Russia kicked off proceedings last Thursday by trouncing Saudi Arabia, despite apparently being the worst Russian side ever, before Germany deservedly lost 1-0 to Mexico (they were lucky to score nil) and Brazil and Argentina were rightly held by Switzerland and Iceland respectively.
All this means that of the top seven in this week’s ‘power rankings’, only two have actually won a game so far…
It also means that we have a new leader, almost by default – Spain looked by far the most impressive team in their first game, despite also failing to win. Time will tell whether the lack of manager will eventually punish them, but they look more convincing than anyone else at least.
Elsewhere, England have climbed(!) after their thoroughly deserved win over Tunisia, while almost every other team has changed places – which proves nothing other than my total cluelessness over who was any good about a week ago. The bottom team hasn’t changed, however – no prizes for guessing who they are.
As always, disagreement and debate are encouraged. Do Spain deserve top spot? Have we been too harsh on Germany? Are England far too high/outrageously low? Feel free to insult me in the comments. JG
Without further ado…
- Spain (up 4)
With Spain losing manager Julen Lopetegui a day before the tournament, no-one knew the effect this would have on the squad, but with Fernando Hierro at the helm it looked likely to be a winning start (of course, Cristiano Ronaldo had other ideas.) Although the Real Madrid striker scored from the penalty spot early on to put Portugal ahead, Spain responded and Diego Costa equalised in the 24th minute, with Isco minutes later crashing the ball off the underside of the crossbar and down onto the goal line (but goal-line technology said no!)
Spain were dominant against the European champions and looked like they were going to clinch the win when Nacho put Spain ahead in the 58th minute, but Portugal’s Ronaldo (who else) yet again spoilt the party.
Isco was the stand-out player for Spain and they seemed to have that edge over Portugal, who themselves looked pretty good. AB
- France (up 1)
I’ll be honest, France are up to second because they won and no-one else that’s any good (other than Belgium) did.
This rank is potentially too high, however, as Australia are likely the weakest side in Group C and France seriously struggled. Antoine Griezmann’s 58th-minute penalty that eventually gave them the lead shouldn’t have been given, never mind about ten seconds after the ‘foul’ had been committed, but not to worry – despite Samuel Umtiti’s absolutely bizarre handball, France got through it, and unlike the teams on either side of them here, they have three points. JG
- Brazil (down 2)
When Coutinho curled in a ‘worldie’ on 20 minutes, the stage was set for pre-tournament favourites Brazil to stamp their authority. Untroubled in the first-half, the Brazilians were pegged back early in the second, by a controversial headed equaliser, which survived a VAR review for a push on defender Miranda. Brazil came on strong in the latter stages but were unable to find a way through a resolute Swiss defence.
As the minutes ticked by, Neymar seemed increasingly intent on doing everything himself. Could his desire to individually shine and prove himself as the world’s best player ultimately cost the Seleção? SC
- Belgium (up 2)
Roberto Martinez’ boys got their tournament off to a flier with an emphatic 3-0 win over Panama and, in doing so, put themselves in pole position in Group G. Goals from Dries Mertens and two from Romelu Lukaku saw off the plucky but limited Central Americans with considerable ease and justified their ranking as one of the teams capable of winning the competition.
With Tunisia up next – still no doubt bruised by that 91st minute goal by Harry Kane – the scene is set for a comfortable passage to the knockout stages, and with the best yet to come from the Belgians there is a feeling that maybe, just maybe this could be their time. GG
- Portugal (up 2)
Cristiano Ronaldo captained his Portugal side against Spain in their opening game and proved to be the real hero of the match.
Though Spain proved to be the more dominant of the two teams, Portugal were quick on the counter with Ronaldo leading the line, and Portugal went into half-time as leaders.
But Fernando Hierro’s side came out the stronger team in the second half and it looked like they were taking the points…
Of course, the Real Madrid striker then stepped up to take a free kick in the 88th minute and…
GOOOAALLLLLLLLLL!!!!! – Ronaldo completed his hat-trick. An absolutely fantastic effort went straight over the jumping wall and curled into the top corner.
Love him or loathe him, this could finally be Ronaldo’s World Cup. AB
- Germany (down 4)
The nation that gave us the word schadenfreude (pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune) was defeated in the first round for only the second time in its history. Be honest – you enjoyed that right?
