Welcome to the Round of 16 Edition of my World Cup 2018 Power Rankings!
The group stages were simply fantastic, and I’m going to miss having three games of football every day. That said, the World Cup knockout rounds – particularly on the “left” side of the draw, look mouthwatering.
Here’s how things are shaping up:
(Table courtesy of the Guardian)
Spain, Croatia and… probably England should run through the right side. The left is anybody’s guess, from the round of 16 onwards.
How to make sense of this madness? Well, my World Cup Power Rankings should help.
If you’ve read any of the previous editions, you’ll know the score by now. Major determining factors include pure talent and World Cup heritage. I’ve put less emphasis on results in the World Cup qualifiers as we’ve gone along, and more on actual World Cup performances. From this point on, value will also to be given to the potential route a team has through the knockout rounds.
Without further ado, let’s get cracking.
Here are your World Cup 2018 Power Rankings, heading into the round of 16.
World Cup 2018 Power Rankings
Previous Ranking: 1
God, this was a tough call to make.
When I drafted out this edition of my World Cup Power Rankings, I actually had Brazil #1, with Spain second. I left it that way while I wrote the entries for all 14 other teams, before circling back round.
I’ve thought about it at length, and Spain are back in the top spot.
In the Round 3 update, one of my reasons for having Spain #1 was because none of the other big four teams had impressed, and I still thought they were the strongest squad.
Well, Brazil did impress me in their last group game (more on that later). I’m also having a slight doubt about this Spain team.
I’ve read a lot of Spain fans online talking about the need to freshen up the starting lineup. Having seen them live as they struggled to a 2-2 draw against Morocco, I agree with this.
I know it’s their style, but – right now – Spain have too many similar players. I don’t think there’s any need to start Iniesta, Isco, Silva and Thiago. There was a lot of pretty, accurate passing against Morocco, but little penetration.
I’d bring in Saúl for Thiago. He’s a physical and dynamic player, capable of pinging a long range pass or simply dribbling through the whole defence. I’d also get a quick, direct player in for Silva; probably Asensio to start with, before bringing on Vázquez in the second half.
The biggest danger this Spain team faces is their manager. Hierro had no time to prepare, and has very little experience as a head coach. I fear he’ll be slow to react and change things around, even as the signs become clearer that he should.
Having said all of that, this is still an incredibly talented team, with formidable mental strength, and they topped a tough group. Brazil did too… but Spain have ended up with a vastly easier route to the World Cup final (see above). That was one of the main factors in – eventually – keeping Spain in the top spot.
And outright stubbornness on my part, of course.
Previous Ranking: 2
As I said above, I was extremely close to moving Brazil up to #1 in my World Cup 2018 Power Rankings.
My doubts about Brazil heading into the tournament revolved around their mental fragility. How could they not, with the way their 2014 World Cup run ended?
Their performance against Serbia was the best of any of the pre-tournament big four in the group stage. Barring a brief onslaught early in the second half (which they dealt with well), they were in complete control from start to finish.
There was still half an hour to go when they scored their second goal, but Serbia seemed to just give up, even with round of 16 qualification on the line. Quite simply, they didn’t believe they could possibly get back into the game, and Brazil controlled the rest of the game with an impressive swagger.
Brazil have a tricky route to the final now; one which – after Mexico – will probably take them past Belgium and France. If they can play as they did against Serbia, however – and that was with Neymar still not up to speed – this Brazil side shouldn’t fear anybody.
Previous Ranking: 3
God, I haven’t wanted to drop a team this badly in my World Cup 2018 Power Ranking since… well, France, after that awful opening display against Australia (see previous Power Rankings edition).
France haven’t shown the slightest sign of being the team we hoped they were. Far worse, however, is that they’ve barely even tried.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when they were time wasting, 1-0 up against Peru. Well, that performance was positively barnstorming compared to what they did against Denmark. Didier Deschamps gave a series of second-stringers the chance to challenge for the France World Cup team. Sidibe was the only one who came close.
It kills me that I can’t drop them down… but I can’t.
They did win their (weak) group. Plus, there’s simply so much talent here. You have to believe that, eventually, they’re going to piece everything together.
Previous Ranking: 5
The Ronaldo Republic marches on.
