Ranking every World Cup team heading into the group stage draw as Brazil land at No1

Alex Rea 1/12/2017
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The World Cup draw takes place in Moscow on Friday with each of the 32 teams set to find out their group stage fate.

From the four pots eight groups will be drawn from A-H with the opening clash featuring hosts Russia to be played on June 14.

The allocation of the pots is done by using the FIFA rankings system and of course, have been dissected and debated.

But the rankings don’t necessarily reflect the true position of the 32 sides so we’ve gone ahead and analysed is 1-32 with their actual ranking in brackets.

Here is the final in our four-part series with rankings 1-8.

1. Brazil (2)

Brazil have reinvented themselves under Tite, rising from the depths of insignificance to become one of the most vibrant teams in international football.

And ‘team’ is the crucial word there because the dependency on Neymar has been dialled down. A front three contrained Neymar, Philippe Coutniho and Gabriel Jesus has revived this fallen giant.

In Jesus, they have an injection of youth and pace at centre-forward and in Coutinho and Neymar flair and vibrancy.

Behind that trio is balance. Casemiro is a shield in the front of a backline marshalled by Joao Miranda who is enjoying the form of his career at Inter Milan.

They were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and their 3-0 triumph over Argentina showed the 2014 World Cup semi-final humiliation is a thing of the past.

Obviously Brazil are still carved in the image of Neymar but in comparison to say Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he doesn’t carry the hope of his nation alone.

He’ll be 26 when the tournament kicks off, at the peak of his powers and he’ll be thirsty to overthrow the aforementioned pair by proving he is the best player in the best international team.

Neymar

Brazil star Neymar

2. Germany (1)

Dominant and devastating in qualifying, the German machine just continues to motor along.

Undoubtedly the best side Europe has to offer, Jogi Low has overseen a successful squad overhaul following the international retirements of vital veterans Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Per Mertesacker.

Emre Can, Leroy Sane and Leon Goretzka are now establishing themselves in a well-oiled unit and the experience of Toni Kroos, Matts Hummels and Thomas Muller has ensured a smooth transition.

Crucially, Germany now have a strength they’ve seldom had – pace. Timo Werner has added an edge to their steel scoring seven in 10 appearances and the Leipzig man is a genuine centre-forward who likes to run in behind.

They ended the qualification campaign perfect but no team has defended the World Cup since Pele’s Brazil in 1958 and 1962.

Timo Werner

Germany striker Timo Werner

3. Spain (6)

Having reversed the rotting decline which set in under Vicente del Bosque, Julen Lopetegui has now built a team ready to mount a stronger challenge than the teams which failed to defend their world title in 2014 and its European crown in 2016.

An interchangeable midfield is their biggest quality as Lopetegui has been gifted the luxury of four world-class creative midfielders in Isco, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Andres Iniesta.

Ahead of them, Alvaro Morata gives them a genuine option at No9 and seems a far better fit in this side than Diego Costa ever did.

At the back, David De Geas is arguably the world’s best goalkeeper while Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchor a sturdy defence.

La Roja navigated calmly through a qualifying group which contained four-time champions Italy with nine wins from 10 and it’s safe to say the Spaniards have their mojo back.

Spain midfielder Isco

Spain midfielder Isco

4. France (9)

The depth of French talent is simply ludicrous. It’s not gross hyperbole to say they could field three separate XIs worthy of challenging the world’s best and with a healthy stock of talent comes every element which marks a successful side.

From youth to experience, to skill and organisation, Les Bleus are a force to be reckoned with.

But there have been issues in qualifying with lapses in concentration and a lethargic approach casting doubt over their credibility as a genuine football superpower.

However, it hasn’t negated the growing hype and naturally, led with quality like Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, the expectations are high.

If Didier Deschamps can iron out the vulnerabilities, come next summer they’ll be warranting a place in the top-three.

France duo Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante

France duo Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante

5. Belgium (5)

The Red Devils are effectively the younger brother of France in that Roberto Martinez has so many options in an attacking sense with Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku.

They breezed through qualifying and the country’s exceptional generation of talent stand a good chance of competing for their first ever piece of major silverware.

The consensus is they have produced a team which is among the best in the world but that same narrative creatives pressure and they crumbled at Euro 2016.

Two years older and wiser, they will be better prepared for Russia.

Belgium playmaker Kevin De Bruyne

Belgium playmaker Kevin De Bruyne

6. Portugal (3)

Switzerland won their first nine qualifiers but lost in Libson to hand top spot to Portugal after a thrilling two-horse race.

As European champions, they command respect and with Cristiano Ronaldo heading up a side which is blessed by a veteran core (Joao Moutinho and Pepe) and youthful exuberance (Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva), Fernando Santos has a promising group of players to take to Russia.

Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo

7. Argentina (4)

Disaster was averted in qualifying as Jorge Sampaoli eventually guided his side safely to next year’s tournament.

They should in theory be a contender next year with Sampoli introducing a high-pressing, possession-heavy, direct-attacking style of football in place of the more conservative approach of old.

But it is yet to truly click and the likes of Paulo Dybala and  Mauro Icardi are still in the fledgling stage of their international careers.

Of course, they still have Lionel Messi and as Barcelona have shown so far this season, sometimes that’s all you need.

Argentina skipper Lionel Messi

Argentina skipper Lionel Messi

8. Poland (7)

Robert Lewandowski scored 16 goals in qualifying – no one scored more from Europe – and as Poland’s record goalscorer he is the man to be feared.

His stunning form for Bayern Munich hasn’t necessarily translated into a major international tournament, though, with Euro 2016 a disaster after he scored just once.

Still, he has talent behind him with Napoli’s attacking midfielder Piotr Zielinski and goalscoring-centre-back Kamil Glik the other big names as the Poles embark on their first World Cup since 2006.

Poland's record scorer Robert Lewandowski

Poland’s record scorer Robert Lewandowski

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Ranking every World Cup team heading into the group stage draw as Colombia make top-10

Alex Rea 30/11/2017
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Leading from the front: Colombia's Radamel Falcao

The World Cup draw takes place in Moscow on Friday with each of the 32 teams set to find out their group stage fate.

From the four pots eight groups will be drawn from A-H with the opening clash featuring hosts Russia to be played on June 14.

The allocation of the pots is done by using the FIFA rankings system and of course, have been dissected and debated.

But the rankings don’t necessarily reflect the true position of the 32 sides so we’ve gone ahead and analysed is 1-32 with their actual ranking in brackets.

Next up is teams 9-16…

9. Colombia(13)

Arguably the most attractive football kit will be draped around the Colombians and the titillating style is matched by a squad brimming with lush attacking options.

Granted, qualifying was a struggle and they needed their final game to seal a second straight appearance after a 16-year absence.

But their blend of mature stars and youthful exuberance makes for a salivating prospect. However, Jose Pekerman, while he deserves credit for getting his side back to the World Cup, is yet to settle on a harmonised XI.

There’s the usual suspects in James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao but Pekerman chopped and changed throughout qualifying suggesting he’s unsure of his best side.

Still, soon-to-be Barcelona defender Yerry Mina, Tottenham’s record-buy Davinson Sanchez and Boca Junior’s steely midfielder Wilmar Barrios point to a promising group of youngsters.

They’ll be hard to miss with their bright yellow strip, hopefully their football is equally as flashy.

Colombia's James Rodriguez

Colombia’s James Rodriguez

10. Croatia (17)

Croatia are one of those sides who on paper possess a first XI which should striker fear into the top sides.

But the likes of playmaker Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic have been accused of failing to replicate their excellent club form at a international major tournament.

There is genius in their ranks but unlocking that exponential potential when it matters most has been the puzzle.

They may have the solution in the form of boss Zlatko Dalic. The former Al Ain coach took charge with one game remaining in qualifying and oversaw a 2-0 win over Ukraine to secure a playoff tie with Greece which was easily navigated.

What Dalic lacks in tactical acumen he makes up for with a genial personality and that placic nature has been richly required after the chaotic reign of predecessor Ante Cacic.

The next step is to bring the best out of this talent crop of players when it matters most.

Croatia's head coach Zlatko Dalic (C) celebrates with his team

Croatia’s head coach Zlatko Dalic (C) celebrates with his team

11. Uruguay (21)

South American qualifying is never easy for La Celeste but they made light work of it this time around to finish second to Brazil and ahead of Argentina.

Attack is clearly their strength with the likes of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez leading the way as they scored 32 goals in qualifying.

Meanwhile, they retain a strong core of seasoned warhorses with the likes of Diego Godin, Martin Caceres and Cristian Rodriguez backing up the front pair.

They have a few youngsters in the mix as well and most importantly, Oscar Tabarez is an extremely experienced coach who may be looking to go out on a high.

Uruguay's Edinson Cavani

Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani

12. England (15)

England have a reputation of being serial flops at the World Cup and the squad which will travel to Russia is probably the least star-studded in a long time.

Gareth Southgate is not the most accomplished coach but will have worked with plenty of the players in the younger age groups.

Interestingly, this may just be the best ‘team’ England take to the World Cup because of the lack of star quality in comparison to the ‘Golden Generation’.

A strong core of Tottenham players headed by Harry Kane also adds to that while there are plenty of youngsters in the picture who will be more receptive to a certain system and style of play that benefits the team.

