World Cup 2018 Power Rankings: Updated After Quarter-Finals
Two frantic days of football. Four teams eliminated. Semi-final matchups set.
The 2018 World Cup knockout stages have kicked into top gear, and the potential winners field has narrowed to France, Belgium, England and Croatia.
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, and while in past editions the bracket layout has played a part, that's less of a factor now that each team's route is clear.
The 28 eliminated sides are ranked in order of how well they played and how heavily they impressed. The 24 teams that exited before the quarter-finals are simply listed. You can view the post-group-stage rankings here for more flavour on how they fared.
30. Costa Rica
29. Saudi Arabia
20. South Korea
8. Sweden (Stay)
Sweden's progression to the quarter-finals was a victory for the virtues of team cohesion and hard work, but if you're missing that sprinkling of elite quality, you can only haul yourself so far.
That is where the Scandinavians fell short in the 2-0 loss to England. Once Harry Maguire had put them one behind, the onus was on them to find an attacking solution, and they predictably came up short.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was forced into action a few times, but it was the same old story for striker Marcus Berg: good chances from good positions missed. He played 428 minutes over five games and scored zero goals.
7. Russia (Stay)
However much it hurts now, Russia will at some point be able to look back on their World Cup campaign with pride. It was supposed to be a disaster, a car crash, a mess. In the end, it was anything but.
Beating Spain and taking Croatia to penalties represents good work for a team who were so short on defenders they had to call upon 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich ahead of the tournament to bail them out of a tight spot.
Even Igor Akinfeev, often the butt of many a joke on Champions League nights, played the part of hero in the Round of 16.
6. Uruguay (-3)
Heading into the quarter-finals, Uruguay took a massive hit to its chances of winning due to the calf injury Edinson Cavani sustained in the previous round. Without him they're not the same, and, the thinking went, without him they simply didn't have enough in the tank to outlast Les Bleus.
Those theories were proved true. With Luis Suarez over-burdened in attack, he sought fruitlessly for a way to impact the game, and not enough came from his midfield, either.
In this scenario, with the forwards blunt, the last thing you need is for a usually solid defensive setup to make errors—but Fernando Muslera did something truly bizarre. The fact Josema Gimenez was in tears by the 88th minute summed it up: They had all the effort and all the heart but just not enough quality on the day.
5. Brazil (-3)
Brazil vs. Belgium felt a very close, very even matchup on paper, and the on-pitch delivery backed that sentiment. You got the feeling that if it was played 10 times, they'd each win five.
The Selecao were ripped open defensively early on and were dealt a stroke of misfortune with the opening goal but responded well in the second half. They created enough chances to turn a 0-2 scoreline into a 3-2 but only converted one.
Another World Cup giant falls.
4. England (+2)
For the first time since 1990, England will appear in a World Cup semi-final. It's a fact that still hasn't quite sunk in for some.
The 2-0 quarter-final win over Sweden was smooth. It took a while for The Three Lions to get going, but once the first goal went in, they never looked like losing control of matters. Pickford was forced into action a few times, but there was a serenity to proceedings that felt unexpected.
It might be that once a team gets a handle on England's set piece strengths then they're stopped, but there have been no signs of that so far.
3. Croatia (+2)
It's a good thing Ivan Rakitic has nerves of steel, because that's twice that Croatia have forced him to convert under pressure in a penalty shootout to progress.
You wonder if back-to-back 120-minute excursions will take its physical toll; in the dying moments against Russia, Mario Mandzukic was dead on his feet, begging for the final whistle, and several others looked spent.
The Vatreni we've seen in the knockouts is nothing like the one we saw in the groups, as they've stumbled through two games against tangibly weaker opposition. You'd still probably favour them in their matchup against England on Wednesday, though, given the class of Luka Modric, Ante Rebic and Co.
2. Belgium (+2)
World Cup lesson learned: Don't let Belgium play on the counter-attack!
Lukaku lined up off the right flank so he could drive into the space Marcelo left when attacking, though he drifted inside to cause damage, too—and did so in the build-up to De Bruyne's spectacular goal.
They shut up shop and rode their luck a little at the end, thanking the post, Thibaut Courtois and possibly a lenient referee when it came to penalty decisions, but they hauled themselves over the line.
1. France (Stay)
Some will consider France fortunate to have met Uruguay while they were without Cavani's services, but they still had to beat a very good team that did their best to nullify them at every turn.
It took a header from a set piece to find a way through—Antoine Griezmann's clever double-stutter creating room where there usually is none. Until that point, Uruguay had dominated aerially, and Diego Laxalt had done a fine job of stopping Kylian Mbappe from gaining steam.
But with the first goal in the bag, Les Bleus entered control mode—and they looked very good doing so. A mature performance followed, and the second goal, however fortuitous, placed the game out of their opponents' reach for a 2-0 final.
They play a ferocious Belgium side on Tuesday. It's going to be a cracker.