2018 World Cup Power Rankings After March Friendlies

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMarch 28, 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 27:  Isco Alarcon of Spain celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the International Friendly match between Spain and Argentina at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on March 27, 2018 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

For the first time since December's FIFA World Cup 2018 group-stage draw, all 32 qualified teams took to the pitch and began serious preparation for the finals in Russia this summer.

Traditionally, this March window is the first of two important junctures in the buildup to a nation's impending campaign, giving managers the chance to trial players, hand out last-ditch chances and try new formations. Watching the results, good or bad, can be fascinating.

As always, we've updated our World Cup power rankings based on the latest events. Please note we don't take friendly results too seriously—no one should—but there are some occasions where you do have to sit back and retake stock.

The teams are ranked in order of their likelihood of lifting that golden trophy come July 15.

32. Panama (-1)

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Well, that didn't go to plan. A 6-0 loss to Switzerland hardly represents the ideal World Cup confidence booster, and while friendlies should always be taken with a pinch of salt, this one's genuinely alarming.


31. Australia (-1)

Australia have a new coach in Bert van Marwijk, and the team has little time to grasp what he wants from them. That showed in these March games.

The 4-1 loss to Norway was not good, and while the 0-0 draw with Colombia seems better on paper, it really is quite remarkable they came away having not conceded three or four.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 27: Mateus Uribe of Columbia competes for the ball with Mile Jedinak of Australia during the International friendly between Australia and Colombia at Craven Cottage on March 27, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Get
Julian Finney/Getty Images

30. Tunisia (+2)

When England and Belgium scout Tunisia's last two games, they won't be mad on what they see: Two stubborn 1-0 victories—one of which was against Iran (the 1-0 kings!)—promise a frustrating examination in Group G.


29. South Korea (Stay)

South Korea's form this month hasn't been great, but it also doesn't change much with regard to their outlook for the World Cup. Close losses to Poland and Northern Ireland only served to reaffirm they're not likely to make much of a splash in Russia.


28. Saudi Arabia (-2)

Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia were completely outgunned by Belgium on Tuesday and fell to a 4-0 defeat. Days earlier, they'd only managed a 1-1 draw with Ukraine, and their poor form under Juan Antonio Pizzi is starting to worry a few.


27. Iran (+1)

Iran recovered from their 1-0 loss to Tunisia with a 2-1 victory over Algeria, stymieing Riyad Mahrez and Co. in a performance where they looked much more like themselves. We know what we're going to get from Team Melli.


26. Iceland (-1)

"Not the best" would be a rather conservative assessment of Iceland's disappointing results this past week. Conceding six goals in two games is not something you expect from them at all. There'll be lots to unpack from this.

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 27:  Raul Ruidiaz #11 of Peru scores a second half goal past Frederik Schram #25 of Iceland in an International Friendly match at Red Bull Arena on March 27, 2018 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Steven Ryan/Getty Images

25. Japan (-2)

Japan's performances are becoming a little concerning. This month they failed to beat either Mali or Ukraine—neither of which count as top competition—they've lost four of their last seven and haven't beaten a heavyweight in some time.


24. Morocco (+3)

Morocco are known for their defensive nous under Herve Renard, but a quick look at their XIs for the two friendly wins this month reveals an awful lot of technical, dribbling power, too. If Renard can begin to harness that and keep them solid, they might be the upset alert you're looking for.


23. Sweden (-1)

Coach Janne Andersson tried a few different things in Sweden's March friendlies, but nothing really seemed to come off. Two losses, whatever the circumstances, is a less than ideal return from this period—particularly given they faced two sides who failed to qualify for Russia.


22. Senegal (-3)

Senegal are unfortunate to move down as many as three spots, becoming the victims of a reshuffle in the middle order. Their draws against Uzbekistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina aren't too bad, but you do expect a little more given the star quality at hand.

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New kits have been on show this international break 😍 https://t.co/Y4DJTCyYYu

21. Nigeria (-1)

Even if results don't go Nigeria's way this summer, they'll at least win the Kit World Cup—what Nike have produced for The Super Eagles to wear is absolutely scintillating.