The Germans might consider themselves unlucky, having hit the woodwork twice, but truth be told they looked sluggish, disorganised and were repeatedly exposed at the back with the CB pairing of Boateng and Hummels run ragged on the counter-attack. History suggests that the reigning champions will find a way to regroup and still go far in the tournament, but this is a side with urgent issues to address. SC
- Argentina (down 3)
Argentina’s game with Iceland was supposed to be the Lionel Messi show. The night after Ronaldo had set the World Cup alight by single-handedly clawing his Portugal side to a point, Messi, as BBC pundit Phil Neville said, was clearly going to score four.
Instead, he spent most of the game as virtually a holding midfielder, created almost nothing, and missed a penalty.
You can’t just blame the five-time Ballon d’Or winner though – the rest of his team need to step up. La Albiceleste should be a force even without Messi, but you get the feeling the other ten players are just waiting for him to do something; Sergio Aguero finally scored his first goal in nine World Cup games, but nothing else was forthcoming. Iceland were distinctly comfortable throughout. JG
- Uruguay (up 1)
Uruguay beat Egypt to win their first opening match at a World Cup since 1970, although they left it very late to secure the three points.
Before Jose Gimenez headed in the 90th-minute winner from Carlos Sanchez’s free kick, it didn’t seem as if it was going to be Uruguay’s night with key man Luis Suarez missing three fine chances, but when Egypt gave away a needless foul it gave Uruguay a last-minute lifeline, which they took full advantage of.
Despite Uruguay’s slow start and Suarez’s performance, Diego Godin did look solid in defence as their standout player; but they are still lucky to be topping the table with hosts Russia.
Uruguay need to take advantage of Saudi Arabia’s poor ability and build on confidence if they are to ensure their place in the next stage. AB
- England (up 3)
As per the norm, they put us through the ringer – but this time it felt a little different. The dark spells, mainly those in a second half that were the antithesis of those thrilling opening 30 minutes, were still handled with calmness and clarity of thought. Southgate cut a composed figure in the technical area, his players followed suit on the pitch and when King Harry of Colney nodded home in the 91st minute, it was met with euphoria but not surprise.
The likeability factor still holds, so too the often-fractious relationship with the media. And a win against Panama that’s largely scare-free and there will be some real momentum to add to the mix. I do however fear that those who think it’s ‘coming home’ are going to end up very disappointed, the back-three showing all the symptoms of one that will creak when up against quality opposition. Hope I’m wrong. GG
- Mexico (up 7)
A vibrant display of quick counter-attacking football saw Mexico’s front-three of Hernandez, Vela and Lozano terrorise Germany’s defence time and time again.
But for wasteful finishing and misplaced passes, Mexico could and should have had more to show for their efforts than Lozano’s solitary strike. As it was, one goal was enough, as Mexico withstood late German pressure to secure one of the biggest wins in their history and seize control of Group F.
Before the match, much was made of Mexico’s failure to ever make it to ‘game five’. On this evidence, they can dare to dream about the quarter-finals and more. SC
- Switzerland (down 1)
After 25 minutes against Brazil, Switzerland looked somewhat out of their depth. But after Steven Zuber’s equaliser they never really looked troubled – and became the first team in ten not to lose to Brazil in the Selacao’s opening match at a World Cup.
More troubling for Switzerland was their lack of attacking intent, with Xherdan Shaqiri struggling to get a foothold in the game, and favoured striker Haris Seferovic managing just 19 touches, none inside the 18-yard box.
They play Serbia next and must avoid defeat – but a draw should help take them through after a truly excellent opening result. JG
- Russia (up 4)
Before a ball was kicked, Russia launched the World Cup with a successful but low-key opening ceremony. Although it’s believed an estimated £11 billion was spent in preparation for the World Cup, it was a short but well-thought-out showpiece. Robbie Williams managed to steal some of the limelight before the tournament had even begun with his pro-LGBT ‘birdie’ gesture.
Despite not being predicted to go far in the competition, Russia scored the first goal of the tournament in the 12th minute through a Yuri Gazinskiy header, and never looked back! Saudi Arabia capitulated, and the rest is history.
Although Russia won convincingly at 5-0, it was hardly a thriller, but this gave them confidence; so much so they followed it up with an emphatic 3-1 win over Egypt and a guaranteed place in the knockout stages.
Perhaps they could swap my predicted runner-up place for a spot at the top of Group A. AB
- Croatia (no change)
It’s admittedly harsh not to raise their rank after a comfortable win over Nigeria, but Croatia hardly looked like World Cup winners – their first shot on target was Luka Modric’s 71st-minute penalty.
