Surely that’s a card-able offence!
The FIFA World Cup is finally here! After every matchday of the tournament, The Roar will be bringing you an updated power rankings, telling you who is in form, who is out of form and who is ready to win the greatest sporting event on Earth.
This pre-tournament edition is based on each side’s FIFA world rankings, friendly form and overall squad strength, as well as projected group outcomes.
Let’s get into it.
The Brazilians sit number two in the world coming into the World Cup and it’s hard to see them finishing anywhere other than the top of Group E against Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland.
They come into the World Cup off a 2-0 win over Croatia and a 3-0 win over Austria. With Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho all in good form, they are going to go a long way in this tournament and could just take it out.
While having Belgium so high might come as a shock to come, given they were knocked out in the quarter-finals last time around, they deserve their spot at the top following a quarter-final appearance at Euro 2016 and constant improvement ever since, finishing in some big friendly wins over Egypt (3-0) and Costa Rica (4-1), as well as a tough scoreless draw against Portugal.
England will be the biggest challenge in their group, but with the likes of captain Eden Hazard and striker Romelu Lukaku posing a serious threat, they will be tough to stop.
Despite being ranked seventh in the world, the French are slowly firming as a genuine contender. They clinched solid wins over Ireland and Italy in the lead-up and with attacking weaponry like Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, it’s not hard to see why they are considered as a top side.
Whether they can win it or not is another question, but they appear to have first place in their group locked up.
The Germans might be the top-ranked team in the world, but their form is somewhat concerning. A loss to Brazil in March was followed by another to Austria last week. They bounced back with an unconvincing win over Saudi Arabia, but given their disdain for friendlies and talent in the squad, it’d be a brave tipster to write them off.
If a 6-1 thumping over Argentina back in March wasn’t enough to convince you Spain are the real deal, nothing will be. While they haven’t been as good in this friendly window, they did beat Tunisia and are still ranked tenth in the world.
With Sergio Ramos leading a somewhat transitional side as they move away from names like Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata, it’ll be extremely interesting to see how they perform, but with Morocco and Iran in their group, the first match against Portugal should decide whether they finish first or second.
The Portuguese have Cristiano Ronaldo, which in itself is worth plenty. They have a strong team right across the pitch though, and after not making it out of the group stage in 2014, they will want more.
A solid build-up capped off with a commanding 3-0 win over Algeria will leave them confident, but still with plenty of work to do if they want to get to the top of the pile.
It’s hard to get a read on Argentina’s form, given they only had one friendly – a 4-0 win over Haiti – in the lead-up to the World Cup.
Their squad is strong and they are ranked fifth in the world, so it’s tough to drop them any lower with Lionel Messi the key man up front.
The Uruguayans haven’t done much wrong in the lead-up to the Cup. The world no.14 team have beaten Wales and Uzbekistan, but receive a big boost up the rankings with a ridiculously easy group featuring Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
You would just about put your house on them qualifying with forwards Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez the players to watch.
Holding Spain to a draw and putting a win past Japan in convincing fashion indicates the Swiss are in good form, and while Brazil will win their group, they are every chance of beating Serbia and Costa Rica.
Arsenal defender Stephan Lichtsteiner, who has 100 international caps, is a key man in the side, but they are well balanced and their ranking of sixth in the world should be justified during the Cup.
England’s recent form at major tournaments isn’t great. They were knocked out in the group stage during Brazil 2014 and failed at the Round of 16 in the last Euros. Wins over Nigeria and Costa Rica leave them in good touch, but their first-up match against Tunisia is not only dangerous, but pivotal with Belgium also in their group.
Still, Harry Kane scored 30 goals in the EPL and is as lethal as they come.
While their warm-up game against Brazil was always going to be a struggle, they bounced back with a handy 2-1 victory over Senegal and will be favoured to progress from their group with wins over Iceland and Nigeria.
The 20th-ranked team take a considerable leap up the rankings because of their group and striker Mario Mandzukic, who needs a big tournament.
They beat New Zealand comfortably to qualify and now Peru have shown some good form in the lead-up to the Cup, beating Scotland, Saudi Arabia and drawing with Sweden.
Running up five goals in those first two games and not conceding a single one in their last 270 minutes shows they are going to be tough to score against, and captain Paolo Guerrero is strong in front of goal. Beating Australia and Denmark would secure their spot in the next round.
Denmark came away with draws against Chile and Sweden in their first two warm-up games, before they put Mexico to the sword, winning 2-0. They didn’t control possession in that game, but were aggressive and will need to continue playing that way against Australia and Peru.
They have a solid chance of advancing with Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen the key man.
Mexico, who are rated a strong chance to get out of a group featuring Germany, South Korea and Sweden, have had their ranking drop due to some lacklustre form, which included a draw with Wales and a loss to Denmark.
Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez are the danger men, but they are ranked 15th in the world and deserve their spot in the first half of the power rankings.
Colombia, with the dangerous Radamel Falcao and James Rodríguez up front, could be an incredibly tough team to stop. After beating France in March, their form is somewhat concerning though, with draws against Australia and Egypt.
In a group feating Japan, Poland and Senegal, they should escape into the Round of 16.
Serbia have been impressive during the lead-up to the World Cup, with a 5-1 beatdown of Bolivia in their final game.
It followed a tight loss to Chile and a 2-0 victory in comfortable circumstances over Nigeria. It’ll be a close-run thing for them to come out of the group stage though, potentially needing to beat one of Brazil and Switzerland.
