It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to order the teams at major soccer tournaments with my Power Rankings. Now that we are one round into the Group Stages of the Brazil World Cup, it seems a good time to give it another go. These completely subjective rankings are based mostly on performance in the first match and to a lesser degree on group difficulty/chances of advancing. Numbers in parenthesis are the FIFA World Rankings from before the tourney.
1. Germany (2) – The team that topped my list after one round in 2010 makes it back to the top to start things out in 2014 after their handy 4-nil dismantling of a FIFA 4th ranked Portugal team. Even with their only true striker being the unfielded Klose, the potent midfield play and attacking threat of Mueller, Ozil, and Gotze look like they will prove more than a match for any of the less-than-impressive defenses we’ve seen on display so far.
2. Argentina (5) – In a tournament with way more goals than we’ve seen in past years, it might make sense to tip the squad with the most attacking threat to go the furthest. In that case, you’d be hard pressed not to bet on Messi, Aguero, Di Maria and co., even if they did only score 2 against a pretty decent Bosnian squad. If it comes down to a shootout, it’s hard not to see this team going home the victors.
3. Brazil (3) – While Oscar has looked fantastic and Neymar quite dangerous, the vaunted “most expensive center-back pairing ever” of David Luiz and Thiago Silva have been less than convincing. Still, this is a strong Brazil playing at the Brazil World Cup and you have to think if they start firing on all cylinders, they’re going to be very hard to stop.
4. Holland (15) – The shocker of the tourney so far was the 5-1 thrashing The Netherlands put down on cup-holders Spain. But let’s be honest, many predicted a Spain-in-decline at this World Cup – they just perhaps didn’t think it would be such a complete collapse. There is no doubt that the Dutch have a great squad buoyed by a young back line that mostly plays together in Holland and the potent tandem of Robben and van Persie up front, but it remains to be seen if this team with a long history of falling apart on the big stage can keep it together down the road.
5. France (17) – Quite possibly the most surprised I’ve been by the form of any of the big teams was the all-around play of France in their 3-0 defeat of Honduras. Granted Honduras is one of the worst teams of the tourney and came out with the perceived game plan of just kicking France until they give up. Nonetheless, Benzema is looking like a would-be Golden Boot wearer and France has a tendency to win big when they play well.
6. Italy (9) – The Azzurri’s talisman Andrea Pirlo might be getting a bit slow at age 35, but their new look with the young 21-year-old Marco Verratti at his side proved a great decision and propelled Italy to a narrow victory over a talented England side.
7. Colombia (8) – No Falcao, no problem. A rampant Colombia made short order of Greece with dominant forward play from Teo Gutierrez and J.Rod. A relatively easy group should see them advance in first where they’ll likely come up against England or Uruguay in the Round of 16.
8. Belgium (11) – While their performance in the first hour of play versus Algeria was less than impressive, the Belgian team figured it out with a few key substitutes and were able to find 3 points. This squad has so much talent that as they continue to play together, they should continue to improve, and could be a force to be reckoned with in the knockout stages.
9. Switzerland (6) – Spots 9 and 10 were a bit of a toss up for me but I give the slight edge to the Swiss who are my pick to come out in the second spot of Group E. Based on Honduras’s performance against the French, the Swiss should make short work of them in their final match (though I think they’ll fall short when up against France). The fact they’ll likely play Argentina in the first knockout round is probably bad news, however.
10. Chile (14) – Chile are a good team, no doubt, but the 3-1 score line over Australia makes the game sound a bit more one-sided than it actually was. It seems Chile’s hopes to advance really come down to tomorrow’s match versus Spain, the winner of which will likely get the second spot in Group B and the prize of facing Brazil.
11. England (10) – The first team without points to make the list, the England squad showed plenty of talent in the first hour of the match before turning to jello in the Manaus heat. Hodgson still seems to be doing some experimenting with his mostly Liverpool side, but there was nothing I saw versus Italy that made me think they couldn’t handily beat Uruguay and Costa Rica.
12. Spain (1) – The reigning World Cup and Euro Cup champs looked like shit for all but the first 30 minutes or so of their embarrassment against Holland. Their back line is in shambles and they simply don’t have the scoring threat that made them so unstoppable in tournaments past. Spain fans will remind you that they lost their first match in South Africa to Switzerland (and we know how that ended), and perhaps the big loss will snap them out of their malaise. But if I was a betting man (and I am), I would not be putting money on Spain to advance.
13. USA (13) – Coincidentally matching their FIFA world rank, I’ve put USA at 13 because there is still a very tough road ahead and frankly, we are a bit beat up. But the emotion involved in yesterday’s win versus Ghana might just be enough to carry us to a result against a very questionable Portugal side. I doubt many USA fans look at our Round of 16 run in South Africa as anything but a success. That was a much easier group, but the emotion of the Algeria match made it seem all the more epic. Getting out of this year’s group of death would be an incredible feat by any standards and big improvement on four years ago.
