manager. Costa Rica arguably have better odds in this group than they did in 2014. However, they are still the fourth ranked team in this group and I do not expect lightning to strike twice.
Australia know what they do and they do it well. They have sprung a surprise before and I think they can do it again. I expect them to try and keep the game tight and sneak a win where they can. I find this South Korean team interesting and they play nice football. However, getting out of a group with Germany, Mexico and Sweden will be tough. Senegal may be in the most even group top to bottom. They are probably the worst team in the group but everyone could take points off each other.
Last-16 as good as it gets
Group D is really interesting but even if Nigeria get out the best they can hope for is a second round match with France. Nigeria have some really good players and they will push Croatia and Iceland all the way. Japan are another talented squad and in Group H they have every chance to qualify. However, they will likely then face either Belgium or England which should be the end of their run. Peru are looking at a best case scenario of second in Group C. In that situation they would face Argentina, who have a real shot of going to the semi-finals.
A tough last-16 match
Serbia have some good veterans and that gives them a shot. Not only in their group but in a potential match with Germany. The result from their opening match probably flattered Russia. They did not have a huge amount of the ball but they made Saudi Arabia pay for their mistakes. The key game for them is Egypt. If they get through then they will face Spain who I expect to have too much for them.
Sweden have a shot for sure but Mexico are a talented team who play with passion. Sweden do not have any real superstars and that could count against them. Even if they qualify they will likely face Brazil. We have seen what Iceland can do in a major tournament and France will not want to face them in the last-16. They play with passion and pride and their fans will make a great atmosphere. They are slight underdogs to Croatia but it is extremely close.
Favorites to qualify. Anything more would be a bonus.
Egypt were handed a huge boost by Mohammed Salah being passed fit. He gives them a shot in every game but overcoming the hosts will not be easy. His talent could arguably carry them all the way to the quarters but one man cannot carry a nation, so he will need help if they are to get anywhere. The prospect of Salah meeting Sergio Ramos in the last-16 is fun. Denmark are another team who rely heavily on one star man in Christian Eriksen. A potential match with Argentina will be tough but Argentina are not loaded with talent either.
Switzerland face the prospect of a match with their good friends, Germany. Getting past Serbia will be tough and getting past Germany will be close to impossible. I think Mexico have the easiest group of these five because Sweden’s squad is not all that scary. However, A match with Brazil in the last-16 is a non-starter. They are most likely to make the knockouts but perhaps one of the least likely to go any further. Croatia have to overcome tough teams in Nigeria and Iceland to qualify. However, if they do I like their chances to scare the talented French team.
This is an interesting tier of five teams because it is likely that at most three of these teams will make the quarter finals. However, based on talent it is most likely to just be two who go through. Among this five we have two potential last-16 ties. If all goes to plan in Group H then Poland should match up with either England or Belgium. As good as Poland were in the playoffs they would likely be slight under dogs in both of those matches. Against England it will be close as to who is favorite. However, I have ranked England higher here because I think they have a better chance of getting out of their group.
Portugal are an interesting proposition as they were surprise winners of the last Euros. They have been handed a potential boost in their group with Spain sacking their manager. However, if Portugal do not win their group then they get Uruguay who are really good team. I have a few worries Portugal do not make it put of their group, as I discussed here, for that reason they fall 10th in my rankings.
England hopefully will avoid any issues and get out of their group but that can not be assured. They will not be scared of any of their potential last-16 opponents but all four will test them. I think England have a real shot of going to the quarter finals but I do not think they have the experience as a squad to go further. Uruguay on the other hand I could easily see springing a shock in the quarter-finals and appearing in a semi-finals. So much depends on Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani, but on their day both are top-10 strikers in the world.
Colombia are a sneaky outside bet to win the whole competition and the favorites in Group H. Honestly, facing England or Belgium will be tough in the last-16 so whether they win or come second in the group does not really matter.
Quarter-finals a minimum but have the talent to win
The Belgium golden generation is in its peak right now. If they are going to win a World Cup this is likely the one. On their day I think they can match up with anyone but their defense does have weaknesses. Not having any really talented full backs is an issue but their offensive potency can probably make up for it. Perhaps the biggest challenge for them is getting the right combinations of players on the pitch at the right time.
Argentina feel very one man band-ish, with the weight of the nation on Lionel Messi. The news that Sergio Aguero is fit will be a huge boost to their chances. A lot is going to rest on the shoulders of those two and Messi will have the most pressure. However, at this stage Messi really has nothing to lose, meaning hopefully we can see him play with the carefree attitude that can make him so stunning to watch. On their day they are capable of beating anyone but they are also capable of lame-duck performances.
I had Spain third prior to them sacking their manager but they still have the talent to win. However, who knows how the manager situation will affect the team moral. If the team can pull together they absolutely can go all they way, but if this has the effect of ripping apart the already loose bonds in this squad, then they could crash out in the group stages. Fortunately for them, their first real test will likely not be until the last-16 as their group is extremely weak at the bottom end.
France have the second most talented squad in the tournament. In fact, the players they left at home have the talent to win the tournament. However, they also have the ability to go missing at any point, as proven by the Euro 2016 final.
Germany may not have the most talent but they have their usual ruthless efficiency. There is not much to say here about this squad other than their experience of doing it at big tournaments. No one will want to face this team and everyone will be hoping someone else eliminates them.
Brazil have so much to prove after their humiliation in 2014. After the pressure of playing in a home World Cup, playing in this one should allow them to play in a relaxed manner. They have the most talent 1-11 and they have squad depth.