World Cup 2018 power rankings: All 32 teams rated and slated

The World Cup gets underway in Moscow on June 14, with international football’s best and brightest converging on Russia for the finals.

After a qualifying campaign which featured 209 member associations and took, for some, three years to complete, that number has been whittled down to 32 – including the hosts – for the first tournament held in Europe since Germany 2006.

Of those that have made it, 20 were present at the 2014 finals in Brazil, including the holders, Germany, while two, Panama and Iceland, will be making their World Cup debuts – the latter becoming the smallest country to reach the finals.

Perennial powerhouses Italy are absent – the four-time champions who failed to qualify for the first time since 1958 – as are back-to-back Copa America winners Chile and United States.

Still, that leaves a whole heap of talent, including 2010 winners’ Spain, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, five-time champs Brazil, Belgium, England, Uruguay, Argentina and, for the first time, four Arabic nations: Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

For all the dream is going all the way. But that’s only a realistic aim for the very select few.

So who are the best of the best – the elite contenders? Who can go deep in the competition with a good run? Who can be surprise second rounders? And who will be hoping to simply keep it respectable?

Here are the Mirror Football power rankings, just under three months out from the big kickoff…

Note: The power rankings are done in order of anticipated likelihood to win the competition and qualify for the next round, taking into account both long-term results, recent performances and the cards that have been dealt. The idea is that too much should never be read into any single result.

32. Saudi Arabia

Read our comprehensive guide to the 2018 World Cup HERE.

Owner of an 8-0 defeat (Germany, 2002) at a previous finals, they just nipped into an automatic qualifying place at Australia’s expense.

Lost their three big away games during qualifying, and have another new manager in Juan Antonio Pizzi. A number of players are currently on loan in Spain – the Saudi FA having paid for the privilege – but have barely played.

31. Panama

Real surprise qualifiers after coming through CONCACAF qualifying (partially) at the expense of the United States.

They’ll head to the finals with a qualification record of six wins, five draws and five defeats. A vastly experienced side – six members of their current squad have 100 caps or more – expect them to be physical and hard-working, but perhaps found lacking both for pace in transition and technical quality in the final third.

30. Australia

Ange Postecoglu had put in place a system and garnered the trust of his players, but after securing a finals spot after an intercontinental playoff win over Honduras, he elected to resign.

Bert van Marwijk has taken charge and it was he who led the Dutch to the final in 2010, playing dogmatic counter-attacking football throughout.

However, the Socceroos don’t have Arjen Robben or Wesley Sneijder in their prime to call upon, and look the weakest of the three teams in Group C, they’ve little chance of reaching the knockout rounds.

29. Tunisia

Tunisia emerged through qualifying in Africa unbeaten, but were aided by a relatively easy group, missing the big hitters and instead facing Guinea, Libya and a DR Congo side shorn of its best player, Yannick Bolasie.

Aymen Abdennour stands key in defence, while Wahbi Khazri gives their attack creativity. Coach Nabil Maaloul has travelled the long road to the top job – he was assistant in their 2004 AFCON win and led Esperance de Tunis to the 2011 CAF Champions League – and is something of a pragmatist, not wedded to a particular style or formation.

Handed a dreadful draw with England and Belgium.

28. Japan

Handed a tough group with Senegal, Poland and Colombia, don’t expect much from the Blue Samurai.

They may have sailed through their qualifying group, finishing top of Group B ahead of fellow qualifiers Saudi Arabia and Australia, but neither of those are going to pull up any trees here either.

They’ll rely on Shinji Kagawa and Hiroshi Kiyotake for creativity but they’re the worst side in their group.

27. Iran

Led by savvy Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, Iran return to the World Cup for a fifth time, having never gone past the fourth round previously.

Defensively resolute, Iran don’t score many – managing just 10 in 10 games during the third round stage of Asian qualifying – but they are outstandingly well organised and give little away – witness that they conceded just twice in those 10 matches.