20. Switzerland (+4)

The big concern for Switzerland heading into these finals was supposed to be goalscoring, but in putting six past Panama, perhaps some questions were answered. The 1-0 win over Greece wasn't too bad a result, either.


19. Costa Rica (-1)

Costa Rica's 1-0 win over Scotland snapped a worrying five-game streak without a win, but then at the next attempt, they started another by falling to Tunisia. The XI in that second game featured eight regular starters from their 2014 World Cup highs...but it feels unlikely they can pull off the same feat four years later.


18. Egypt (-1)

March represented a learning curve for Hector Cuper's Egypt, who up until now have only really faced fellow African sides.

"We had to get used to facing all types of opponents; it was important to play against different football styles," Ahmed Hegazi told ONSport after the two losses to Portugal and Greece (h/t King Fut).

More work required, it seems.


17. Russia (-2)

Credit to Russia for testing themselves properly this month, organising friendlies against Brazil and France. They lost them both—the first 3-0, the second 3-1—but when it's time to contest the finals, there's every chance they're better prepared for it as a result.


16. Peru (+5)

It's time to respect what Peru are producing. Having elbowed their way through the toughest qualifying campaign in the world and a difficult intercontinental play-off, they're now beating some of Europe's better sides as they ramp up preparations for the finals.

BARNET, ENGLAND - MARCH 27:  Aleksandar Mitrovic (no.9) of Serbia celebrates his second goal during the International Friendly match between Nigeria and Serbia at The Hive on March 27, 2018 in Barnet, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

15. Serbia (+1)

The rebirth of Aleksandar Mitrovic gives Serbia a significantly improved outlook for this summer's finals. They're stubborn and rugged throughout but have at times lacked that killer instinct; a sharp Mitrovic is the final piece.


14. Denmark (Stay)

Denmark's 1-0 win over Panama seemed fine until Switzerland beat them by five more, and the 0-0 draw against a motivationless Chile was acceptable if not pleasing. Nothing really changed for the Danes this month.


13. Mexico (Stay)

Mexico gave us a taste of how brutal they can be in ripping Iceland—a team notoriously difficult to breach—to shreds, but they also revealed their flaws, tripping up against a Croatia side without a list of stars.

In fairness, it's quite possible El Tri's players were affected by the serious-looking injury Nestor Araujo was stretchered off with early on.


12. Croatia (-1)

As is often the case, Croatia have left themselves an awful lot to figure out in a short space of time. They have an immense amount of talent and a genuinely world-class midfield, but how it comes together is anyone's guess.

Against Peru, they looked really unstable, but against Mexico, they upped their game considerably and deserved to win. It's difficult to figure out which is the real Vatreni.


11. Colombia (+1)

After 45 minutes in Paris last Friday, Jose Pekerman was facing up to a small-scale disaster. Two down thanks to some iffy defending and a David Ospina howler, the decision to schedule a friendly against such a powerful nation looked questionable.

But Los Cafeteros responded in the second period brilliantly, netting three and winning the game, and they were unfortunate not to score the same number against Australia on Tuesday. These two performances were the building blocks Pekerman needed to begin crafting confidence and togetherness in this talented side.

If you're looking for examples of how to surrender your place in a World Cup squad, check Miguel Borja's incredible 45 minutes at Craven Cottage: One goal ruled out for offside, two sitters smacked against the woodwork and a missed penalty to top it all off. 

10. Poland (Stay)

Over the course of two games (and four halves), Poland manager Adam Nawalka experimented heavily with personnel, using four different goalkeepers for 45 minutes each, multiple midfield blueprints and some different attacking looks.

When you're chopping and changing to such an extent, the results don't feel like they matter too much.


9. England (Stay)

There's still quite a lot of criticism when it comes to Gareth Southgate's England, but while they may not be fantastic to watch, they're pretty good at getting results. 

The 1-0 win over the Netherlands felt OK at the time, but it looks quite a lot better in hindsight, given the Oranje then went and beat Portugal 3-0. The Three Lions were just a few minutes (and a touch of controversy) away from beating Italy, too.


