The 2018 World Cup starts this week. We’ve previewed each Group, which you can see below. Now, to power ranking the individual teams regardless of draw, from the favorites to the outsiders.
Group A: Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Group C: France, Denmark, Peru, Australia
Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Group G: Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama
Group H: Poland, Colombia, Japan, Senegal
The Germans are a machine, and the sum is often much better than its parts. That’s how, when other talented nations have an occasional early hiccup, the Germans always seem to be there in the end. They have made the final game in half of the World Cups since 1954. They’ve been to at least the semis in every tournament since 2002, and the last time they failed to reach at least a quarterfinal was in 1978.
That’s not to say they don’t have good parts as well, though, as its the combination of collective spirit and fight and talent that sees them always in the mix. With Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, and Thomas Muller they still have the midfield and attacking talent. Timo Werner could be the breakout player up top. The defense has veterans in the middle in Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. Manuel Neuer will have to answer health questions, but is expected to be back in goal after a lengthy layoff due to injury this past season.
The last time (and only time) a non-European team won a World Cup in Europe? 1958 when Brazil won its first World Cup title with a teenager named Pelé. This year’s Brazilian side has as good a chance as any to end that drought. It’s a better side than when they hosted four years ago, deeper behind Neymar.
21-year-old Gabriel Jesus will form a potentially devastating attacking combo with Neymar up top, and Philippe Coutinho and Casemiro give them midfield heft and they have veterans on the back with Thiago Silva and Marcelo.
The Brazilians always bring flair and excitement to the tournament, and they should be on the short list of teams capable of winning the entire thing.
On talent, the French are right there at the top of this list. They’ve got top players from big professional teams who may not crack the starting lineup, and have an embarrassment of riches in attack. Kylian Mbappe is only 19 and may be the young star of the tournament, playing up front with Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud.
The concern is one of chemistry and coming together to match that talent. We’ve seen some dominant French sides over the last forty years (four have reached the World Cup semis or further) but we’ve seen other talented teams implode or fail at the key moment (missing qualification in 1994, finishing bottom of the group in both 2002 and 2010) under the pressure. Either way, expect some Napoleonic references as France heads into Russia.
The highest-rated country to not have a World Cup title, Belgium is the best bet for a newcomer to hold the trophy. They have quality at every position, are loaded in the attack with Romelu Lukaku (still somehow only 25), Eden Hazard, and Dries Mertens, with Kevin DeBruyne behind them. They rolled through the group stage and dominated the USA in shots before losing a close game to eventual finalist Argentina in the quarterfinals four years ago, and will be ready to go further this time around.