World Cup 2018 Power Rankings: Updated After Every Team's Opening Game

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJune 19, 2018

World Cup 2018 Power Rankings: Updated After Every Team's Opening Game

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    The first round of 2018 FIFA World Cup fixtures is in the books, and it's fair to say things didn't really go as expected.

    Hosts Russia, coming into the tournament on a seven-game winless streak, flew out of the blocks and beat Saudi Arabia 5-0. Germany, the reigning champions, lost 1-0 to Mexico in a hapless performance, while tournament big guns Brazil, Spain, Portugal and Argentina all failed to pick up three points.

    The nature of many of the games felt close. Lots of 1-0 scorelines speaks to that sentiment, and between a clear top order and a clear bottom three or four, there's a mass of teams in middle who seem fairly evenly matched.

    That's made this job—ranking all 32 teams after Round 1—quite difficult.

    As always, they're ranked on likelihood of lifting the World Cup. Strength of performance in Round 1 counts heavily toward that, but general ability and clout factors, too. That means Germany don't descend into the 20-30 range, but do fall from the top 10.

    Please note: These rankings do not take into account Russia vs. Egypt, as that is a Round 2 game.

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    32. Saudi Arabia (-3)

    It's pointless tempering the assessment: What Saudi Arabia served up in the opener against Russia was embarrassing. No shots on target, comical defending, loose passing and regrettable goalkeeping.

            

    31. Panama (+1)

    Panama tried their best to match Belgium but eventually tired, caving in in the second half. Fouls, bookings and goals followed as they were easily put away. They move up one because Saudi Arabia were worse.

26-30

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    30. South Korea (+1)

    South Korea's first performance was about as bad as feared. Bar good showings from Jo Hyeon-Woo (goalkeeper) and Kim Young-Won (central defence), there wasn't much to shout about.

    Zero shots on target and a susceptibility to crosses doesn't bode well moving forward. Better than Panama, though.

       

    29. Nigeria (-5)

    Nigeria looked lost in their opener against Croatia.

    Their performance seemed to lack strategy in attack, strength in defence and was epitomised by William Troost-Ekong's bizarre grappling of Mario Mandzukic, which led to the penalty that killed the game off.

       

    28. Tunisia (-1)

    Tunisia endured a true roller-coaster ride against England, initially lucky to be just 1-0 down, then equalising and grabbing a foothold in the game—so much so they might feel unlucky they conceded a winner in the closing moments.

    In response to a relative lack of quality in comparison to more illustrious sides at the tournament, they showed tactical acumen and a lust for pressing, levelling the playing field somewhat.

        

    27. Australia (+3)

    Australia performed heroically against France and will consider themselves unfortunate to end up with a loss. In defence and midfield, they battled and dug in, though the lack of attacking threat needs to be addressed ahed of two seemingly more winnable fixtures. 

    As the round wore on, Australia's performance looked more and more impressive by comparison.

       

    26. Costa Rica (-5)

    Costa Rica looked pretty sturdy against Serbia, defending well and working hard, but where are the goals going to come from?

    Marcos Urena works hard up front chasing long balls, but there's little support for him, and open-play chances might be hard to come by in Russia. 

21-25

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    25. Morocco (-6)

    Coming into the tournament, Morocco hadn't lost a game for over a year and hadn't conceded a single goal in qualifying for the finals. They were expected to beat Iran in the opener and some had even suggested they might clamber out of Group B.

    The gutting, heart-wrenching late loss to Iran on Friday probably ends their tournament just 90 minutes after it began.

          

    24. Egypt (-2)

    Football can be cruel. Egypt were robbed of Mohamed Salah's fitness for their opener and managed well, defending stoutly and containing Uruguay, but fell victim to a late set piece. Even if their talisman returns for the second game, the odds of progression already look long.


    23. Poland (-11)

    It's fair to say we expected more from Poland, and that what they produced wasn't close to what they're capable of.

    That manager Adam Nawalka changed from 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2 at half-time signalled his discontent with the performance, but things only got a little better...and they conceded a second goal due to a defensive mishap. 

           

    22. Colombia (-11)

    Colombia's World Cup got off to the worst possible start, Carlos Sanchez shown a straight red for a handball in the box, resulting in a penalty scored by Shinji Kagawa.

    They fought back and equalised but tired as the afternoon wore on, and their defensive lapses were finally punished as Yuya Osako headed home a winner.