After being handed a nightmare draw – with both Portugal and Spain – little will be expected in the way of qualification. But if they can beat Morocco in their opener, then things could become very interesting.

26. South Korea

Tottenham’s Son is outstanding and Swansea’s Ki is underrated in midfield, but they were handed an absolute horror draw back in December and the side isn’t really anything like as good as that which reached the semi-finals in 2002 (aided by home advantage).

Germany and Mexico should both have too much for Shin Tae-Yong’s side in terms of attacking arsenal, while Sweden are always a tough nut to crack. Would be very surprised if they don’t finish bottom of their group as they did four years ago – when it was nowhere near as tough.

25. Morocco

The 42nd best side on the planet according to FIFA’s rankings, they’ll need something special to match their 1986 achievement of getting through the group stage, having been paired with Iberian duo Spain and Portugal.

But a defence marshalled by Juventus’ Medhi Benatia and Wolves’ Romain Saiss has proven itself tough to break down, while an attack containing Ajax star Hakim Ziyech and Southampton’s Sofiane Boufal is full of (albeit inconsistent) talent.

They open up against the similarly durable Iran; win that, and they could prove themselves a real nightmare for Portugal in their second game.

24. Russia

Football-wise, the country was on a high after the national team reached the semi-finals of Euro 2008. Since then, it’s been all downhill.

On the back of a dismal Euro 2016 campaign, they were dumped out of the Confederations Cup at the group stage last summer, beating New Zealand but losing to both Portugal and Mexico.

Coach Stanislav Cherchesov prefers to play three at the back, utilising 3-5-2 in a bid to get the most out of two strikers with good movement, Fyodor Smolov and Aleksandr Kokorin. CSKA Moscow midfielder Aleksandr Golovin is their best player, but Uruguay and Egypt certainly won’t fear them, despite being hosts.

23. Nigeria

The Super Eagles are set to take a young squad to the finals, with captain John Obi Mikel the only guaranteed starter over 30.

In Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi, the bless plenty of pace and goal threat in attacking areas, but their defence looks weak and the retirement long-time keeper Vincent Enyeama remains a loss.

Nevertheless, Gernot Rohr ensured they were the first African side to book their place in Russia, but the draw wasn’t kind to a side who reached the last 16 four years ago.

22. Iceland

The minnows were outstanding in reaching the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, and have done exceptionally well to reach another finals.

However, a side that is greater than the sum of its parts have been handed a horror draw in terms of its progression hopes, with Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria their opponents.

Set pieces will be crucial for Gylfi Sigurdsson and co. Croatia in Rostov could be make-or-break.

21. Serbia

There’s enough talent, experience and brute force in the Serbia squad to worry most teams, with the likes of ex-Chelsea stalwart Branislav Ivanovic at the back, Nemanja Matic and Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. in midfield, plus battering ram Aleksandar Mitrovic up top.

Like Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ however, the big question surrounding the Orlovi is whether they can keep their heads. The Serbian FA dismissed coach Slavoljub Muslin – despite him guiding them through a tricky qualifying group – replacing him with Mladen Krstajic; hardly ideal preparation.

With Brazil the standout in their group – and Serbia’s last opponents – it’s crucial they defeat Costa Rica in their opener.

20. Switzerland

The Swiss won nine out of nine qualifiers and then fell apart in Portugal to miss out on automatic qualification.

Fortunately, a playoff draw with Northern Ireland saw Vladimir Petkovic’s men book their ticket to Russia, but…well I just can’t be convinced by them.

Xherdan Shaqiri is capable of great moments – but they don’t happen often enough – and while they’re tough defensively, they were the pot two pick that all others wanted. Lack a goalscorer and that could be their undoing in a group where they, Serbia and Costa Rica will battle to follow Brazil into the last 16.

19. Peru

Peru snatched fifth place in South American qualifying at Chile’s expense, before beating New Zealand in their two-legged intercontinental play-off.