Technically, they only managed a draw against Carlos Quieroz’s stodgy Iran team. They were 92 minutes towards a second consecutive 1-0 win, however, which is clearly how they’re intending to make it through the competition.
Their gameplan is to play conservative tactics, as they did in Euro 2016, rely on Ronaldo to break the deadlock, or – if that fails – pray somebody else happens to step up.
They really could have done with winning Group B. Now, they have to play Uruguay in the round of 16. Uruguay are like a super-Portugal, but with twice as many goalscorers (i.e. two – Cavani and Suárez). If they make it past the Uruguayans, we get a tantalising Euro 2016 Final replay; France vs Portugal Round Two, Le Revenge.
Technically, if they execute their gameplan, it can work against anyone. I just don’t think they have the defensive talent to execute it. Still, they have the best player in the tournament (right now), and won the last cup competition they entered. They deserve to be taken seriously.
Previous Ranking: 6
Croatia have been the best team in the competition so far.
They got put into the hardest of the World Cup groups (Group D, with Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland), and absolutely breezed through it. Three games, three wins, seven goals scored, one conceded, thank you very much.
Iceland aren’t the Norse force they were in Euro 2016. Still, Croatia showed impressive focus to beat them, when other big teams took their foot off the gas in their final group games. They’ve been rewarded with an easy-peasy round of 16 game against Denmark. After that, well, it’s Spain. Based on the form of the respective teams, that game could prove fascinating.
This is a side without an obvious weakness. They’ve got the best central midfield in the 2018 World Cup, a good striker flanked by dangerous forwards (Perišić took his goal excellently against Iceland), and a combative defence (Vida has looked especially good, and is already headed to the Premier League).
What’s not to like?
Previous Ranking: 11
I’ve gone back and forth on this Uruguay side. They started at #9 in my World Cup 2018 Power Rankings, got dumped down to #11, and now find themselves back up at #6.
Maybe you could say I over-reacted to their measly 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia… but I watched that interminably dull game. God, it was bad.
Now, I’ve done a full 180. I’ve gone from disappointment to admiration. This is the kind of team that every opponent will dread meeting in the World Cup.
Up top, they have a pair of perpetually hungry poachers. You can’t sleep on Cavani or Suárez for a moment, and both work tirelessly to win the ball back. The 3-0 demolition job on Russia was evidence that – if they do open up the throttle – they possess a scary attack indeed.
More important by far is their defence, led by the perennially brilliant Diego Godín. They didn’t concede a single goal in the World Cup group stage, and any team would have a tough time breaking them down.
They’ve gotten unlucky with the draw. To make the World Cup final, they’ll (probably) have to beat Portugal, France and Brazil. With that said, World Cups are won and lost on the strength of a team’s defence, and there are none stronger than Uruguay’s.
Previous Ranking: 7
We have learnt absolutely nothing about Belgium. They started at #7 in my initial World Cup 2018 Power Rankings, and they’re still there now.
They beat Panama, Tunisia, and a second-string England side. Big deal. We still have no idea how they’ll play when confronted by a real challenge. The best thing you can say about them is that at least Lukaku brought his shooting boots with him… but scoring against lesser opposition has never been his problem.
They were rewarded for finishing top in World Cup Group G with a round of 16 game against Japan. After that, they get their first real test of World Cup 2018: Brazil (or Mexico, technically). I think that’s when they’ll get found out.
Down the flanks, their starting XI is as shaky as a granny on stilts. A duo like Neymar and Willian should tear them to shreds. Coutinho would have a field day in central midfield, if Roberto Martinez retains Axel Witsel as the only holding player.
Perhaps Martinez will adapt to stronger competition, and pick a more robust side. Based on his managerial history, I doubt it. The chances are he’ll stubbornly stick to his attacking approach, and Belgium will pay the price.
Previous Ranking: 8
See: World Cup 2018 Power Rankings, #7, Belgium.
The game against Panama was fun, and the follow-up against Belgium was meaningless. We’ve learnt nothing new about this England team, and have no idea how they’ll fare in the knockout rounds.
I’ve heard some argue that making it to the round of 16 is an achievement, but that’s a loser’s mentality. We shouldn’t be jumping for joy just because, for once, an England squad that ranks top 10-ish in talent hasn’t underperformed.
