World Cup Power Rankings: USMNT and Argentina on the up, England slide down; Brazil still No. 1 without Neymar



Their ranking is perhaps contingent on Neymar being back in the knockout rounds, as expected, because without him they looked rather lacking in central areas against a good Switzerland side. Still, that issue can be mitigated when Vinicius Junior is on fire down the left and there is all sorts of challengers for Raphinha’s jersey on the right. Their defense, meanwhile, is almost entirely untested for the right reasons. 2


Luis Enrique’s substitutions after Alvaro Morata’s opener took some of the air out of the Spanish performance, but their outstanding first half against Germany was of a piece with their performance against Costa Rica, merely showing that they could also dominate against fellow contenders. That augurs very well. 3


Another side who can now feel they have proven themselves against top-tier opposition, having put 21 shots up against Denmark, whose defensive quality was not to be sniffed at before this tournament began. Kylian Mbappe is raising his game once more for the biggest games, there is no better omen than that. 4


The formula is working. Through two games Argentina have given up 0.4 expected goals (xG) and two stunning goals by Saudi Arabia should not take away from how solid their backline looks. Then at the other end … well … they have Lionel Messi. That is generally a tactical setup that is conducive to success. 5


This is England, so we’re talking feast or famine, but really everything is ticking along fairly nicely. Yes, they could have played better against the United States, but it is also true that their opponents were truly excellent. In such circumstances, it is not a disaster if you can say you kept it tight and got to the penalty area quite frequently without anything really clicking into gear. 6


We could over-index Cristiano Ronaldo’s attempts to claim a Bruno Fernandes goal he did not touch and blow it up into a bigger story about how this team never quite functions to its maximum potential with its captain in it. But one suspects there will be other times to do so now that Portugal have quite impressively navigated their way out of what looked like being one of the competition’s trickiest groups. 7


Adding another midfielder offered a degree more security to Hansi Flick’s side, but neither of their starting center forwards has had a shot yet. Germany should be fine and if they get out of the group, they could test any team. But they are only 90 minutes of poor shooting, bad luck or Keylor Navas genius away from humiliation. 8


Much like Germany above them, Uruguay’s lofty place in the rankings is informed by what they could do if they get their act together in the group stages. That remains firmly in the conditional, particularly ahead of a rancorous clash against Ghana. Diego Alonso does not have long to puzzle out the perfect balance from his impressive collection of forwards … and Luis Suarez. 9


They are probably bound for top spot in Group A, but is anyone quaking in their boots over facing the Dutch as currently constructed? Cody Gakpo aside, the attack is faltering, the defense looks like less than the sum of its parts and the midfield is light a truly imposing enforcer. At the risk of looking very foolish indeed, this does not look like a potential dark horse for this tournament. 10


If there was a World Cup for getting way too tetchy about perceived slights, then these guys would win it every four years. John Herdman’s vow to “F” Croatia was hardly a withering critique of Zlatko Dalic’s side, but boy did they take it as one. Perhaps now though we have the clearest indication of how to beat this powerhouse of the European game: In the days and hours before kick off do and say nothing whatsoever. 11


Here you find an extremely talented squad who seem to be a cohesive unit, typified by the welcome return of Hakim Ziyech from international exile. The Chelsea man’s excellent form seems to have elevated Morocco to another level, one that could well lead to top spot in their group. 12


One of the most pleasantly unlikely stories of this World Cup is the revival of Enner Valencia, the veteran striker who stands at the tip of a youthful side who showed such fearlessness in fighting their way back into the game against the Netherlands. Unlike their opponents in the final round of games, they seem to be able to balance attack and defense. 13


They may have fallen short against Brazil, but few teams could have executed a stout game plan quite as effectively as the Swiss, who allowed their opponents precious few shots before Casemiro’s stunning breakthrough. We know this is a formula that works for this team and you can rest assured they’ll use something like it again to take the air out of what could be a feisty clash with Serbia. 14


One bad game against Tunisia really has left Kasper Hjullmand’s side in a pickle, though their fate is at least in their own hands against Australia. They delivered off a set piece in equalizing against France, but the open-play attack seems to be lacking from the Danes so far. 15

United States

The case for the USA was made in emphatic fashion against England as a youthful and energetic side rocked a top-tier opponent (albeit on their way to only one really good sight of goal). The case against is how thrilling, fresh and new that performance felt at a time when they will need to replicate it on Tuesday if they are to get the win they need against Iran. 16


The nature of having played one good team and one very bad team is that it is hard to get a real handle on what Senegal are when they face an Ecuador team that figure to be on their level. You would trust in most of their defense if they only needed a point, but in attacking Qatar on Matchday 2, they left vulnerabilities that even the worst team in the competition exploited. I’ll have a clearer idea on this team come Tuesday evening. 17


