So round one of group play is done and here we look at the Power Rankings as they stand. Just as we were looking at no major upsets, Switzerland go and shake up everything!
Ghana, Japan and South Korea are also climbers on the list, while Australia and Cameroon take hefty falls. Feel free to fire away with your thoughts below.
1. Germany (Previous Ranking: 5) – A simply magnificent performance by the Germans, who opened up the tournament by pimp-smacking an experienced Australian team. It appears the Germans are missing Michael Ballack since his injury. At least, in a similar to manner to how the New England Patriots missed Drew Bledsoe when he was injured and Tom Brady stepped in. As with most things in life, to truly appreciate how good this performance was, you really need to see it reenacted by Lego models.
2. Brazil (1) – For all the talk of a disciplined and rigid Brazil team, an overlapping fullback on the right storming up the wing and smashing the ball in the far corner was very reminiscent of 1970 wasn’t it? Two defensive midfielders hold while Robinho and Kaka push forward to join Fabiano in attack. This team is a force to be reckoned with. Manchester City sold Elano and bought Shaun Wright-Phillips…. discuss.
3. Netherlands (4) – While it was not a fireworks display you should make no mistake the Netherlands beat a good team in Denmark and should be taken very seriously. Their patient possession paid off with an own goal before the extremely handsome Dirk Kuyt wrapped up the win. Winger Arjen is yet to play and rumors are abound he is trapped on Robben Island in tribute to Nelson Mandela.
4. Argentina (6) – Argentina produced a very entertaining attacking performance that suggested they can be a threat. They did however show some defensive lapses that could be exposed by more ruthless teams than Nigeria. The only thing more enjoyable than watching Argentina’s build-up play is watching Maradona’s reaction on the sideline to missed chances. It’s great fun.
5. Switzerland (24) – The land of the cuckoo clock woke up the world by shocking huge favorites Spain. In addition to that, it is worth considering they have not conceded a World Cup goal since 1994! Switzerland were eliminated on penalties in 2006 after not conceding a goal in the tournament.
6. England (3) – An average start that was greeted with typical tabloid hysteria back in England. Wayne Rooney was described as someone who should play for North Korea (Wan Ru Ni?), and Robert Green achieved Bill Buckner status. At least former captain John Terry was supportive, stating the team would rally around Green. Terry then further played the good teammate role by taking Green’s wife out for a nice romantic meal as Rob recovered.
Franz Beckenbauer joined in the criticism blaming England’s poor performance on the lack of English-born players in the Premier League. However, a cynic could have a chat with Beckenbauer about the lack of German-born players in the Bundesliga.
7. Italy (7) – An aging squad were held by Paraguay and led many to believe that the core of the squad is pasta their best (sorry!). Fabio Canavarro was beaten for the goal and is clearly not the player he was in the last World Cup. Gianluigi Buffon is battling what could be a very damaging injury to Italian hopes. On the plus side, they remain organized and have their easiest group games to come. Simone Pepe showed some real flair and the return of Pirlo will make them more of a threat.
8. Ghana (23) – Many were hoping for an African team to make a run in this tournament, and the Black Stars may be that team. They show defensive strength uncommon of an African team, and have a true scoring threat in Asamoah Gyan. Anthony Annan put in a very impressive performance in the absence of Michael Essien. This Ghana team is made all the more impressive because their average age is under 25. Ghana beat Brazil to win the recent Under-20 world title, and the future is bright.
9. Spain (2) – A truly devastating result. Many will write it off as only the first game, but consider this. Spain now have a very realistic chance of meeting Brazil in the second round, hands up if that was the World cup final in your prediction bracket. Even in defeat Spain showed excellent ability in possession, but their road to the final just got an awful lot tougher should they finish second in the group.
10. Chile (8) – Lived up to their billing as an exciting and attacking team. Their level of dominance was proven in the defensive end as well, because Honduras touched the ball only once inside the Chile penalty area (thank you ESPN statisticians). Alexis Sanchez is very direct and entertaining, and their leading scorer in qualifying Humberto Suazo is yet to return.
11. USA (15) – A very credible draw shows the USA to be a force. USA played a very organized and impressive game. Clever movement by Bradley, Donovan and Dempsey exposed the lack of an anchor in the England midfield. Bradley's performance in front of a large crowd may make him one of the most eligible bachelors in the USA, at least it would if he didn’t bear such a frightening resemblance to his 52-year-old father!
Tim Howard played extremely well and his rib injury is getting massive coverage. Indeed, I haven’t seen a set of ribs so closely scrutinized since I once sat opposite the Jets offensive line at a TGI Friday's diner.
12. Paraguay (9) – Paraguay were billed as a strong defensive team who would be hard to beat, and they did not disappoint. They gained a point from the World Champions, with the only blemish being a bad mistake from Justo Villar. Villar showed us all his best Superman impersonation, flying past the ball and leaving the Italians to tap in an easy equalizer.
Portugal (12) – After
15. Japan (29) – Midfield player Honda had a good engine and drove home the goal that steered Japan to an upset victory over Car-meroon. The Japanese plays show a cautious approach drastically different to the attitude of the Kamikaze pilots employed by the country in times of war. Incidentally, why do Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
16. South Korea (27) – An organized and physically fit team laid a beating on Greece. Park Ji-Sung was the only player from a famous English Premier League team to live up to his reputation in the opening round… discuss.
