World Cup 2018 Power Rankings After Lineup Is Finalised

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterNovember 16, 2017

MALAGA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 11: Alvaro Morata of Spain reacts during the international friendly match between Spain and Costa Rica at La Rosaleda Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Malaga, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

The 32 teams attending the 2018 FIFA World Cup have been finalised, with Peru the last confirmed participant courtesy of their 2-0 aggregate victory over New Zealand on Thursday.

Ahead of the anticipated group-stage draw, set to take place on December 1, there's now only one real question left: Who is going to win it?

We've taken stock of every side attending the finals in Russia next summer and ranked them, from one to 32, in order of how likely we feel they are to lift that wondrous golden trophy.

Qualifying results are considered, but general strength and star power can sometimes trump that record. For example, Argentina muddled through the process, but the key point is they made it, and with Lionel Messi in the team, they have a better shot at glory than most.


32. Australia

Australia played the play-offs perfectly, drawing away to both Syria and Honduras before beating them on home soil. It's clear the difference Mile Jedinak makes to this side.

That said, no one will be expecting much of the Socceroos come June. They're gritty and workmanlike, but the final ball in the final third is likely to let them down too often.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 15:  Mile Jedinak of Australia celebrates scoring a goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Leg 2 match between the Australian Socceroos and Honduras at ANZ Stadium on November 15, 2017 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by
Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

              

31. Tunisia

The African qualifying section can be tough sledding, but Tunisia landed on their feet in a nice group containing DR Congo, Libya and Guinea.

They waltzed through it unbeaten, but it means we haven't quite been able to gauge how strong they are. Of every team's ranking in this list, Tunisia's is the one that could shift the most violently as we edge toward the tournament.


30. Panama

After pipping a USA side that includes Christian Pulisic to the World Cup, Panama demand a certain amount of attention and inspire a degree of intrigue.

In all likelihood, they'll need to follow Costa Rica's blueprint from 2014 and lean on a stubborn defence and impressive goalkeeper.

             

29. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia will contest their first World Cup since 2006. Because it's been so long since they've graced the world stage, and due to the fact just one of their usual squad (Mukhtar Ali) plays in Europe's top five leagues, they're an unknown quantity to many.

Look out for Nawaf Al-Abed, a nifty, goalscoring winger who might well carry the hopes of a nation on his shoulders.

Saudi's midfielder Nawaf Al-Abid (R) celebrates scoring a penalty during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier football match between UAE and Saudi Arabia at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al-Ain on August 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE        (Photo
GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty Images

             

28. Morocco

When you think Morocco, you might well think of Sofiane Boufal, Hakim Ziyech and Nordin Amrabat. Attacking players, good dribblers; individuals who can unlock the door and excite.

But under Herve Renard, the Atlas Lions have been one of the most stubborn teams in all of qualifying, and, like many on this list, will head to the World Cup intending to defend. They'll be difficult to grapple with.

                 

27. South Korea

While friendly results must always be taken with a pinch of salt, South Korea's victory over Colombia last week is very encouraging.

Heung-Min Son is a super player, but his two-goal haul against Radamel Falcao and Co. goes against the usual grain; he's largely underwhelmed during qualifying. If he can turn it on, South Korea are a threat.

            

26. Iran

Iran's approach to the World Cup will be much the same as 2014's: sit in, refuse to be drawn out of position and counter with two or three quick players.

Defensively they were superb in Brazil and probably will be again in Russia, given Carlos Queiroz is still in charge, but they lacked in attack. With the likes of Reza Ghoochannejhad and Alireza Jahanbakhsh four years the wiser, perhaps that changes.


25. Japan

Japan disappointed in 2014 and seemed exposed by their squad selection: They took a number of similarly technically gifted No. 10s and not that much else, resulting in a lack of penetration and a lack of true wide play.

If things are to be different this time and they're to break down strong teams, it's on the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki to make it happen.