Reader, I have prevaricated over nothing quite like I have done over which of Iran and the USMNT to favor for their final group game. More of the football with which they put Wales to the sword in the second half and Carlos Queiroz’s side will go through, but when a point is enough will the head coach be tempted to play it a little too safe? 18


Mohamed Kudus might be the breakout star of this World Cup, excellent news for Ajax’s bank manager (what a job that would be, by the way). At their best, Ghana have blown away Portugal and South Korea, but the specter of Uruguay hovers menacingly over a side whose wounds can often seem self-inflicted.  19


You could see why Hajime Moriyasu concluded that the substitutes who won him the game against Germany might do the same against Costa Rica, and Japan were as dominant in their best moments of the second game as they were pinned back in the first. However, if your players off the bench are giving you the best performances, is it not wise to start with them? 20


How different their ranking might have been if they had not frittered away a two-goal lead (after Aleksandar Mitrovic had missed plenty of tempting chances) against Cameroon. Blowing that lead asks questions of Serbia that you simply do not have over Switzerland, who look extremely rigid defensively. To overload the Swiss, Dragan Stojokovic may have to unleash Dusan Vlahovic alongside Mitrovic. 21

Saudi Arabia

They could not bottle lightning twice but they might be better than Mexico or at least good enough to get a point. They’ll need Argentina to win heavily — no guarantee on current form — if a draw is to be enough to take them through, but don’t count them out from picking up all six points. 22


On reputation, this team could beat Croatia, an opponent who appears to have aged far more gracefully than this particular Golden Generation, and where there is Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne there is hope. But hope and reputation is all you really have to go on after two insipid performances from Belgium. 23


They might be leading the way in Group B, but this was a team that gave up more shots to Saudi Arabia than they managed to take themselves. Good performances from Wojciech Szczesny at one end and Robert Lewandowski at the other were welcome, but it is hard to see them getting anything against Argentina.  24


If any country can relish underdog status, it is the Australians, who will have exactly that against Denmark. The scenario for them is fairly straightforward, a draw ought to be enough. They may not be a starry team but the Socceroos reflect some of the sporting values of their nation, most of all that they will not give anything away easily. If Denmark do get through, they will have done so the hard way. 25


They kept things tight against Argentina but were punished on the first occasion their midfield gave Lionel Messi space on the edge of the box. There is a chance for Mexico against a Saudi Arabia side they would have expected to beat before the tournament began, but there seems to be precious little faith in Tata Martino’s leadership. 26

Costa Rica

They almost certainly have one of the shallowest talent pools of every nation’s 26-man squad and they have never really looked like a team who could escape this toughest of groups. But by riding their luck and taking their chance, they have given themselves a chance of something miraculous happening in their final game. It probably won’t. But it might. 27

Korea Republic

There have certainly been flashes, but this team has been severely hamstrung by injuries to perhaps their two best players. Heung-min Son is either lacking in sharpness after injury or is in a far more worrying long term position for Tottenham and South Korea. When Kim-min Jae went down with a knock, it was easy to fear the worst for the defense and it proved to be the case against Ghana. 28


Our rankings began with questions over some of the selection decisions made by Rigobert Song and they functionally conclude in that fashion. Cameroon are not out but they have to beat Brazil, an unlikely scenario, and instead the focus will be on what exactly has happened that has led to Andre Onana being sent home for “disciplinary reasons.” 29


A solid defensive unit with fairly minimal punch can get you quite far at a World Cup, but it can also get you sucker punched by Australia and almost certainly bound for the exit door. You can envisage a world where Tunisia up their game against a rival in France and perhaps if results are favoring them as time runs out, they could swing their way into second place, but it seems extremely unlikely. 30


There is a slight tinge of sadness to Gareth Bale and in particular Aaron Ramsey having done so much to revive the Welsh national team, taking it to one of its great achievements in its history, but arriving at Qatar not able to make a meaningful contribution. A new era is around the corner, it is hard to believe that it will be quite as remarkable as the last six years have been for Wales. 31


If this team was not already eliminated, it would be great to put it higher as a reward for the fearless way in which it took the game to Belgium and, for a time, Croatia. In the latter case, they might have also betrayed some naivety but if you can’t show that at your first World Cup in over 30 years, when can you? 32


One of only two hosts who have failed to escape the group stages, they are almost certain to set new records as the first not to win a game and not to earn a point in the competition. The demands of them outside their country were hardly stratospheric but this was a team who won the 2019 Asia Cup, it could have delivered more.


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