Modric and Rakitic did keep things ticking over nicely – they completed 128 passes between them, with 41 of Modric’s 63 coming in the Super Eagles’ half, but Croatia need to improve further if they’re to even beat Iceland and get out of the group. JG
- Denmark (no change)
They won, that’s the main thing. But it wasn’t comfortable, and it took a missed Peru penalty to get the job done. Now things get distinctly easier for Denmark, and their rating reflects that. Beat Australia on Thursday and they’re in the last 16 for the first time since 2002 (when England beat them 3-0…) I back them to do exactly that. JG
- Senegal (up 9)
Who saw that win over Poland coming? Other than Sadio Mane – who’s clearly a great player – the Senegalese have few big names, but still upset the form book by punishing some terrible Polish defending.
They have some good technicians in their ranks and play with great energy but also benefitted from a bizarre second goal when M’Baye Niang sprinted back on to the pitch after injury, immediately intercepted a back pass and took the ball round former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Senegal’s huge central defensive pairing of Salif Sane and Kalidou Koulibaly kept Robert Lewandowski quiet and the Lions of Teranga will now fancy their chances of making the knockout stages. GG
- Sweden (up 4)
A team that was unlikely to grab the headlines on performance alone did so courtesy of a penalty that was awarded by a VAR decision.
Sweden laboured to a 1-0 win in their opening fixture, spurning a couple of decent chances along the way, but truth be told it wasn’t a performance that would make the rest of the world sit up and take notice. Nevertheless, three points safely in the bag sees the Scandinavians well-placed for their remaining fixtures. SC
- Serbia (up 9)
Serbia undoubtedly deserved victory over Costa Rica but had to rely on a moment of magic in order to do so – if you haven’t seen Aleksander Kolarov’s strike then please do so now – it’s 1:39 in.
The job is only half-done though – the Eastern Europeans still need to beat Switzerland, by virtue of the Swiss avoiding defeat in their opening game – relying on getting anything from Brazil would be foolish/just plain weird. JG
- Poland (down 10)
I made the mistake of thinking the massive Polish support that would make its way to Russia would have a positive impact – instead it weighed heavily on the shoulders of their players who froze on an England Euro 2016 scale.
Some truly terrible defending contributed to a two-goal deficit – in what was in truth not a great game – and despite a late rally and an 86th minute consolation, they now find themselves heading to the Colombia game in a must-win scenario. GG
- Iceland (down 1)
Unfortunately, in this country we’re all aware of what Iceland of capable of. And yet it still came of something of a surprise to see how well the Vikings held Argentina.
It didn’t only look comfortable, but easy at times. There were no particular standout performers, apart from perhaps goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, who made nine saves, but Iceland’s strength comes in numbers; they will now massively fancy their chances of making the last 16. JG
- Japan (up 2)
Their win over Colombia, albeit against ten men for most of the game, was one of the biggest upsets of round one. The Japanese were largely unfancied – not least by their own people – and few gave them a prayer of getting out of Group H, but they rose to the challenge in a way few had envisaged. Technically efficient and full of energy, they made the most of the extra man and, despite a scare when the Colombians pulled level, a fine second half spell of pressure saw them rewarded with a priceless winner from the head of Yuya Osako.
A win against Senegal on Sunday will take them through to the knockout stages, and few would have seen their clash with Africans as one between the group’s top two teams. GG
- Peru (down 10)
Things could be very different for Peru if Christian Cueva’s first-half penalty against Denmark wasn’t now orbiting Mars – as it is, the midfielder’s shot went sailing over the bar and the Danes took full advantage with Yusuff Poulsen’s winning goal.
Peru shouldn’t be too disheartened. They continued their recent tradition of playing extremely nice-looking football in their opening match and France weren’t remotely impressive against the Aussies. They’ll go toe-to-toe with the French, but a loss would mean their hopes of reaching the Second Round for the first time since 1978 will be over. JG
- Colombia (down 7)
Where to start. Despite the biggest of build-ups and some of the most exotic names in world football, some shaky defending from Tottenham’s Davinson Sanchez resulted in his defensive partner Carlos Sanchez being shown read just three minutes into their opener with Japan.