               

Swiss defender Ricardo Rodriguez holds the ball during the FIFA 2018 World Cup play-off second leg qualifying football match between Switzerland and Northern Ireland at St Jakob-Park Stadium in Basel on November 12, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI
FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images

24. Switzerland

There's uproar surrounding the way Switzerland have qualified for this World Cup, with a ridiculous penalty call lending them a passage past Northern Ireland in the play-offs.

But they looked the better of the two sides over 180 minutes, and they offer more in terms of attacking quality. They're far from the best side heading to Russia, but in Xherdan Shaqiri and Ricardo Rodriguez, they boast some fine players.

                     

23. Senegal

Senegal secured qualification to the World Cup during this international window, beating South Africa twice (one of the matches was a replay following a questionable refereeing performance back in November 2016).

You're never going to list them as favouritesyou might not even fancy them to get past the groupsbut in Sadio Mane and Balde Keita, they have two game-changers.

               

22. Sweden

Anyone who thought Sweden had chanced their way to the play-offs or who might be a soft touch were forced to think again on Monday evening. Over 180 minutes they refused to concede a goal to Italyeven at the San Siroand knocked the Azzurri out in the process.

Good luck beating Victor Lindelof and Andreas Granqvist in that low defensive block.

             

21. Peru

To finish fifth in this South American qualifying cycle is impressive; with the likes of Chile and Ecuador falling by the wayside, you'd be silly to underestimate Peru's quality.

They overcame New Zealand in the play-offs to earn their tickets to Russia and at the very least will entertain with some attacking, direct football.


Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press

20. Egypt

With Mohamed Salah in the XI, anything will feel possible for Egypt. They are not just a one-man teamin fact, they have four or five highly skilled players—but he is the talisman, the difference-maker in the side.

Whichever group they land in on December 1, it's likely they'll be labelled dark horses to progress.

              

19. Costa Rica

It seems too much to ask for Costa Rica to re-create what they managed in 2014, but that doesn't mean they'll be push-overs.

With Keylor Navas in goal, they can prove hard to find a way past, and they have good playersKendall Waston, Celso Borges, Bryan Ruizdotted through the spine of the side.

             

18. Nigeria

Nigeria walked their qualifying group, progressing with a six-point lead over second having gone unbeaten through a tough pool on paper.

They're the top-ranked African side in this ranking as a result, and the intriguing slant on them is that, with the introduction of new talent like Ola Aina, they're getting better and better as we approach the finals.

Sergey Pivovarov/Associated Press

      

17. Iceland

The lifeblood of this Iceland side is Gylfi Sigurdsson, who even when not playing well at domestic level, finds an extra gear (or two) for his nation.

Add his quality to a stubborn defensive outlook, and it's possible to foresee a similar run to the one we saw at Euro 2016, where they clambered out of the group and made it to the quarter-finals.

                

16. Serbia

In terms of emerging talent, there's a lot to like about Serbia. They won't be fancied to get far next summer and likely won't surpass expectations, but there are individuals to look out for.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic of Lazio was given his first cap this month, while Andrija Zivkovic continues to improve and impress at club level, enhancing his chances on the national stage.


15. Russia

Russia did the right thing during this international break: schedule friendlies against top opposition. Argentina beat them and they drew with Spain, and they're learning far more from these tough matches than they would against others.

We said it a month ago, and we'll reiterate now: Whisper it quietly, but Russia aren't that bad.

                

14. Denmark

Denmark made a statement on Tuesday evening. With Christian Eriksen on top form, they tore the Republic of Ireland to shreds en route to a 5-1 win in Dublin.

That performance will make it clear to all three sides who land in their group: Pay careful attention to the Tottenham Hotspur talisman and reduce his time on the ball…or suffer the consequences.

Denmark's midfielder Christian Eriksen celebrates after scoring their third goal during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying football match, second leg, between Republic of Ireland and Denmark at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on November 14, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / P
PAUL FAITH/Getty Images

              

13. Mexico

If you haven't caught the highlights of Mexico's bout with Belgium last week, remedy that. It shows what an exciting, flamboyant side they can be, and what a rising star they have in Hirving Lozano.

El Tri were a fun ride in Brazil in 2014, and early evidence suggests they will be well worth keeping an eye on in Russia.