England striker Harry Kane

England striker Harry Kane

13. Mexico (16)

Mexico breezed through qualifying with three games to spare and no tears would have been shed for rivals the United States missing out.

Hirving Lozano could emerge as a breakout star in Russia and Juan Carlos Osorio is blessed with a dynamic attack which is led by Javier Hernandez and Jesus Corona another talent.

They play quick attacking football but there is a concern with Hector Moreno barely playing for Roma and the keeper Guillermo Ochoa still prone to terrible mistakes.

Mexico forward Hirving Lozano

Mexico forward Hirving Lozano

14. Switzerland (8)

The Swiss were fortunate to be granted a winnable play-off tie against Northern Ireland and on the back of a controversial penalty, secured a narrow aggregate win.

But take recent form out of the equation, they did win nine straight until they drew 0-0 with Portugal and while they’re not the flashiest side they do have balance.

With a core of players from the 2009 U17 world champions married to a depth of tournament experience lead by Udinese’s Valon Behrami, they are potential quarter-finalists.

Switzerland's Valon Behrami

Switzerland’s Valon Behrami

15. Serbia (37)

No manager after Slavoljub Muslin was axed but when a new man is brought in he won’t have ample time to build a cohesive side.

They topped a pretty simple group which featured Ireland and Wales but whoever the new boss is, they will inherit a top side.

Nemanja Matic is the lynchpin and has been Manchester United’s outstanding signing, performing the role of two midfielders in Paul Pogba’s absence.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has been in sensational form for Lazio and is back in the squad and their chief creator, Dusan Tadic was involved in 11 goals in 10 qualifying matches (four goals and seven assists).

Serbia midfielder Nemanja Matic

Serbia midfielder Nemanja Matic

16. Senegal (23)

The Lions of Teranga are in their first World Cup since a memorable quarter-final run in 2002.

Individually, stars like Sadio Mane, Keita Balde and Kalidou Koulibaly hallmark an exuberant side and with former captain Aliou Cisse at the helm they have a manager with a nod to their success in 15 years ago.

They are all set to spring a surprise once more come next year after benefiting from FIFA’s decision to replay a 2-1 loss to South Africa because of match-fixing in the group stage.

Senegal star Sadio Mane (r)

Senegal star Sadio Mane (r)

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Ranking every World Cup team heading into the group stage draw as Egypt land at 24th

Chris Bailey 30/11/2017
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Egypt return to the World Cup for the first time since 1990

The World Cup draw takes place in Moscow on Friday with each of the 32 teams set to find out their group stage fate.

From the four pots eight groups will be drawn from A-H with the opening clash featuring hosts Russia to be played on June 14.

The allocation of the pots is done by using the FIFA rankings system and of course, have been dissected and debated.

But the rankings don’t necessarily reflect the true position of the 32 sides so we’ve gone ahead and analysed is 1-32 with their actual ranking in brackets.

Next up is teams 17-24…

17. Iran (32)

The next Ali Daei? Step up Sardar Azmoun. The Iran forward is 22 years old and has scored 22 times for his country already drawing comparisons to the international goals legend Daei.

But Azmoun has the potential to be even better than the Iran legend and the 2018 World Cup will be his stage to prove that.

Iran went winless at the 2014 World Cup but will arrive in Russia armed with a lethal striker and the confidence of having gone unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds.

Carlos Queiroz has rebuilt this squad and in Rubin Kazan’s Azmoun they have their talisman. The target is the knockout stages with Queiroz insistent they won’t go to Russia as “tourists”.

But there will be ample scouts in the stands making an excursion to see Azmoun.

Iran striker Sardar Azmoun

Iran striker Sardar Azmoun

18. Morocco (40)

Marooned in Pot Four, Morocco represent a potential banana skin for any one of the top sides.

A 2-0 victory over bitter rivals Ivory Coast ended a two-decade wait for a World Cup appearance and the North African’s are an exciting proposition.

Medhi Benatia mashalled a defence which didn’t concede a goal in six qualifiers and in Hakim Ziyech they possess a real livewire.

The Ajax forward is back in the national-team fold after making peace with boss Herve Renard and the 24-year-old has added goals to his electric talent this season.

Flair and discipline hallmark a decent outfit which warrants a spot inside the top-20.

Morocco defender Mehdi Benatia

Morocco defender Mehdi Benatia

19. Sweden (18)

No Zlatan, no problem but without Ibrahimovic Sweden are shorn of a bonafide world-class star.

They make up for that with a balance approached and they’ve already toppled two of the world’s elite sides after beating France in the group stage before knocking Italy out in a play-off.