8. Portugal (Stay)

These March friendlies have been an alarming experience for Portugal, who required a late show to beat Egypt—Cristiano Ronaldo netting twice in stoppage time—and were then beaten soundly by the Netherlands 3-0.

B/R Football @brfootball

Portugal 0-3 Netherlands https://t.co/ZGAq5QrJof

Concerns over Fernando Santos' central defensive options remain, while they once again struggled to play against a side who forced them to find solutions in possession, rather than just counter-attack and run. 


7. Argentina (-2)

Err....what? Teams of Argentina's calibre don't generally concede six goals, but that's exactly what happened when taking on Spain in Manchester on Tuesday.

Lionel Messi was missing due to injury, sure, but that doesn't explain away a horrendous result that will undoubtedly knock the confidence of a fragile bunch. Jorge Sampaoli has some job on his hands.


6. Belgium (+1)

Belgium were the only side who qualified for the World Cup to arrange just the one match this month, instead opting to give their players a four-day break when the other fixture would have been. The likes of Dries Mertens and Kevin De Bruyne will likely have appreciated that.

A sharp and well-rested Red Devils side then destroyed Saudi Arabia 4-0 on Tuesday, with Romelu Lukaku netting a brace.


5. Uruguay (+1)

A glance at Uruguay's two results on paper might suggest "same old, same old"—after all, they did post two clean-sheet victories thanks to goals from Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez—but dig deeper, and there was yet more evidence of Oscar Tabarez's steady revolution.

B/R Football @brfootball

Edinson Cavani comes up big for Uruguay in China 💪 https://t.co/tz6SmXi4pG

They bettered the Czech Republic and Wales using a midfield of Rodrigo Bentancur (20), Nahitan Nandez (22) and Giorgian De Arrascaeta (23). Elsewhere, Lucas Torreira (22) made his anticipated debut off the bench, and Guillermo Varela won his third and fourth caps at right-back. 


4. France (Stay)

The feeling that France still haven't quite meshed yet simply won't go away, and second-half collapses like the one witnessed against Colombia hardly help matters.

With Les Bleus, the sentiment is the same as it has been throughout qualifying: They're arguably the most talented nation in the world, but Didier Deschamps still hasn't found the magic formula yet, and therefore they sit just below a "big three," if you will.


3. Germany (-2)

"It wasn't our day today," Joachim Low told reporters following Germany's 1-0 loss to Brazil on Tuesday (h/t ESPN). "The result apart, it wasn't the game we had envisaged. The automatisms didn't work, we lacked fluidity."

Perhaps Die Mannschaft have more to figure out ahead of the tournament than many assumed. It's incredibly hard to retain World Cup titles, and despite only seemingly getting stronger since 2014—they actually have a striker now!—it's difficult to see them as the best side heading to Russia.


2. Spain (+1)

It is now impossible to ignore Spain. Anyone who thought they might challenge for the crown in Russia this summer is mistaken—they absolutely will based on this evidence.

B/R Football @brfootball

Sergio Ramos knows 😘 https://t.co/0UtrbX0h8E

A 6-1 win over Argentina, no matter the iteration or cycle, is something to be lauded. Despite David Silva's absence and Julen Lopetegui's ideal No. 9 (Alvaro Morata) being absent, they tore La Albiceleste apart in frightening fashion.


1. Brazil (+1)

It's important to understand the context of Brazil's win over Germany: The Selecao played a settled side, though admittedly sans-Neymar, and took on a much-changed equivalent. They were favourites from the outset and delivered.

B/R Football @brfootball

31.08.2016 - 26.03.2018. 573 days. Germany’s unbeaten streak is over. https://t.co/jAEIGYvKNj

But that being said, its hard to ignore the sheer guts that must have taken from Tite's men. Facing Joachim Low's side for the first time since they dumped them out of their own World Cup in 2014, it would have been easy for the mental aspect of the game to get the better of them.

Instead, they built on a commanding 3-0 win over Russia with a 1-0 victory that genuinely flattered the reigning champions. As a result, they deservedly move top of the World Cup power rankings.



All statistics and results via Soccerway.com

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