17. Uruguay (10) – Group A cannot be separated in the standings, or in these Power Rankings with no team distinguishing themselves yet. Uruguay have clearly set their stall out, they are here to get results and not entertain. They did that in game one holding France to a draw despite a couple of dodgy moments from captain Diego Lugano.
Diego Forlan is the best player in the group and his movement gives a sharp edge to a solid defensive unit. Uruguay could do well in the tournament and give the last laugh to all those who drew Uruguay in their office sweep. Pinning their team name on their desk, only for some prankster to cross out the second and third ‘U’.
18. France (17) – France decided to adopt the strategy their military are often accused of by not shooting at anything. A blunt performance was laced with irony at the end as none other than Thierry Henry appealed for a penalty due to a hand ball in the area.
Patrice Evra submitted his effort for worst excuse of the tournament when he claimed the poor performance was due to vuvuzela noise. Presumably he believed Uruguay players could read each other’s minds and did not suffer the same circumstances. If they do not make it out of the group, France can still have some competition in the battle to become the best team at this tournament born in France (see Algeria entry).
19. South Africa (21) – The host nation got the tournament off to a great start with a wonderful goal from Siphiwe Tshabalala. I personally did not believe the goal could be topped until I saw the choreographed, five-man boy band type celebration that followed. If soccer doesn’t work out Tshabalala could have a career in pop music. Expect his song, “Tshabalala-la-la-la Happy Birthday Sweet 16” to be released after the tournament. “If only I could see that goal and dance performed by Lego toys,” you ask?
20. Mexico (16) – Mexico played some good possession football that was pretty to watch. However, the cutting edge is questionable and their back line appeared vulnerable to through balls. The Mexicans showed passion before and during the game, belting out their anthem with their hands drawn straight across their chest horizontally. It almost made you expect them to start singing, “We’re not afraid of the South Koreans they’re only up to here."
21. Nigeria (14) – Nigeria showed spirit in defeat and Vincent Enyeama put in a simply magnificent performance. Enyeama marked himself as a shock contender for Goalkeeper of the Tournament. Nigeria showed pace and ability after settling into the game against Argentina.
22. Denmark (11) – Denmark showed stubborn resistance to the Netherlands before a cruel own goal opened the scoring. They have organization and defensive ability and will doubtless cause problems for Japan and Cameroon.
23. Slovenia (26) – The smallest nation at the tournament opened with three points. They can clearly defend well and will always be a threat at set pieces. Their attack is led by the freakishly tall Nikola Zigic.
24. Slovakia (25) – Slovakia compete with the USA for the best father-son combination at the Cup. Vladimir Weiss Junior is a spark plug for a team well organized by Weiss Senior. They let in a disappointing equalizer and it will get tougher from here.
25. New Zealand (31) – Shane ‘Sugar Foot’ Smeltz put a great cross in for Winston Reid to grab a dramatic equalizer and draw a nation’s attention to soccer. Well, at least until the rugby kicked off.
26. Serbia (13) – Serbia were playing to what would have been a none too surprising 0-0 draw. However, a horrific late error by Zdravko Kuzmanovic (how many points would that name be worth in Scrabble?), a rush of blood gave away a bizarre penalty that won the game for Ghana. Facing a tough next game against Germany, the Serbs are now in a deep hole.
27. North Korea (32) – They may not have got a result, but they certainly raised some eyebrows. North Korea defended bravely for long spells against Brazil and scored a late consolation goal in a narrow 2-1 defeat. Striker Jong Tae-Se cried during the anthem which in all seriousness is great to see.
Tae-Se confidently predicted before the tournament he would score in every game and earn a move to the English Premier League. He did not score, but that doesn’t mean Wolves won’t be interested! The propaganda-loving North Korea government filtered the TV coverage of the game, leading millions of Koreans to celebrate what they believed was a late-winning goal and a 1-0 win over Brazil.
28. Cameroon (18) – A bitterly disappointing performance from Eto’o and the boys. Samuel Eto’o seemed to strangely play wide right for long spells and was ineffective. He may have still been sulking over his recent war of words with legendary corner flag calypso king Roger Milla.
29. Greece (20) – Last week I described them as “ruthless in defense." I’ll get my coat! Before the game coach Otto Reinhagl said, “It is the first match, and if you lose the first match your chances of getting through are limited.” He is not wrong.
30. Algeria (28) – Algeria have 17 players on their squad born in France. While they push France for the title of best team born in France, goalkeeper Farouzi Chaouchi pushes Rob Green for worst goalkeeper at the tournament. With these two in goal the game on Friday could finish 6-5. "Cue the inevitable 0-0 tie."
31. Honduras (30) – As previously mentioned, Honduras touched the ball once inside the Chile area. Last week people wondered if they would win a game. Some will now wonder if they will score a goal. Also regarding Honduras, is it just me or did the assistant coach have the look of Barack Obama?
32. Australia (22) – Their black and blue jerseys resembled bruises, and by the time the game was over it was a very appropriate look. The Australian fans must have felt like they were watching a horror movie (Silence of the Lahm’s?). With best goal scorer Tim Cahill now suspended, things look bleak. Before the game Tim "Crystal Ball" Cahill said the Germans were typically “slow starters." Hmmmm.
Subscribe to World Cup Power Rankings at www.twitter.com/stewartflaherty
Feel free to see and mock how wrong some pre-tournament power rankdings were from last week: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/403339-2010-fifa-world-cup-power-rankings