Pragmatic coach Ricardo Gareca’s focus has been on creating a side that is pragmatic but, while not giving up defensive solidity, looks to attack and be positive. It worked at the 2015 Copa America, when they reached the semi-finals and again in the following year’s Copa America Centenario, where they eliminated Brazil before losing to Colombia in the last eight – albeit only on penalties.

Paolo Guerrero, the experienced striker, will be available after seeing his drug ban having been reduced, but just as important are Edison Flores and Cristian Cueva, both capable scorers from midfield. Their opening game against Denmark will be vital to their hopes, in a group where Australia are poor and France should be comfortable winners.

18. Costa Rica

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, they surprised everyone, reaching the quarter-finals, where they were eventually beaten by the Netherlands on penalties.

Now their stubborn resistance is back; with Keylor Navas in goal they qualified for the finals with games to spare and they beat USA twice (including a 4-0 thumping).

Their opening game will tell us much about whether they can reach the knockout rounds, but after topping a group with Italy, England and Uruguay last time out, you’d be unwise to back against them, even in a tough group featuring Brazil and two talented if inconsistent Europeans: Serbia and Switzerland.

17. Senegal

Aliou Cisse’s men return in 2018 for what will be only their second appearance at the World Cup finals, having lit up the 2002 tournament, reaching the quarter-final when Cisse himself was at the heart of their midfield.

The Lions of Teranga made light work of their group during qualifying, going unbeaten throughout – albeit against South Africa, Cape Verde and Burkina Faso.

Handed Poland, Japan and Colombia in their finals group its imperative they get off to a decent start but they have a strong side featuring an impressive spine, including Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, Everton’s Idrissa Gueye, Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and the Monaco starlet Keita Balde.

16. Sweden

The King is dead, long live the King. Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden finished second in their qualifying group – behind France but ahead of Holland – before defeating Italy 1-0 in a play-off to book their finals spot.

Led by Janne Andersson the Blagult have entered a new era without their record goalscorer, led by RB Leipzig creator Emil Forsberg.

Starting against a weak South Korea side offers them the perfect opportunity to make a good start in Russia, and already their final group game in Yekaterinburg against Mexico looks crucial.

15. Mexico

El Tri looked set for the quarter-finals in 2014, only to concede an 88th minute equaliser and an extremely-contentious 94th minute penalty against Holland, thus dumping them out in Fortaleza.

Under Juan Carlos Osorio, they’ll look to play entertaining, attacking football and if their Confederations Cup clash with Germany last summer is anything to go by, they’ll have no fear in Russia.

The clash with Sweden looks key, but a side that boasts the likes of Hiving Lozano, Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez and Hector Herrera could make a splash if they can build a head of steam.

14. Egypt

Egypt have ended a 28-year wait to get back to the World Cup – which is baffling in itself given they won the Africa Cup of Nations four times between 1998 and 2010 – but after years in the proverbial wilderness, The Pharoahs are hoping to make a big noise this summer.

Under well-travelled Argentine coach Hector Cuper – who led Valencia to back-to-back Champions League finals at the turn of the Millennium a powerful, organised side will be enthused at receiving a plum draw (being handed the two lowest ranked sides in the tournament).

Mohamed Salah is their chief attacking threat – and the only current international to have bagged more than six goals for his country, with 32 in 58 – but if he shows his Liverpool form, then they can hit the last 16.

13. Denmark

Denmark secured their spot in Russia with a 5-1 playoff destruction of Ireland in Dublin, with Christian Eriksen showing just how good he is fast becoming with a stunning treble to secure their place.

Age Hareide’s side will fancy getting through a group featuring Australia and Peru, with the pace and movement of Yussuf Poulsen and Pione Sisto, allied with Eriksen’s technique and a solid defensive base.

A likely second round clash with Argentina looks set to be the limit for them however.

12. Croatia

A fine side blessed with a multi-functioning and talented midfield – with Luka Modric at its heart – it was a surprise with just how much the Vatreni struggled in qualifying.

But after binning off Ante Cacic and his dour tactics and bringing in Zlatko Dalic, they blew past Greece in the playoffs and a team that has spent much of the last decade together – allied with young talent like Marko Rog – looks ready for one final hurrah on the grandest stage.

