World Cup 2018 Power Rankings: Updated After Round of 16

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJuly 3, 2018

World Cup 2018 Power Rankings: Updated After Round of 16

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    And then there were eight! With the round of 16 in the bag, the 2018 World Cup field has been whittled down significantly; just a quarter of the initial 32 teams are left. 

    Uruguay, France, Brazil, Belgium, Russia, Croatia, Sweden, England. That's your remaining lot. 

    As always, we've evaluated each team still in and assessed their likelihood of winning the tournament, ranking them on that basis. Strength of performance through this stage is a natural indicator of that, though there's still a little room for general ability, clout and, importantly, which side of the round-of-16 bracket they've landed on. 

    The 24 eliminated sides are ranked in order of how well they played and how heavily they impressed. The 16 that exited before the second round are simply listed. You can view the post-group-stage rankings here for more flavour on how they fared.          

Nos. 32-17

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    32. Panama         

    31. Egypt      

    30. Costa Rica

    29. Saudi Arabia            

    28. Tunisia

    27. Iceland

    26. Poland

    25. Australia 

    24. Morocco 

    23. Germany

    22. Nigeria

    21. Peru

    20. South Korea

    19. Iran

    18. Serbia

    17. Senegal

16. Argentina (-3)

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    Watching Argentina in Russia 2018 has been a painful experience. It isn't easy to see a side with obvious quality fail consistently to tie it altogether—particularly when it makes the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, look so uninspiring, so bereft of confidence, so lost.

    Well, the journey is over following La Albiceleste's 4-3 defeat to France, and they did well to even make it out of Group D, considering the issues that have dogged them throughout the process.

    A Germany 2000-style root-and-branch redevelopment is clearly required at the Argentine Football Association, and now is the time to take a sledgehammer to the foundations. 

15. Japan (+1)

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    During these finals, wherever Japan have gone, drama has followed.

    From their opening shock win over Colombia, through their bizarre team selection and the loss to Poland, up to Monday night's agonising last-gasp defeat to Belgium, they've been one of the most entertaining teams to keep an eye on.

    They played incredibly well against the Red Devils, taking a deserved two-goal lead thanks to two magnificent strikes. Maya Yoshida was blocking everything at the back, while Shinji Kagawa was playing at peak level in midfield.

    But it all started to fall apart once Jan Vertonghen's looped header found the back of the net in the 69th minute. Japan hit the panic button, while Belgium manager Roberto Martinez's substitutions changed the game. His counterpart, Akira Nishino, had no answers and could only watch with despair as a 93rd-minute counter-attack from a Japan corner brought the Red Devils the winner.

    This will take weeks to get over, but the Samurai Blue should be proud of how far they got. Taking into account the fact that they changed managers in March, they're arguably the biggest overachievers in the entire competition.

14. Portugal (-5)

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    It felt like a matter of time before Portugal's lack of attacking ingenuity would cost them, and when Uruguay were confirmed as their round-of-16 opponents, the writing was on the wall.

    The 2-1 loss surprised few. Bernardo Silva had his first good game of the tournament, but as his levels rose, everybody else's dipped. Portugal resorted to endless crossing and long shots from Cristiano Ronaldo that were too easy to block. It was never going to be enough.

    Only William Carvalho and Pepe showed any semblance of consistency during this tournament, with the list of players struggling far, far longer than the one of those flourishing.

13. Denmark (+1)

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    Exiting the World Cup on penalties is nothing short of heartbreaking, no matter how familiar or new the sensation. Denmark did so well to take Croatia to spot-kicks but fell just short of the mark from 12 yards.

    That said, there's a lot for manager Age Hareide to be proud of. His defence were stingy, finding star performers not just in Simon Kjaer but also Championship right-back Henrik Dalsgaard. His midfield worked like trojans, paving the path to qualification from a tough Group C.

    Kasper Schmeichel's performances ensure he'll be remembered as one of the best goalkeepers at this tournament—and the saved three penalties total against the Vatreni as a heroic effort.

12. Spain (-10)

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    Spain's elimination at the hands of Russia—and the performance that led to it—left many in a state of shock.

    How can a team packed with so much quality move the ball so slowly, without purpose, without any zip or intention? Why would one of the strongest sides left in the competition play in such a conservative fashion, with two defensive midfielders protecting two centre-backs against one striker?

    There were hopes that Julen Lopetegui's departure as manager one day before the World Cup wouldn't affect things, that his ideas were in place and the coaches he left behind could take the reins, acting as he might.

    Those hopes fell flat. The ignominious nature of La Furia Roja's departure will not be forgotten quickly.

11. Switzerland (Stay)

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    The lack of a consistent goalscoring threat from a striker places a natural glass ceiling on what Switzerland can achieve at finals. Once the midfield stop scoring or the set pieces don't find their marks, the goals dry up.

    Picking between Haris Seferovic, Josip Drmic and Mario Gavranovic to play up front can't be a choice manager Vladimir Petkovic enjoys, and he appears to spin the wheel fairly often, trying each of them at different points to see what sticks.

    The absence of quality means that, despite strong defensive play from the likes of Manuel Akanji, Yann Sommer, Ricardo Rodriguez and Valon Behrami against Sweden, it only took a goal to unravel them.

10. Colombia (-2)

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    Colombia have fought through setback after setback this World Cup, from having a player red-carded in the third minute of their opener to losing James Rodriguez sporadically to injury. That they made it to the round of 16—amid chaos—is impressive.

    They adopted a physical approach against England in Rodriguez's absence due to a calf injury, grinding the game into their favour gradually over the course of 90 minutes, and Yerry Mina's header in the 93rd minute was a deserved equaliser.

    They then had the better of extra time but couldn't convert, making their 3-4 exit on penalties even tougher to stomach for the fabulous gathered support.