14. Costa Rica (28) – Punching well above their weight, Costa Rica looked very good against a Suarez-less Uruguay. They’ve got a couple big matches coming versus Italy and England, but if their form keeps up, who knows what might happen.
15. Mexico (20) – Pundits seemed to make a lot about the 1-0 win versus Cameroon, but I wasn’t too impressed. Still, Miguel Herrera has no doubt turned El Tri around and they certainly have a shot at advancing if they can get a result in their last match versus Croatia.
16. Ivory Coast (23) – What a difference a Drogba can make. Even though he wasn’t directly involved in the goals, Drogba’s presence on the pitch in the 60th minute seemed to simultaneously vitalize Cote d’Ivoire and terrify Japan whose 1-0 victory turned to a 2-1 defeat in 100 seconds. A result against Greece and it should be enough to see Ivory Coast finally make the knockout stage of the World Cup.
17. Bosnia (21) – While Dzeko failed to make much of an impact, Bosnia put up a respectable fight against Argentina in their 2-1 defeat. Given they only have Iran and Nigeria to deal with in Group F, they should be in decent shape to advance in their first ever World Cup.
18. Portugal (4) – Yikes. Portugal’s performance versus Germany was pretty much the worst case scenario for the Iberians save a CR7 injury. The Pepe red card was idiotic and injuries to Coentrao and Almeida are very bad news for the squad’s chance to advance. Still, Portugal is ranked 4 by FIFA for a reason and if Ronaldo turns it on in Manaus, the USA could still be in plenty of trouble.
19. Russia (19) – They couldn’t quite get firing on all cylinders versus S. Korea, but there is talent on Russia no doubt, as evidenced by the quick answering goal by Kherzikov. But the silly mistake by goalkeeper Akinfeev means there is plenty of growing to do in the team as they look towards hosting the Cup in 2018.
20. Croatia (18) – Like their brothers in Bosnia, the Croatians also took a loss to a tourney fave in Brazil. Unlike the Bosnians, Croatia has a tougher final game in Mexico. With no points in the bank yet, it’s hard to get too excited about their chances.
21. Uruguay (7) – This could prove to be a very silly decision to put Uruguay all the way down at 21 if Luis Suarez comes back and starts burying goals like when he wears red. But based on the gutless performance versus Costa Rica, there is nothing to be optimistic about for Uruguay fans if that doesn’t happen.
22. Algeria (22) – I was actually pretty impressed by the Algeria team in their match versus Belgium. Some have called them the France B-team and they showed speed and ingenuity on the pitch. That said, I still haven’t seen enough of their play to tell if they have a chance to advance. A big win against Korea could see them shoot up in the Power Rankings.
23. Ecuador (26) – It certainly isn’t over for Ecuador, but the common reprise that Ecuador only wins at elevation seems to hold some water as the loss to Switzerland with France still to play could mean their time in Brazil will be rather short lived.
24. Japan (46) – The Japanese team looked pretty good for the first hour of the match versus Ivory Coast. But the squad just ran out of ideas and certainly couldn’t come back once they went down to the far more physical Elephants. Might they find some points against Greece? Sure. But chances of doing the same against Colombia are far less likely.
25. Ghana (37) – Just like the USA, Ghana had to win their first match in order to have any hope of advance. Well… they didn’t. Heh.
26. South Korea (57) – Korea might have managed to get a point out of their match with Russia, but I think it’s going to be their only point of the tourney with a talented Algeria next and Belgium to follow.
27. Australia (62) – There is a whole World Cup worth of teams that didn’t make the World Cup ranked higher than Australia in the FIFA world rankings but the Socceroos looked pretty decent against Chile. Do they have a chance of advancing from Group B which also includes Holland and Spain? Frankly, no.
28. Greece (12) – FIFA’s ranking of Greece as 12 seems like the most egregious error of the table after watching their anemic performance versus Colombia.
29. Iran (43) – While they looked rather athletic running around out there, the Iranians are just not in the same league as the rest of the teams in Brazil (and obviously neither are the Nigerians).
30. Cameroon (56) – Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on Cameroon but it’s pretty clear that Eto’o is old and this team looks like they are going nowhere in the very tough Group A.
31. Nigeria (44) – While Klinsmann scheduled the USA’s final warm up match versus Nigeria because of their similar style to Ghana, it was very clear from the match against Iran that Nigeria is no Ghana.
32. Honduras (33) – Somehow over the years, Honduras has become the CONCACAF team it is okay for USA fans to like. Well sorry Honduras, but you looked like amateurs against France and I don’t really like you that much.
My 2nd Round Top 5 Matches:
5. Colombia vs. Ivory Coast (Thurs.)
4. Spain vs. Chile (Weds.)
3. Italy vs. Costa Rica (Fri.) or Uruguay vs. England (Thurs.)
2. Switzerland vs France (Fri.)
1. USA vs. Portugal (Sun.)
I’ll try to follow up with more power ranking in a few days after the second round has wrapped up.