Ranking the Top 10 Nations by World Cup Warm-Up Results
The 2014 FIFA World Cup is ready to go, with hosts Brazil set to face Croatia on the opening day of the month-long tournament.
After two years of qualifiers, more than 200 nations have been whittled down to 32, while squads have been chosen, altered, finalised and re-altered along the way, sometimes with over 35 or 40 players having contributed along the way to reach the finals.
Those 23 for each country who will take part in Brazil have been playing warm-up games over the past few weeks, with momentum, fitness and form paramount in coaches' minds, along with tactical plans and deciding on starting XIs, of course.
Form heading into the World Cup doesn't necessarily dictate what will go on once the tournament proper starts, but it certainly gives us an insight into which nations should be heading into the competition riding the crest of a wave and which have work to do to ensure results start to turn their way.
Here are the top 10 performing nations from the warm-up games, with due attention given to strength of opposition as well as results.
Joint 10. Croatia, Netherlands, Switzerland
There's not much to separate these three nations, all of whom are unbeaten in their last three warm-ups.
Croatia drew with Switzerland and saw off Mali and Australia, while the Swiss themselves beat Jamaica and Peru by narrow scorelines after that draw with their European rivals. Both Josip Drmic and Ivica Olic netted a brace in the 2-2 draw.
Netherlands, meanwhile, drew 1-1 with Ecuador before dispatching Ghana and Wales, 1-0 and 2-0, respectively. While not spectacular by any means, Louis van Gaal has altered his tactical set-up during the games and looked to give a number of players starting roles.
It's been a long time since Argentina conceded a goal at international level, stretching back to their final World Cup qualifying match in October 2013.
Their warm-up games have yielded clean sheets, with a draw in Romania in March being followed up by more recent victories over Trinidad and Tobago and Slovenia.
All five goals in those two latter games were scored by different players, with Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero not among their number.
France's friendlies have been somewhat spectacular in their nature, with an easy 4-0 win over Norway being followed up by a 1-1 draw against Paraguay—both goals there coming in the last 10 minutes of the game, with a last-minute equaliser stopping the French gaining victory.
They made up for that in their farewell match at home before departing for Brazil, though, dispatching Jamaica with ease and yet with relentless intent, racking up an 8-0 scoreline.
Karim Benzema, Blaise Matuidi and Antoine Griezmann all scored a brace apiece in that game.
Portugal drew 0-0 with fellow World Cup qualifiers Greece at the end of May but have followed that up with two impressive victories.
They first came out on top in a high-profile friendly against Mexico thanks to Bruno Alves' 90th-minute winner, 1-0 the scoreline there, before trouncing Republic of Ireland in the last friendly out of any nation before the World Cup gets underway.
There they won 5-1 and could have been even more comfortable, with the threat and delivery from wide areas proving a major influence on the game. Cristiano Ronaldo also played just over an hour without sustaining a recurrence of his injury.
The top six nations have all managed three victories from their three games, though the standard of opposition has fluctuated rather wildly in some cases.
Japan are first up, having beaten Cyprus, Costa Rica and Zambia in their three games.
While the middle side have qualified for the World Cup, none are of hugely taxing quality and they needed to come from behind against both Costa Rica and Zambia to take victories, with the last fixture being a great example of their ability on the ball, dangerous play around the penalty area...and, at times, very open defence in a 4-3 win.
Brazil are pretty much expected to win every game they ever play, ever, anywhere, ever, by a bushel-load of goals and with a style and swagger befitting the name of their country.
It doesn't happen that way, obviously, but they have racked up three wins from their last three, beginning with a 5-0 hammering of South Africa in March, with Neymar scoring a hat-trick.
He scored one more in the 4-0 demolition of minnows Panama, while more stern opposition in Serbia were also beaten, albeit by a more narrow 1-0 scoreline, as Brazil approached their most important modern tournament in impressive fashion.
4. United States
United States have steadily increased the quality of opposition in their own buildup to the finals but have won all three in impressive fashion in their own way.
Azerbaijan posed little threat in a 2-0 victory for USA, while the 2-1 win over Turkey was altogether more complete and impressive, with tactical switches incorporated and the front two of Jozy Altidore and goalscorer Clint Dempsey looking a promising partnership.
Altidore finally scored his first goals of 2014 for club or country in the last game, another 2-1 win, this time over Nigeria.
African qualifiers Algeria have tested themselves exclusively against European opposition in their warm-ups and have been impressive all-round, picking up three wins.
Slovenia were seen off 2-0, before Armenia—who went close to a playoff spot in their own qualification campaign—were soundly beaten with three first-half goals, 3-1 the final score.
Romania were last in line, with a 2-1 win underlining Algeria's credentials as a side capable of taking the initiative in matches—but now they'll have to do that against sides who have qualified for the World Cup.
Spain have won three from three, nothing new for them, but they've also kept clean sheets, taken on different regional sides—and beaten a big gun.
Italy were their early opponents in March, with Pedro scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win.
For all their impressive play and control in matches, Spain are rarely big scorers, and that was shown in their domination and eventual overcoming of opponents Bolivia and El Salvador by the same relentless, irrepressible approach, with a 2-0 scoreline in both matches the end results.
The most in-form team coming into the World Cup could be Belgium, who have recorded three wins, with improving opposition and keeping two clean sheets against the better ones.
An easy 5-1 win over Luxembourg was most notable for a Romelu Lukaku hat-trick, but a 2-0 win over Sweden should hold far more meaning.
The last result came courtesy of a last-minute Dries Mertens winner over Tunisia, 1-0 the score, as Belgium prepared in earnest for a World Cup finals in which plenty still believe they could be dark-horse challengers.
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