Won’t fear either Nigeria nor Iceland and will back themselves to make the knockout stages. The big problem then becomes that they would more than likely then be facing France in the round of 16.

11. Poland

Back after a 12 year absence – when they failed to get out of the group stage – Poland are hoping to make a splash after a good showing at Euro 2016, where they were beaten in the semi-finals by winners’ Portugal only on penalties.

Adam Nawalka’s side successfully navigated the qualification stage with relative ease, winning eight of the 10 group fixtures, but despite the presence of Kamil Glik in defence, they conceded 14 times. Fortunately, Robert Lewandowski, their greatest-ever goalscorer, continues to break records at the other end.

Placed in Group H, the most open of all the groups, they’ll be optimistic of reaching the knockout stages, where either Belgium or England will likely stand in their way.

10. Colombia

Arguably the most entertaining side in 2014, a Colombia side led by tournament top scorer James Rodriguez reached the quarter-finals before falling 2-1 against Brazil.

James experienced a couple of down years post-Brazil, but has rediscovered his mojo on loan at Bayern Munich this term. Jose Pekerman continues to preach an attractive, attacking style and his side’s bid will also be aided by the rise of two outstanding young defenders: Spurs’ Davinson Sanchez and Barcelona’s Yerry Mina.

They’re the best side in a tight Group H.

9. England

As is always the case, England had few worries on the road to Russia, easing through qualification with a relative degree of, well, ease, even after Sam Allardyce’s exit after just one game.

Gareth Southgate has troubles in goal, and lacks a Rio Ferdinand/John Terry figure to pin his hopes on in defence, while the central midfield options are limited. The Three Lions will be reliant on Harry Kane for goals, but boast the talents of Marcus Rashford, Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling in support.

A switch to three at the back appears likely, having been tested against Brazil and Germany in November, and could allow a young side to flourish – and put miserable recent tournaments in France and Brazil behind them. Handed a kind group.

8. Belgium

Belgium’s Golden Generation will hope to make it third time lucky in Russia; under Marc Wilmots the Red Devils succumbed to Argentina in the 2014 quarter-finals and then were dumped on their backsides by Wales at Euro 2016.

With Wilmots gone and Roberto Martinez now at the helm, more emphasis has been placed on their key attacking players, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, while the ex-Everton boss has shown willingness to flit between a back three and back four, largely depending on the form and fitness of Vincent Kompany.

Supremely talented it was little surprise that they sauntered through qualification, scoring 43 goals and winning nine of their 10 matches. But that means little here and when it comes down to them against a side of equal or greater ability, do they have the mental strength to get through into the semi-finals? Others, basically, know how to win the ‘big’ games better.

7. Uruguay

Oscar Tabarez is into his 12th year as Uruguay coach and there is much to be said for not only his being there still, but the consistency of his selections.

That has played a key role in their continued success under the 71-year-old, with a side that knows one another in depth now set for one final hurrah on the international stage. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are a fearsome partnership up front still, while the Atletico Madrid centre-half pairing of Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez is rock solid.

La Celeste have been handed a kind draw, paired with by far the weakest of the top seeds – hosts Russia – and are a good bet to win Group A. Semi-finalists in 2010 and Copa America winners the following year, many of those players are still around; a solid outside bet for the last four.

6. Portugal

The reigning European champions, the Seleccao shocked a continent with their victory in France – particularly on the back of an early exit in 2014 and after a drawing all three of their group matches in France.

But, by hook or by crook, Cristiano Ronaldo and co. navigated their way to glory (winning just one match in 90 minutes) and experienced coach Fernando Santos has supplemented his experienced core with the likes of Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva – who has a remarkable international record.

Being paired with Spain isn’t helpful, but they will back themselves to reach at least the last eight, and know that their mixture of pragmatism and matchwinners can take them further.