    Few predicted Los Cafeteros to be in this position after Round 1; they'll have to show serious fight to recover from here.

            

    21. Peru (-5)

    Peru won the hearts and minds of many neutrals on Saturday, producing an exciting, attacking brand of football that brought us to the edge of our seats. Sadly for them, they fluffed every chance created—including one from the penalty spot!—and Denmark punished them on the counter.

    It leaves Ricardo Gareca and his men in a bit of a hole already.

16-20

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    20. Iceland (+3)

    Nigeria and Croatia won't be looking forward to playing Iceland. The way they sat in, closed the space between the lines and rushed to block shots made it impossible for Argentina to find a rhythm. 

    Whether their approach changes against sides not containing Lionel Messi is unclear. Probably not, though.

              

    19. Iran (+7)

    Iran are the masters of the 1-0 win. They rode early pressure against Morocco, grew into the game and scraped a goal from the bottom of the barrel—courtesy of an opposing player!—to secure an incredible, priceless victory.

    They're still difficult to back to get out of Group B, but a better start would have been hard to produce, so credit where it's due.

          

    18. Japan (+10)

    Japan are without doubt the luckiest team of Round 1. They met a Colombia side without James Rodriguez (from the start) that was forced to play with 10 men for 87 minutes. It didn't just level the playing field, it tipped the scales.

    Still, The Samurai Blue had to take advantage, and through a Yuya Osako-inspired effort, they did. Group H is somehow even more interesting than anticipated.

          

    17. Sweden (+3)

    Objective one in Group F is beat South Korea. It doesn't matter how you do it, just make sure it happens. With Mexico beating Germany the day before, the pressure on Emil Forsberg and Co. was ramped up yet another notch.

    An Andreas Granqvist penalty sealed a vital win in the second half, though in truth it should have been done by more. Marcus Berg needs to find those shooting boots ASAP.

         

    16. Russia (+11)

    It's fair to say few—if any!—expected that.

    Russia, winless in seven coming into this tournament and with the crushing weight of expectation on their shoulders, were expected to struggle through their opener.

    Instead, they blitzed Saudi Arabia 5-0, Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev taking centre stage, and they've put themselves in a commanding position to qualify from Group A. 

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    15. Switzerland (+2)

    Switzerland caused a big upset in the opening round, holding Brazil to a draw and looking good value for a point. They were committed and firm in the tackle—sometimes to a fault—but did what they had to do to grind one out against a tournament favourite.

    It was a performance that surprised a fair few.

          

    14. Senegal (+4)

    At the fifth attempt, Africa found its first victory of the tournament. Senegal blew no one away in beating Poland 2-1 but ground out an all-important first win, cementing a good start to the finals.

    Add in Colombia's loss and Senegal are now arguably in the strongest position in Group H, as you'd back them to beat Japan next and move to six points.

          

    13. Denmark (Stay)

    It doesn't always have to be pretty. It just has to be effective. 

    Denmark thrilled few in their match against Peru, but thanks to moments of sheer quality from Yussuf Poulsen, Kasper Schmeichel and Christian Eriksen, the Danes scraped a win and have put themselves in a good position in Group C.

           

    12. Germany (-10)

    That wasn't supposed to happen.

    Germany's pre-tournament matches didn't go well—the one vs. Saudi Arabia in particular suggested there were big gaps to fill in midfield and defence—but it was assumed that wouldn't carry over into the finals.

    But it did.

    Mexico overran Die Mannschaft on the counter, and the Germans couldn't find their groove in attack. Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels—three World Cup winners and seasoned professionals at the elite level—have rarely looked more at sea.

    Expect a response from Joachim Low's men in Game 2, but for now, they tumble down the rankings.

           

    11. Serbia (+4)

    Functional, not fluid. What Serbia lacked in identifiable build-up patterns, they made up for with brute force and direct, attacking football.

    No team should be looking forward to facing the tandem of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic, though they might spy a weakness in Branislav Ivanovic on the right.

10. Croatia (Stay)

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    There were shades of Denmark in Croatia's opening performance: It didn't always look fluent, it didn't enthral, but it got the job done.

    The 2-0 win over Nigeria, forced via set piece pressure and then protected with a physical, robust approach, sets The Vatreni up very nicely in Group D.

    Getting Luka Modric off the mark and in form is always a good start to a tournament.

9. Argentina (-3)

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    Argentina came into these finals bogged down by concerns and criticisms. With their first-choice goalkeeper injured, question marks in defence, a lack of fluency in attack and a lack of creativity in the centre, there was a lot to address.