                    

12. Croatia

Croatia have endured another dramatic qualifying campaign filled with pitfalls and issues, but in beating Greece in the play-offs on Sunday, they can put it all behind them and focus on the tournament ahead.

They have a talented squad, with midfield and forward options many could only dream of, but they need the right man to tie it all together from the helm in order to be successful.

                 

11. Poland

Poland have come a long way in four years. Back in 2012, when they co-hosted the European Championship, they were essentially a Borussia Dortmund right side, Robert Lewandowski plus eight others; now, they have talent in every line, Lewandowski is better than ever, and they're a close-knit team.

If any non-favourite has a chance at something special next summer, it's surely these Eagles.


10. Colombia

Colombia's Radamel Falcao (R) fights for the ball with Peru's Christian Ramos during their 2018 World Cup qualifier football match in Lima, on October 10, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Ernesto BENAVIDES        (Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty I
ERNESTO BENAVIDES/Getty Images

There are many sides on this list with plenty of quality but few answers as to how to put it all together. Colombia are the poster boys for this predicament, as their squad looks great, but on the pitch, there have been struggles.

If James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao hit peak levels then Los Cafeteros are a serious threat, but while the latter seems likely to oblige, the former doesn't. Without the service, the predator can't go to work.

Jose Pekerman's a good coach and has the experiences of 2014 to draw upon in fixing this, but one win in six doesn't inspire confidence right now.

                

9. England

It might just be that not a single soul thinks England have a realistic shot at winning the World Cup. Perhaps Gareth Southgate can use that to his advantage and exceed (low) expectations.

The Three Lions have been boring to watch throughout the qualifying campaign, with flaccid football the hallmark of some dull Wembley performances. The lack of central-midfield talent is a huge concern, and one excellent friendly performance from Ruben Loftus-Cheek changes little there.

But half the battle is having a world-class striker, and England have one in Harry Kane. That secures them a spot in the upper reaches of this ranking as it does give them a chance next summer.

              

8. Belgium

Belgium's biggest worry coming into this World Cup run-in is, seemingly, their manager Roberto Martinez. He's done little to win fan appraisal since replacing Marc Wilmots and caught some heat this week due to his tactical approach against Mexico.

When one of your stars criticises the system in place, it speaks of trouble. Martinez told La Derniere Heure (h/t Sport Witness' Tom Coast) he didn't take it as a personal attack, but what else can that sort of statement really be? Who is responsible for deciding the system?

The Red Devils possess lots of talent, two of the finest midfielders in the world, a top-five goalkeeper and some solid defenders. But they possessed that in 2014 and in 2016 and underwhelmed, so they cannot be assumed to be contenders until they visibly piece it all together.

                 

7. Uruguay

Uruguay's Luis Suarez vies for the ball during their 2018 World Cup football qualifier match in Montevideo, on October 10, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Pablo PORCIUNCULA        (Photo credit should read PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)
PABLO PORCIUNCULA/Getty Images

Provided Uruguay's key players are fit and in form heading into next June, they're an outside contender to win it. No one's going to label them favourites, but they have that gritty makeup, mixed with star attacking quality, that can work so well in tournament football.

The thing is, Luis Suarez's "bad patch" is close to becoming a bad year. It's been over six months since he really played that well, and while he's saying all the right things with regard to his drop in form, Uruguayans must be concerned this hapless run won't abate.

When fit and firing, he's La Celeste's best player. They need him back to his old self, or they can't go shoulder to shoulder with the big boys.

                  

6. Portugal

Portugal's midfielder Bernardo Silva (L) vies with Saudi Arabia's midfielder Abdullah Otayf during the international friendly football match Portugal against Saudi Arabia at the Fontelo stadium in Viseu on November 10, 2017.  / AFP PHOTO / FRANCISCO LEONG
FRANCISCO LEONG/Getty Images

Portugal's defeat of Switzerland last month meant they were spared the chaos of the play-offs, and they have already been able to get to work on plans for the finals.