9. Mexico (+1)

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    Mexico thrilled us and produced the first big shock of the 2018 World Cup by beating Germany 1-0 in Group F. They didn't achieve what they went to Russia to do—in part reach the fabled fifth game (quarter-final)—but they at least put on a fantastic show.

    Manager Juan Carlos Osorio matched Brazil's 4-3-3 formation with one of his own in the round of 16, and that was a big gamble. Usually, when that happens, the team with the superior individuals emerge victorious, and it's easy to see the Selecao boast those.

    El Tri's fast start set back Brazil a little, but the stemming of the tide was only temporary. Guillermo Ochoa kept Mexico in the tie through the 50th minute, but Brazil eventually broke the resistance.

8. Sweden (+4)

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    Sweden have achieved back-to-back victories at a World Cup for the first time since 1958. They did so by beating Mexico 3-0 in their third game to top Group F and then defeating Switzerland 1-0 in the round of 16.

    They're not a team that will wow you, as they lack elite striking talent and lean on graft and defensive work, but they are difficult to overcome. If England are looking forward to playing them in the quarter-finals, they need a reality check.   

7. Russia (+8)

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    It wasn't pretty—not by a long shot—but it got the job done. Russia caused the shock of the knockouts so far by holding Spain level with them and forcing penalties. Then they dispatched them from 12 yards in clinical fashion.

    Manager Stanislav Cherchesov reverted to the five-man defensive system the team used ahead of the finals and sat his side incredibly deep. It shouldn't have worked, but the fact that Spain were so sluggish meant penetrative attacks were few and far between.

    As admirable as the defensive effort was, it's tough to say how well Russia will hold up against teams who aren't so inexplicably negative with the ball. Croatia will shed some light on it in the quarter-finals on Saturday.

6. England (+1)

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    England progressed to the quarter-finals by winning their first World Cup penalty shootout. Eric Dier smashed home the winning spot-kick to finish off a gruelling match with Colombia that stole every last breath from the players.

    The Three Lions were fortunate to come up against Los Cafeteros sans Rodriguez but fell foul of the opponent's other star goalscorer: Mina, the centre-back—not Radamel Falcao!

    To have to win in such circumstances builds a layer of character an England side have lacked for more than two decades. You'd back them to reach the semi-finals from here.

5. Croatia (-4)

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    Expectations have shifted quickly for Croatia.

    Two weeks ago, they were the talented underdogs, capable of upsetting Argentina and then who knew from there; now they're expected to reach the World Cup final, their path through the bracket seemingly as soft as you could expect.

    Perhaps this is weighing on their shoulders, as the Vatreni side we saw squeeze past Denmark on penalties wasn't much like the team that collected nine points in Group D. Or perhaps we expect too much because of their red-hot start.

    An underwhelming performance in the round of 16 sees them lose the top spot in the rankings, but they've won all four of their games and are the strongest side in their half of the bracket. They don't drop far.

4. Belgium (Stay)

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    Call it character-building.

    This Belgium side have long been accused of being a bunch of individuals rather than a true team, but they're doing their utmost to prove that long-standing narrative false.

    Staring in the face a shock elimination to Japan, down 2-0 after 52 minutes on Monday, they rallied. Martinez made some smart substitutions, and they dug out a victory from the deepest, darkest hole.

    The first two goals weren't pretty—netting headers from Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini—but at least proved Belgium have a viable, effective Plan B. The third goal was a thing of beauty: a sweeping, precise counter-attack you could watch over and over.

3. Uruguay (+2)

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    On Saturday, Uruguay put in a stunning performance to knock out European champions Portugal. They combined grit, determination and togetherness with a sprinkling of elite quality, the perfect mixture for any high-stakes game.

    Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez were destructive on the counter-attack. Meanwhile, the defence predictably held firm, and the midfield put out fires all over. They forced Portugal wide and into crossing positions, knowing they'd outlast them over 90 minutes.

    Heading into the quarter-finals on Friday, France will be clear on how this team are going to set up. The question, though, is how to break them down.

    It's the sort of game Les Bleus might struggle with, but with Cavani's injury situation looking dire, per Chris Winterburn of Marca, Uruguay likely won't offer the same counter-attacking threat to accompany their stout defensive play. That hurts their chances in the quarter-finals and gives France a slim edge.      

2. Brazil (+1)

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    Brazil's detractors are running out of ammunition. The Selecao's strong performance against Mexico in the round of 16 affirmed their status as one of the competition's real deals, with their early struggles against Switzerland in their opening Group E game now a distant memory.

    With Neymar getting better and better with each contest plus his opposite winger, Willian, now finally stepping up to the plate, they look difficult to keep at bay. The defence is mirroring that excellent forward play, with Thiago Silva excelling in a line that's kept three straight clean sheets.

    They're understandably favourites against Belgium in the quarter-finals on Friday, and if their performance trajectory continues, they'll take some stopping.

1. France (+5)

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    The nature of the scoreline against Argentina may have made the game seem close, but in truth, France steamrolled La Albiceleste on Saturday in the round of 16 with some stunning attacking play. It's about time we saw some of that.

    Kylian Mbappe, 19, came of age, so to speak, delivering an incredible performance packed with precision, speed and a killer's instinct, while Antoine Griezmann and his midfield three took control in the centre.

    France conceded three goals, but that shouldn't concern manager Didier Deschamps too much. Sometimes the only thing you can do about long-range screamers or fortuitous flicks is treat them as the outliers they are.

    It was a showing that restored faith in Les Bleus, as they finally hauled themselves out of first gear, rising to the occasion as required. Uruguay will be a difficult task in the quarter-finals—they won't given France the space Argentina awarded—but with Cavani an injury concern, Deschamps' men should be considered favourites.


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