The problem area remains the defence, particularly on the left side. Colombia will feed Cuadrado down that flank from the start, and I fear for Rose/Young and particularly Maguire.
On the flip-side, England’s attack should pose their opponent’s defence problems too. Kane is scoring (by hook or by crook), and Lingard has looked dangerous. Colombia’s defence is mistake-prone, and this could prove a fascinating, and highly entertaining, round of 16 encounter.
Previous Ranking: 15
When it comes to World Cup Power Rankings, it’s basically impossible to place this Argentina side.
They’ve played the least coherent football of any of the last 16 teams. Their manager is little more than a puppet being operated by Messi. They keep putting out the wrong starting lineup, relying on substitutions to make any progress in a game. Mascherano has become a pointless player. The defence is terrible, and could (should) have conceded more against Nigeria.
The list goes on.
And yet, when the chips were down, and when their World Cup survival was on the line, they came through. Like the team or not (well, nobody “likes” this team), a win like that is the kind of thing that can galvanise a cup squad. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but they only have to win four games to take the whole World Cup. It doesn’t have to be pretty, they just have to win.
Messi is obviously good enough to win the biggest games on his own. So is Agüero. So is Dybala, even if he’s not allowed to play. With Banega pinging balls in from deep, Argentina also finally have the key to unlocking their fearsome forwards’ potential.
Argentina could easily catch this France team napping. Come on, Coach Messi. Take the plunge and bench the awful Di Maria, for god’s sake get Mascherano out, and have a real go at them.
Previous Ranking: 10
Well, it wasn’t easy, but Colombia made it out of the most finely-balanced of World Cup groups in the end. Most impressively of all, they’ve done so largely without James Rodríguez.
Good for them, but – if James can’t play in the England game – it would be a disaster for Colombia. He was simply sensational against Poland, picking up two assists and generally terrorising the defence with his incisive, long range passes. Without him, for large chunks of the Japan and Senegal matches, Colombia have been a vastly less effective team.
Between Cuadrado, Falcao and their backup playmaker Quintero, Colombia can still cause some problems on the offensive end. I doubt, however, that it’ll be enough to counter-balance their exciting but unreliable defence.
Mina played well against Senegal, but has little top-level experience. Sanchez is a great athlete, but takes too many risks defensively. Ospina, whilst underrated, is not the guy I want in goal for a must-win game.
Considering the circumstances, Colombia did very well to win Group H. If James’s injury proves troublesome, however, then this will probably end up as a “What could have been” tournament for Los Cafeteros.
Previous Ranking: 12
This is one case in which the stats don’t tell the story. In the World Cup group stage, Switzerland won one, drew two, and finished with a +1 goal difference.
Remember, however, that one of those draws was against the favourites to become World Cup winners – Brazil – and the second was a basically meaningless final game against Costa Rica. The late win came against a more talented Serbia side, and showed remarkable resilience.
Switzerland aren’t the sexiest side in the World Cup knockout rounds. They’re short on match-winners (I could probably make a pun about Shaqiri’s height here, but I’m too classy for that), and don’t play an attractive style. They are an extremely coherent and well-drilled side, however, with plenty of experience, and deserve their place in the round of 16.
The Swiss have also gotten a nice draw, with their first knockout game coming against Sweden. Assuming they win, they certainly won’t be an easy out for Colombia or England in the World Cup quarter finals.
Previous Ranking: 9
What to make of this Mexico team?
They looked dynamite in their first game against Germany, followed up with a professional, controlling performance against South Korea… then got demolished by Sweden. Mexico really could have done without that final loss, because it cost them top spot in the group. Now, they have to play Brazil, and their tournament is likely over.
Or is it?
Well, probably yes. The opening win over Germany looks less impressive now, when even South Korea turned them over 2-0.
That said, there is a slim chance Brazil could play right into their hands, as Germany did. Brazil also play super-attacking full-backs, and leave only one holding midfielder to cover their defence. It’s possible that Mexico could counter them to death, and march on.
The thing is, Mexico have lost in the round of 16 for a ridiculous six World Cups in a row. To put my amateur psychologist’s hat on for a moment, that puts a crushing mental weight on the players heading into this game.