5. France

Didier Deschamps’ side looked well placed to win the European Championships’ two years ago, but, were either: a) not intelligent enough to break down Portugal in the final, or b) the width of a post away from success.

Whichever way you look at it, Les Bleus were good enough to win, but fell at the final hurdle. Heading to Russia, they’ve been given a big helping hand with their group, as they should be far too good for Australia, Peru and, while Denmark will offer a test, they should see them off also.

The emergence of Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele gives Deschamps tremendous options in attack to supplement Antoine Griezmann, and they have depth in all areas. The problem for Deschamps during his tenure has been finding a system in which his best players consistently flourish. Spain may well await in the quarter-finals, hence why they’re fifth here.

4. Argentina

For the Albiceleste, it has been a case of so near and yet so far on the international stage in recent years.

World Cup finalists in 2014 only to lose to Germany in extra-time, they were subsequently beaten in the final of both the 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America Centenario on penalties. Their qualifying campaign for these finals was far from straightforward, scoring 19 goals in 18 games and needing one of Lionel Messi’s greatest displays – in Ecuador – to secure their spot.

Under Jorge Sampaoli they’ll hope to smother and dominate their group stage opponents, playing on the front foot from the off. They still have a star studded attack, they still have familiar deficiencies in defence that will need papering over (witness the mauling suffered against Spain)…but, crucially, they still have Messi. That, if nothing else, ensures they are contenders.

3. Brazil

Brazil’s qualification campaign can be looked upon in two parts: Before Tite (BT) and After Tite (AT): BT was a time of misery and darkness, AT was a return to joga bonito, of a system built around playing with passion and flair, rather than fear.

Having languished sixth in South American qualifying when Tite arrived, they went on to win 10 of 12 – drawing the other two – scoring 30 times, conceding just three and rampaging to top spot. Playing 4-3-3 with Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Coutinho as the preferred front trio, they were mightily impressive.

The five-time winners’ squad is likely to be very different to four years ago, and Tite will remain loyal to those who have been pivotal in getting them to Russia – such as unheralded midfielder Renato Augusto; one of the most interesting aspects is in goal, where Roma’s Allison continues to fend off Manchester City’s Ederson.

Alas, there is no question that Neymar is crucial to their hopes; without him, they simply don’t have the same threat. Hopefully, he’ll be back to full fitness.

2. Spain

Captain Sergio Ramos leads a core of winners from 2010 – Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, David Silva – that remain integral under coach Julen Lopetegui, alongside a number of younger stars with whom he had great success at youth levels.

Dreadful in Brazil four years ago, the likes of Marco Asensio, Isco and David de Gea have helped to revitalise a side that had stagnated under Vicente del Bosque and they qualified at a canter, unbeaten, and thrashing Italy in Madrid on their way.

Lopetegui is playing hardball with Alvaro Morata as he looks to get the Chelsea striker firing and focused, and the £67million striker’s finals place is in jeopardy. Diego Costa is an alternative, and it is as centre-forward where the biggest question lies.

An opening clash with Portugal means there’s no room for a slow start, they are plenty good enough to be winners. But they aren’t our No.1…

1. Germany

The reigning world champions, Die Mannschaft have, quite simply, only become stronger since their success four years ago.

No-one can match the depth that Jogi Low has at his disposal; witness how a second-string squad finished as Confederations Cup winners last summer (in Russia), while the Under-21s won the European Championships too.

Timo Werner’s emergence as a clinical striker and Leroy Sane’s progression adds real electric pace – something Spain lack – to the guile of Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil; Joshua Kimmich continues to emerge as one of the world’s best full-backs also. The only question mark is over Manuel Neuer’s fitness, although Marc-Andre ter Stegen is a more than capable deputy.

Favourites and rightly so.

Betting odds – via Betfair

Germany 9/2; Brazil 5/1; France 11/2; Spain 13/2; Argentina 9/1; Belgium 10/1; England 16/1; Portugal 22/1 Colombia 28/1; Uruguay 33/1; Russia, Croatia 40/1; Poland 50/1

Who will win the 2018 World Cup?


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