Leipzig forward Emil Forsberg has embraced taking up the goalscoring responsibility in Ibrahimovic’s absence and boss Janne Andersson has successfully completed the squad’s transition after Euro 2016.

There’s talk Ibrahimovic could return for the World Cup but the team has more than moved on and will be a solid, if unspectacular, side come 2018.

Sweden's Emil Forsberg

Sweden’s Emil Forsberg

20. Iceland (22)

Hotly debated whether they should be ranked higher than England following their spectacular knockout stage at last year’s Euros.

Every neutral’s favourite underdog they built on their success by qualifying through a tough group with an away win over Turkey and a home victory against Kosovo.

Oh, and in the process they became the smallest country by population (350,000) to reach a World Cup.

Small in number but not in noise, the Icelandic clap will reverberate around stadiums in Russia and around the world.

The gritty determination of Aron Gunnarsson is offset by the creative magic of Gylfi Sigurdsson and if they can continue to build from an impressive qualification, they will be putting opposition on ice.

Iceland's Aron Gunnarsson

Iceland’s Aron Gunnarsson

21. Nigeria (50)

There is argument to be that made that the world will see Nigeria at their best in 2022 as their squad, though the most gifted for quite some time, is still on the raw side.

No World Cup team fielded a side with a younger average age than Nigeria during the qualifiers (24.9) as a squad that needed a good clearout after 2014 – gone are the likes of Joseph Yobo and Peter Odemwingie – have been replaced by genuine talent.

Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa are all stationed in the Premier League with Leicester and Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi chose Nigeria over England to further strengthen a promising nucleus.

Under German coach Gernot Rohr, the youngsters have developed a fearless streak, first in navigating a ‘group of death’ comprising African champions Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia before coming back from behind to stun Argentina in last month’s glamour friendly.

How they will handle the heat in a World Cup cauldron is a different matter but few of the better-seeded teams will be happy if they see Nigeria’s name come out of Pot Four.

Nigeria forward Alex Iwobi (l)

Nigeria forward Alex Iwobi (l)

22. Japan (55)

Curiously Japan waylaid two of their best-known players, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, ahead of their crucial World Cup qualifier against Australia – and it worked.

Vahid Halilhodzic’s side is underpinned by a strong work ethic, and just as the Bosnian has said, ‘the names are not relevant when it comes to playing for Japan’.

They overcame a strong qualifying group including Saudi Arabia, Australia and the UAE to qualify automatically and were particularly stingy at the back, conceding just seven goals in 10 games.

Kagawa, Ozakaki and former hero Keisuke Honda were not drafted in for the recent friendlies with Brazil and Belgium but there is one man who may provide a little X-Factor next year.

Gamba Osaka midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi, according to the local press, is one of Japan’s best-kept secrets and must provide the much-needed guile for the Asian underdogs, in Pot Four, to go very far.

Japan's Yosuke Ideguchi

Japan’s Yosuke Ideguchi

23. Denmark (12)

With all due respect to the Republic of Ireland, it would have been a terrible shame if Christian Eriksen had not taken to the stage in Russia next year.

Tottenham’s magician pulled off his greatest trick yet in Dublin, conjuring up a hat-trick to take his qualification goal tally into double digits.

Kasper Schmeichel in goal and the pairing of Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen in central defence forms a decent spine but simply put, if Eriksen enters the World Cup jaded from his exertions with Spurs, very little inspiration will be arriving from elsewhere.

No other player apart from the much-maligned Nicklas Bentdner from the team that flew to Ireland has scored more than eight goals for their country.

Indeed, it’s difficult to name a team who is more reliant on one player than Denmark – but even if he’s not quite at the level of Michael Laudrup yet, there are worse figures to lean upon.

Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen

Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen

24. Egypt (31)

Talking of inspirational figures, how’s Mo Salah for one? Whatever the winger touches turns to goals at the moment, whether in the red of Liverpool or Egypt.

Salah scored all three goals in two crucial wins over Uganda and Congo to send the Pharaohs to the World Cup for the first time since 1990, the last a penalty in the fifth minute of injury time.

While they have one truly proven commodity, much of the rest are unknown to global eyes, with Egyptian heavyweights Al Ahly and Zamalek forming the bulk of the defence.

To date Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny and Stoke’s Ramadan Sobhi have been hit and miss in the Premier League, while after a storming start with West Bromwich Albion, defender Ahmed Hegazi has tailed off somewhat.

Salah may not be able to galvanise the team in the same way that a playmaker in the vein of Eriksen can, but considering the spirit they showed during qualifying, their heart will count for something next year.

Egypt's Mohamed Salah (l)

Egypt’s Mohamed Salah (l)

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