I think it’s unlikely the streak will be broken this World Cup.
Previous Ranking: 14
Have the Russia World Cup team turned back into a pumpkin? In all likelihood, yes.
The two opening wins were impressive, exciting, and great for the tournament. But, they came against Saudi Arabia and Egypt. As soon as they played a contender to become World Cup winners, they crumpled.
Simply being the host can carry you a long way in the World Cup. In the last eight tournaments, the hosts have won once, made the semi-finals four times (including South Korea, of course), and made the round of 16 another two times. In fact, South Africa 2010 was literally the only time the hosts haven’t made the knockout rounds since the World Cup began, in 1930.
Basically, getting to the round of 16 is not an achievement when you’re the hosts, even when you’re as bad as this Russia side were supposed to be. They’ve played decent, controlled football for the most part, sure, but they really could’ve done without that Uruguay loss.
Now, they play Spain. Do they have any realistic chance of winning that game? This correspondent says, “nyet”.
Previous Ranking: 20
For the most part, you can simply zip down and read my comments on Denmark here. Most of them also express my feelings for Sweden. To be completely honest, the two Scandinavian sides are the ones I wish hadn’t made it to the knockout rounds.
Of the two, however, Sweden definitely have more about them. They haven’t got a certified star, in the Christian Eriksen mould (Emil Forsberg has been immensely disappointing this World Cup), but they’re an excellent defensive team, and at least they’ve given us some entertainment.
Their 2-1 loss against Germany will live long in the memory. In the moment, it seemed a devastating defeat… but they immediately bounced back to pummel a heralded Mexico side 3-0. For that performance, at the very least, they deserve to be in the World Cup round of 16.
Previous Ranking: 17
Japan have been one of the biggest positive surprises of the 2018 World Cup.
I had them ranked 30th in my pre-tournament World Cup power rankings. Now, they’re into the knockout rounds.
They haven’t got lucky, and they haven’t made it here by playing an incredibly defensive style, and taking what few chances they created. They play good, technically sound football, are well organised, and have shown excellent mental strength in overcoming an (admittedly depleted) Colombia side, and coming from behind twice against the physically superior Senegal.
Takashi Inui and Yuto Nagatomo have genuinely formed one of the most effective partnerships in the competition, down Japan’s left flank. Not only do they work fluidly together in attack, but Inui covers for Nagatomo in defence well too.
Unfortunately, they’ve got Belgium in the World Cup round of 16. The Belgians haven’t exactly looked like world-beaters so far, but they’ll surely have enough about them to stop Japan. Even if they do, Japan have already put together an admirable, memorable World Cup run, considering their pre-World Cup reputation.
Previous Ranking: 19
Well, they’re still in the tournament, I guess. Hooray.
If you read the Round 3 update of my World Cup 2018 Power Rankings, you’ll already know I’m not a fan of this Denmark team.
In fact, of the 16 teams that have been knocked out, there are a full eight of them that I’d rather have had in the first knockout round than Denmark:
Has anything changed… since they played out the most boring game of the competition; a 0-0 draw against France? You’d better believe it hasn’t!
Denmark scored two goals in three games, and conceded one. Basically, across 270 minutes of football, almost nothing happened.
There are only two good things you can say about Denmark:
- They have Christian Eriksen
- They should get knocked out now by Croatia
World Cup 2018 Power Rankings – Biggest Risers:
- Sweden +6
- Argentina +6
- Uruguay +5
World Cup 2018 Power Rankings – Biggest Fallers:
(Skewed due to teams dropping out)
- Mexico -3
So there you have it – the latest edition of my World Cup 2018 Power Rankings.
Watch Spain get knocked out by Russia now…
Whatever madness is set to unfold in the first knockout round, the Power Rankings will be back to weigh up the relative strengths of the last eight teams, ahead of the quarter finals.
In the meantime, follow us on Twitter and Facebook to get all Full 90 Football’s latest posts hot off the press. In addition to more World Cup 2018 Power Rankings, we’ll also have McDonald’s World Cup Fantasy Football advice, betting tips, and – on Twitter especially – some snaps from and insights into what’s going on in Russia.
Thanks for reading, everybody!