The best made plans went out of the window in an instant and the theory of saving a not-fully-fit James Rodriguez for sterner tests ahead started to look a risk too many. They now find themselves in a must-win scenario in their second game against Poland, who also happen to find themselves in that same situation. GG
- Australia (up 4)
Australia were bitterly hard-done by against France. Les Bleu’s 58th-minute penalty was softly-given at best, thanks to VAR, and the Socceroos were rarely threatened otherwise, comfortably holding their own.
They’ve now got the best side out of the way, so will still fancy their chances. Denmark weren’t especially impressive against Peru: beat them next and Aus could be in a winner-takes-all tie with the South Americans in their last game. Stranger things have happened, probably. JG
- Iran (up 5)
I mean, you can only beat what’s put in front of you, right? Iran actually did what 18 teams had failed to do before them and beat Morocco, so fair play – but things still aren’t looking good for Carlos Queiroz’s side, with the cream of Iberia to come. They were probably second-best in a dour game with the Atlas Lions, but they are now top of their group – two more clean sheets and they’re through… JG
- Egypt (down 6)
Egypt were hoping for Mo Salah to be fit for their opener with Uruguay, but he didn’t venture off the bench.
The Pharaohs seemed to lack something against the two-time champions (probably Liverpool’s forward) and didn’t threaten the Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera with anything more than one long-range shot from Ahmed Fathy. They lost 1-0.
Unfortunately for The Pharaohs, last night’s game against Russia effectively ended their World Cup. With little to lose, they gambled on a half-fit Salah but it backfired and the hosts ran out comfortable 3-1 winners. Effectively, Egypt’s tournament ended before it began, when Sergio Ramos decided to half-nelson Salah in the Champions League final. AB
- Tunisia (down 5)
There’s no denying, the Tunisians did give England a scare – and arguably did just enough to justify their place as the highest ranked African team in the FIFA rankings – but also exposed their limitations to the world. They are clearly well-drilled, they play neat, passing football and have an appreciation of the game’s dark arts right up there with the best Sergio Ramos has to offer, but they offer only a limited attacking threat in open play.
Against the English, their biggest threat came from set plays and against a back-three that is yet to convince they created precious little. While a win against Panama (in their final game) is within their gift, defeat at the hands of Belgium in their second match will determine their fate. GG
- Nigeria (down 2)
The Super Eagles really needed to get at least a point against Croatia to stand a chance of progressing, and they didn’t even come close.
The front three of Victor Moses, Odion Ighalo and Alex Iwobi were desperately disappointing but the defence did only concede two shots on target – it’s just a shame they resulted in two goals. Nigeria must beat Iceland on Friday. JG
- South Korea (no change)
The endeavour but lack of quality which saw the Koreans through their qualifying campaign was insufficient to overcome a mediocre Swedish side.
With Germany and Mexico to come in the final two fixtures, this match always had the feel of a winner takes ‘an outside chance of second place’ to it. Defeat has left the South Koreans staring down the barrel of another group-stage exit.
On the plus side, their players hug a lot, so team spirit is not an issue. SC
- Costa Rica (down 6)
Costa Rica are a little bit stuffed, to be honest. After being comprehensively beaten by Serbia, they now need to extract at least four points from Brazil and Switzerland, which just isn’t going to happen.
The Central Americans have been underestimated before, of course, but this squad is old – with an average age of 29, the only side less youthful than them are Panama, and you’ll have to scroll even further down to read about them. JG
- Panama (up 1)
As the referee blew for half-time, Panama were on their way to causing yet another World Cup upset by holding Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ to a goalless stalemate. 45 minutes later and normal service was resumed as the South Americans discovered that you need a 2nd and 3rd gear to progress through the group stages, or rather someone capable of taking the half-chances you create.
Offered enough to suggest that they might provide a banana-skin for Gareth Southgate’s men in the next round but little more. SC
- Morocco (down 1)
I actually considered putting Morocco below Saudi Arabia here. Outrageous, I know, but the Saudis have Uruguay and Egypt to come – Morocco have lost to Iran without scoring, and now have Spain and Cristiano FC to play. Just go home now boys, seriously. JG
- Saudi Arabia (no change)
Well, what can I say? Saudi Arabia were ranked at the bottom of our power rankings and they have shown very little to suggest they will move anywhere from this position.
Saudi looked very weak and seemed to lack any tactical nous in their opening game against Russia, not even registering a shot on target.
Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said: “the opposing team really didn’t have to make a huge effort to win this game. We have now to forget this feeling of shame and start thinking about the next match.”
Saudi Arabia face Uruguay on Wednesday and I can’t see them getting anything here either. AB