A 4-0 win over Lithuania in their final warm-up shows Poland are in good touch up front, if nothing else. In that Colombian group, they’ll need to be, because defending against opposition strike weapons will be tough.
Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who is the nation’s all-time leading goal-scorer, will need to pave the way up front. He scored two against Lithuania to follow a world-best 16 in qualifying, and if he’s in that sort of form again, Poland should get to the Round of 16.
Tunisia’s form is hard to read, but they are certainly not at their best after a two-all draw with a ten-man Turkey. Other results suggest they are close though, with a draw against Portugal and close loss to Spain.
Still, they must find a way to beat one of Belgium or England if they are to advance.
The Socceroos will be out to prove the doubters wrong in Russia. Under new coach Bert van Marwijk, they have recorded two friendly wins against the Czech Republic and Hungary – the first far more convincing than the latter – and with Peru and Denmark in their group, they have the chance to qualify from their group.
The squad appears to be well-balanced and Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has tipped them to progress from the group stage behind France, who they take on in the first game. For the most part they seem settled and relaxed after playing with the same starting XI in both of their friendlies.
It’s difficult to get a read on the side known as the ‘Lions of Teranga.’ The African nation had a draw with Luxembourg, lost to Croatia and then beat South Korea fairly convincingly.
Senegal qualified for the Cup easily though, with this their second appearance in the tournament. Drawn against Colombia, Japan and Poland, it’ll be extremely tricky for them to get out of the group stage.
Nigeria were the first African team to qualify for the World Cup, knocking over Zambia and Cameroon on the way. For their level of expectation, they haven’t posted bad results with competitive losses to England and the Czech Republic during the lead-up, as well as a one-all draw with the Congo.
Grouped with Iceland, Croatia and Argentina, it would appear they must beat the Croats to proceed, with a likely win against Iceland later in the tournament.
22. Costa Rica
Losses to England and Belgium in their last two games pose relevant questions around Costa Rica, especially over their defence which seemed powerless.
They qualified well, but will need a stack of goals from the likes of Sporting Lisbon’s Bryan Ruiz or Joel Campbell if they are to escape a group featuring Brazil and Switzerland.
Sweden enter Russia after a loss to Romania, a draw with Denmark and another loss to Peru. They became one of the success stories of qualifying by beating Italy and it has to be worth something, but their form is bad. Grouped with South Korea, Mexico and Germany, they could pull second place out of the ether, but it seems unlikely.
Egypt’s ranking really depends on whether gun Liverpool winger Mo Salah plays. He has been the best player on the planet for the last 12 months, scoring 32 goals across the course of the season. If he plays, Egypt may well get out of a very weak Group A.
If he doesn’t, the Pharoahs will probably live up to their form which includes a draw against Colombia and a 3-1 loss to Belgium.
The northern-African nation are currently ranked 41 in the world, but after less than inspiring form during the lead-up to the World Cup and being grouped with Portugal and Spain, their chance of advancing has taken a tumble.
Young striker Ayoub El Kaabi, who has 11 goals in ten international games, carries a lot of hope, but if Mbark Boussoufa and co can’t get him quality ball out of midfield, it’s not going to matter very much.
The Samurai Blue’s best chance of a win will come when they take on Senegal later in the tournament, but after losses to Switzerland, Ghana and Panama in the last fortnight, their form is atrocious in the lead-up.
Hard to see them advancing.
The northern-Atlantic nation are among the greatest sporting stories of the modern era following their 2016 Euro quarter-final run. Still, this is their first appearance at the World Cup and after losses to Peru and Norway, as well as a draw with Ghana, confidence won’t be high. Gylfi Sigurdsson will need some big performances if they are to do the unthinkable.
This is only third World Cup the hosts have played in this century and they are currently at their lowest historical ebb, ranked 70th in the world.
While the home crowd might give them something to work with, they will be towelled up by Uruguay and, if Salah plays, Egypt will smoke them as well. They might start well against Saudi Arabia tonight, but that will be as good as it gets for the hosts, who lost to Austria in the lead-up.
29. South Korea
The Asian nation have been up, down and all around in their lead-up to the World Cup. A win over Honduras, a draw with Bolivia and two losses to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Senegal leave you not knowing what to expect.
While there is plenty of talent in the squad led by Ki Sung-yueng, they have been drawn against Sweden, Germany and Mexico and stand little chance of progressing.
Panama are ranked just outside the top 50, but almost missed qualification for the World Cup. Some last day heroics got them in the tournament for the first time in their history, but with England, Tunisia and Belgium in their group, they stand almost zero chance of qualifying for the next round.
A draw with Northern Ireland and a loss to Norway during their build-up won’t exactly fill them with confidence either.
Despite earning direct qualification to the World Cup from Asia, Iran have been put in one of the tougher paths to the final, with Portugal, Spain and Morocco in their group.
Iran’s loss to Turkey in the lead-up won’t help matters, although the experienced Sardar Azmoun, who has 23 goals at international level, will provide some potency up front.
32. Saudi Arabia
The Arabic nation have been drawn in a weak group, so that helps, but after a 3-1 thumping at hands of Peru and another loss against Germany, they may struggle to score a goal in the tournament, even with Russia and Egypt in their group.
Don’t forget, The Roar will be blogging each and every match and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and you can check out all the fixtures for matchday 1 here.