Any plan drawn up will be centred around Cristiano Ronaldo, but it's important to note a number of complementary pieces are beginning to flourish for the national team, notably Bernardo Silva and William Carvalho.

There may be some issues in defence for Fernando Santos to contend with; the centre-backs are aging and declining, while public pressure to replace Cedric Soares with Nelson Semedo is mounting. Still, they're in good nick and have a world-class difference-maker who can mask other issues.

                  

5. Argentina

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 11:  Lionel Messi of Argentina struggles for the ball with Igor Akinfeev of Russia during an international friendly match between Russia and Argentina at Luzhniki Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/
Epsilon/Getty Images

Qualifying was a mess, but it's behind them now. Jorge Sampaoli replaced Edgardo Bauza as manager in May this year and has heaved Argentina over the line, and he can now hit the reset button and start moulding his team properly.

With Messi on the pitch, they can win any game, and more often than not, he delivers when it matters the mostcase in point being the last-gasp win over Ecuador to seal passage to Russia. Other areas of the squad are lacking, particularly full-back, but the presence of the Barcelona talisman papers over so many cracks.

Despite a rough couple of years, La Albiceleste are more likely than the vast majority of qualified teams to win this World Cup.

               

4. France

COLOGNE, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 14: Coach of France Didier Deschamps greets Alexandre Lacazette of France when he's replaced during the international friendly match between Germany and France at RheinEnergieStadion on November 14, 2017 in Cologne, Germany. (P
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Without question, France will possess the most talented squad heading to the World Cup. Star-studded from front to back, whichever 23-man squad is selected, it'll leave between five and 10 brilliant players at home.

The issue Didier Deschamps faces is how to meld all of these quality individuals together. Despite fielding some remarkable, scary XIs Les Bleus have yet to click on the pitch; despite drowning in forward options, they don't pile up the goals as you'd expect.

Some will label France favourites to win, but the truth is they don't sparkle on the pitch like they do on paper, and that holds them just outside the top three.

                    

3. Spain

MALAGA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 11: Alvaro Morata of Spain in action during the international friendly match between Spain and Costa Rica at La Rosaleda Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Malaga, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

There's an aura around Spain at the moment; it feels like they're back to, or at least on the road back to, the peak of their powers.

Manager Julen Lopetegui has sifted through a talented national pool and formed a group of players who enjoy playing with one another. If Alvaro Morata can solve the centre-forward worry, there's no reason La Furia Roja should not be considered serious, leading contenders to win.

All eyes are on Germany, Brazil and France, but Spain are peaking at the right time.

                    

2. Brazil

Brazil's striker Neymar runs with the ball during the international friendly football match between England and Brazil at Wembley Stadium in London on November 14, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS / NOT FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING USE / RESTRICTED TO ED
ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Brazil are one of the most settled Russia-bound teams. Tite's been a resounding success since being appointed boss, and he's crafted a strong identity and outlook in a short space of time.

Against England, we saw his preferred XI, with injuries to certain players clearing up to allow it. They may not have managed many minutes on the pitch as an 11 due to injuries, but there's generally been at least nine or 10 of them featuring in every game.

The presence of Neymar gives Tite the X-factor every manager wants, and his chemistry with Gabriel Jesus will be crucial.

                 

1. Germany

KOLN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 14: Teamphoto of Germany, standing (L-R) : Mats Hummels of Germany, Toni Kroos of Germany, Niklas Sule of Germany, Sami Khedira of Germany, Emre Can of Germany, Kevin Trapp of Germany
Below (L-R) : Timo Werner of Germany, Marvin P
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

For many, the favourites to lift the World Cup are Germany, and it's an easy argument to make.

They're the reigning champions, having triumphed in Brazil in 2014, and the core of that teamManuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozilremains in place.

Adding the speed and No. 9 instincts of Timo Werner has made Die Mannschaft an even more penetrative attacking force than they were three-and-a-half years ago, and the strength in depth is insane.

Most countries would suffer from losing Marco Reus to injury over and over, but Joachim Low can turn to Julian Draxler or Leroy Sane instead!

                  

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All statistics via FIFA.com

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