    Their opening performance against Iceland did nothing to ease fears. Granted, the Scandinavians are horrible to play against, and Lionel Messi missed a penalty give them a 2-1 lead, but the word that describes them perfectly is "uninspiring."

8. Brazil (-7)

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    As Philippe Coutinho's wonderstrike hit the back of Yann Sommer's net, many will have been wondering quietly to themselves: "How many will this be?"

    But shortly after that happened, Brazil's rhythm and zip evaporated, allowing Switzerland to creep back into the game and equalise. That's when you want your star players to step up, but a combination of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino contrived to create few good chances.

    Opening with a draw is not what was expected of a Selecao side many have tipped to win the tournament. That said, given the results other "favourites" have recorded in the opening round, perhaps this isn't so bad at all.

7. England (+2)

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    England made things tough for themselves against Tunisia, but that made victory all the sweeter. A late Harry Kane header handed The Three Lions a deserved three-point haul at a World Cup—the first time that's happened since 2010.

    Gareth Southgate's men dominated the early exchanges and could have scored three or four, with Jesse Lingard missing three chances of varying difficulty as Tunisia's defence were taken for a spin.

    A silly penalty concession drew the Lions of Carthage level, and they made England sweat for the winner, the set-piece dominance paying dividends for a second time.

    Perhaps it's useful for England to have to win in such a fashion; they proved they're willing to fight until the final whistle—something previous iterations haven't.

6. Belgium (+2)

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    Belgium looked a little slow and stale against Panama in the first half, but in the second, they turned on the style.

    Perhaps it took them 45 minutes to find their groove, or perhaps they wore Panama down and then punished them with superior quality.

    Whatever it was, Roberto Martinez's men looked frighteningly good in the second half, with Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens on song.

5. Uruguay (+2)

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    It wasn't pretty, but Uruguay got the job done in the opening Group A fixture.

    Egypt proved a stern test, but much of La Celeste's struggle while in possession was due to a lack of genuine width and a lack of movement from their attacking midfielders. In other words, they caused their own issues.

    They were sound and solid defensively, though, and so long as you keep a clean sheet, you need only convert one chance to seal three points. Predictably, it came via a set piece, with Jose Gimenez heading home the winner.

4. France (-1)

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    France made hard work of it but eventually gleaned a win from their opening fixture against Australia. A result's a result, but Didier Deschamps has a lot to figure out.

    Les Bleus' "interchanging" front three of Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe didn't work, and while Paul Pogba's two "moments" resulted in goals, he wasn't involved that much. Benjamin Pavard was too negative on the right, Lucas Hernandez the same on the left.

    Ultimately, though, it's a marker of superior quality; to get so much wrong in a game at a World Cup and still win speaks to their strength.

3. Mexico (+11)

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    Move aside Iran, Iceland! Mexico pulled off the result of the first round, beating reigning champions Germany 1-0 in front of a massive Luzhniki Stadium crowd. To put it simply, they looked awesome.

    They took advantage of Germany's openness in defence by searing forward on the counter, Hirving Lozano grabbing the goal, and they should have scored more. Hector Herrera was particularly strong in midfield, while Javier Hernandez put in a shift up front.

    El Tri have put themselves in a fantastic position to top Group F.

2. Portugal (+3)

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    Portugal owe a big, big thank-you to Cristiano Ronaldo. In a game where they were largely bested by Spain and passed off the park at times, their talismanic forward rescued them a point thanks to an incredible, world-stopping hat-trick.

    His penalty was perfectly struck, his second a touch fortunate, his third precisely placed. He rose to the occasion as if it were a Champions League night—in scoring three on Friday night, he more than doubled his all-time World Cup scoring tally (two before, now five).

    He's kept Portugal on the front foot in this tournament.

1. Spain (+3)

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    Having to play Portugal in your opening game is tough. Having to do it after sacking your manager two days before? Even tougher.

    All eyes were on La Furia Roja on Friday, assessing whether or not the tumult would effect performances on the pitch. Conceding a penalty within minutes didn't help matters, but they eventually settled into a familiar pattern and started pulling Portugal apart. 

    Surrendering the win late on will hurt, but a draw against the reigning European champions is no bad result. Besides, they put to bed fears they'd dismantled themselves on the eve of the finals, reaffirming themselves as a clear tournament favourite.

       

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