Power Ranking the Top 20 World Cup Teams on Qualifying Form
With no domestic football in sight, B/R turns its attention to the World Cup qualifying race as it draws to a close.
We've ranked the top 20 nations in world football on account of their qualifying records, delving into the matter of who's hot and who's not as we edge closer to the showpiece event in Brazil.
The rankings are solely based on qualifying results and performances, so friendlies are not taken into account. Brazil—who qualifies by default—is not included.
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Look likely to miss out due to some patchy form, but a playoff could yet be their entrance route.
The Swiss look essentially nailed on to secure automatic qualification, but we're not entirely convinced by their mini-revolution just yet.
They've been in imperious form over the course of the qualifying period and look to be bringing their much-improved talents to the tournament proper.
Currently in pole position to qualify from the Central America and Caribbean zone.
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FIFA World Ranking: 30
Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be the focal point of the Swedish national team, but his colleagues are now finally starting to come to the fore.
They're a talented bunch and always produce a strong showing when they qualify for the World Cup, but being stuck behind Germany in Group C will require them to head to the playoffs—should they stave off the threat of an emerging Austrian side.
19. Ivory Coast
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FIFA World Ranking: 18
We're still waiting for the day Ivory Coast play to their full potential. With the golden generation aging fast, this may well be its last chance to make an impact.
Didier Drogba is still leading his nation with his heart on his sleeve, and with the Toure brothers, Cheick Tiote and more on their side, they'll always have the propensity to make a run at a major trophy.
Full-back and goalkeeper are two areas in which the nation is inherently weak.
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FIFA World Ranking: 24
Ghana have stormed through round two of the African qualifying section, winning five games out of six to top Group D ahead of a very serviceable Zambia outfit.
Coach James Kwesi Appiah's squad can boast some serious star quality and depth, with the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Kwadwo Asamoah, Christian Atsu and Emmanuel Agyemang Badu.
In current form their place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup is almost assured, with a two-legged tie against a team from another group all that stands in the way.
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FIFA World Ranking: 23
Update on France's goalscoring efforts: they have finally found the back of the net.
After a seriously worrying 0-0 draw with Georgia, Les Bleus bounced back with a comeback win over Belarus, winning, 4-2.
They are now even with Spain atop their group, with the defending World Cup champions having a game in hand.
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FIFA World Ranking: 7
Portugal is a nation packed with footballing talent, but they've continued their worrying trend of taking the qualification process right to the wire.
They never do things the easy way—it's just not in Portuguese football DNA—and stand at risk of settling for the playoffs at the expense of Russia.
If Paulo Bento's troops do make it to Brazil at the first time of asking, they may well look back at Fabio Coentrao's last-gasp goal in Ramat Gan as a lifesaver.
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FIFA World Ranking: 11
It will not be a surprise for you to learn Greece have scored just eight goals and conceded four, and while they're not everyone's cup of tea, they can be seriously efficient at grinding out results.
They've kept six clean sheets already, won three games by the scoreline of 1-0 and their top scorers are tied on two goals apiece.
Fernando Santos, the man who guided them to the latter stages of Euro 2012 at the expense of Russia, is the man behind the curtain once again.
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FIFA World Ranking: 17
Ecuador took one step closer to the 2014 FIFA World Cup with a draw against Bolivia on Tuesday night, closing in on their return to the world stage after an eight-year absence.
They're still at a slight risk of dropping out of the automatic qualification spots, but given Uruguay's form and the fact Bolivia are rock-bottom of the South American section with just 11 points, it's an unlikely outcome.
La Tri have done brilliantly to keep pace with the heavyweights of the division.
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FIFA World Ranking: 21
With Colombia and Belgium becoming mainstream, Chile are set to be the hipster's team in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Jorge Sampaoli is a magnificent tactician and has led La Roja to third place in the South American qualifying section. While the job isn't quite done as yet, they look almost certain to secure an automatic berth into the tournament proper.
Remarkably, after 14 games, they haven't been involved in a single draw.
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FIFA World Ranking: 37
Don't jump the gun: Japan aren't going to be anywhere close to winning the World Cup in Brazil next year, but they're building something rather special after playing hosts in 2002.
Key players in Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda have the ability to light up any game, and if the country can develop a pair of top-notch centre-backs, the Samurai Blue can make giant strides in the sport.
They were one of the first to seal qualification to the tournament proper, and can now sit back and spend plenty of time preparing for the showpiece event.
11. Bosnia & Herzegovina
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FIFA World Ranking: 13
Bosnia & Herzegovina are one of the highest-scoring sides in the European qualifying section, bagging 25 goals from an assortment of outlets.
Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic have found form for the national shirt, while Zvjezdan Misimovic, Miralem Pjanic, Haris Medunjanin and Senad Lulic have also chipped in with strikes.
Both BIH and Greece are level atop the group with 19 points apiece, and any slip ups—from either side—are going to be punished.
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FIFA World Ranking: 14
Roy Hodgson's much-maligned troops are an easy target, but in World Cup qualifying they're unbeaten despite being handed an unforgiving group.
They landed alongside Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine—three teams who represent stern tests and extremely tricky away trips—but are so far negotiating the process extremely well.
Their draw game in Kiev on Tuesday helped the Three Lions' get one step closer to Brazil.
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FIFA World Ranking: 16
Russia took the top spot in Group F by beating Israel at home, and in doing so, displaced Portugal at the summit.
Fabio Capello's side have looked imperious in qualifying recently, and their 3-1 win over Israel will have Paulo Bento and his troops extremely worried.
Avoiding slip ups against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg will see Roman Shirokov and co. qualifying automatically.
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FIFA World Ranking: 8
Croatia's form, in almost any other group, would be enough to secure automatic qualification to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Unfortunately, they drew the short straw and landed alongside the underrated (in FIFA terms) Belgium national side.
They're going to have to settle for a playoff, but after amassing 17 points and beating the likes of Serbia, they'll be the side no one wants to catch.
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FIFA World Ranking: 1
Spain may be top of the FIFA world rankings by a distance thanks to their 2010-12 exploits, but they're slipping and everyone can see it.
Losing 3-0 to Brazil in the Confederations Cup raised a few eyebrows, and they've struggled to beat away a profligate French side throughout the World Cup qualifying process.
Drawing to Finland wasn't the smoothest move either, and while this side still holds the potential to win the World Cup, they need to re-convince a few people.
There are plenty of sides who boast better qualifying records than La Roja, and given that is how these sides are being measured, you shouldn't be surprised to see Vicente del Bosque's men low down.
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FIFA World Ranking: 5
Louis van Gaal has coaxed some absolutely astonishing form out of his young Dutch charges, winning seven games and drawing one from eight outings.
The draw with Estonia was disappointing but the qualification from Group D is as good as settled, with Romania, Hungary and Turkey trailing in the Oranje's wake.
With the likes of Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij, Daley Blind and Kevin Strootman starring, the future looks incredibly bright.
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FIFA World Ranking: 6
Cesare Prandelli has done a magnificent job with the Italian national team over the past three years, and the Italian FA should be doing everything they can to keep him around.
Group B has been a stroll in the park for the Azzurri, waltzing to six wins and two draws from eight outings and never really being tested.
Bulgaria are the closest challenges yet they lag seven points behind—this one will be sealed soon, and Prandelli can start preparing for an assault on Brazil.
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FIFA World Ranking: 3
Much like Belgium, Colombia have received a lot of love in the run-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup on account of their star-studded roster.
Los Cafeteros' fans haven't had a lot to be excited about since Carlos Valderrama's retirement, but the rise of this young, pacey and extremely likable side has produced copious amounts of optimism.
They've never been deeper in talent up front, boast some of the most athletic wide men around and have clever, smooth midfield options.
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
FIFA World Ranking: 10
People are getting so excited over the prospect of Belgium going all the way in Brazil, they're in danger of becoming overhyped and overburdened.
The talent on the roster is ridiculous—from goalkeeper all the way to the front line and everything in between—and they seem to boast incredible depth to complement a starting XI.
A lot will be expected of Marc Wilmots' troops, but it's only fair to bear in mind it's been more than 10 years since they've graced an international competition. Baby steps.
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FIFA World Ranking: 2
Qualifying has been a stroll in the park for Joachim Loew's side, winning seven of their eight games and scoring an astonishing 28 goals.
Their one slip-up came in the form of surrendering a four-goal lead to Sweden to eventually draw 4-4, but that can be brushed under the mat in the shadows of an imperious campaign so far.
With extreme depth in almost every position and world-class outlets as far as the eye can see, Germany are the No. 1 European side heading into the tournament proper.
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FIFA World Ranking: 4
Argentina sit atop the South American qualifying section having lost just a single game throughout the process.
As B/R's Jonathan Wilson explains, Alejandro Sabella has finally balanced out the first XI after finding the perfect excuse to drop Carlos Tevez, and thus finally getting the best out of Lionel Messi on the national stage.
Home continent advantage makes Argentina many people's favourites to win the tournament proper in Brazil.