Normality has been somewhat restored in the last few days, with wins for Brazil, France, Belgium, Portugal and Germany, just about. But Argentina’s comprehensive loss to Croatia means the first giant could still be about to fall – and as such La Albiceleste have plummeted down the rankings.
If one team goes down, another must go up, though, and Croatia, Russia and Mexico – this World Cup’s surprise packages – have now entered the top ten. England retain their spot amongst them but won’t split apart the top teams until they play one of them (that’ll be Thursday – against new #2 Belgium).
Down the bottom, a whole host of sides are now out, and they won’t be returning to our ‘power rankings’ from the next round. Here at MFW, we only accept the best, so from Friday onwards, our numbers will be slashed from 32 to 16 – every side that crashes out in the group stage will no longer be featured. JG
Without further ado…
- Spain (no change)
Fernando Hierro’s side were again dominant in possession and eventually ground down an Iran team that crowded out lone-striker Diego Costa and obviously came with a game plan which very nearly paid off.
After David Silva hit the cross bar in the first half, Spain did eventually break down Iran’s wall of defence, when Costa finally broke through and put the ball into the back of the net with the help of a deflection. Spain’s spot at the top of the rankings were put in danger when Iran put the ball in the net just 10 minutes later – but VAR confirmed it was offside.
Spain just need to draw or win their last game to secure their place in the last 16.
They play Morocco tonight at 7. AB
- Belgium (up 2)
In a group that’s been proven to contain two of the tournaments whipping boys, Belgium (like England) have had two chances to fine tune themselves ready for the bigger battles ahead. And they’ve done it very well indeed.
Roberto Martinez has clearly found an effective way to utilise Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, in a midfield that has others capable of filling the creative void should either of both have an off day.
They’re dangerous opponents, no question, and better for England to play them now in a game that matters little than to meet them in the Round of 16 or quarters.
Will, however, Thursday’s game be a rehearsal for a rather more important clash further down the line? GG
- Brazil (no change)
Brazil laboured throughout an abject first-half display against Costa Rica but were transformed after the break with the introduction of Douglas Costa. Greater width resulted in more space and more chances and yet they still left it late. Very late. Goalless as the game went into injury time, strikes from Coutinho and Neymar secured the points and saved further South American blushes.
This is a side still stuck in third gear but they will be grateful that Neymar is off the mark. SC
- France (down 2)
They’ve won, but France been rather unconvincing in their performances; you only need to pick up a copy of L’Équipe to read the negative response to their win against Australia.
In many regards, France under Didier Deschamps look a lot like England under Sven Goran Eriksson. They lack physical freshness, have no attacking cohesion, don’t move the ball quickly enough and don’t possess a consistent and effective press; France lack experimentation and off-the-cuff football. They are formulaic and rather underwhelming, considering their star-studded cast.
Only a return to the comfort blanket of a 4-4-2 brought a result, and like Eriksson, Deschamps has attempted to shoehorn players into unnatural positions. Antoine Griezmann, the poster boy for French football, has been operating in the unfamiliarity of wide roles rather than as a number ten.
They have looked timid, turgid and tired against weaker opposition, fumbling their way out of the group with key players underperforming. They need to be granted a freedom to operate and effect games, exploiting the offensive talent they possess.
Unlike Eriksson, Deschamps is favouring balance. Keeping faith with his favourites might be the only way he can avoid another lifeless defeat in the Quarter-Finals – and the fate of Eriksson. CS
- Germany (up 1)
At half-time and 1-0 down, they were in danger of being dumped out of the tournament completely. But they weren’t – because they are Germany.
With eight minutes left and down to 10 men, they were desperately holding out for a draw. But they won – because they are Germany.
With five minutes injury time already played, everyone knew Kroos would score from the free-kick – because they are Germany.
Despite looking wholly unconvincing in both games, we may as well give them the trophy now – because they are Germany. SC
- Portugal (down 1)
Cristiano Ronaldo does it again for his national team, and with 85 international goals he’s scored more than any other European player in history.
The Portugal captain headed his team to a 1-0 victory in just the 4th minute, knocking Morocco out in the process. However, Portugal offered little else, and defensively don’t look as strong as many of the other top teams.
Like Spain, they have to secure at least a draw to guarantee one of the top two places in Group B. I’m sure Iran will have a game plan in place – Ronaldo still has work to do. AB
- Croatia (up 6)
Croatia are starting to look seriously dangerous. Their opening defeat of Nigeria wasn’t pretty but they outclassed Argentina, even if they were initially helped out by Willy Caballero’s stupid mistake. Luka Modric was once again superb, and he proved as much with his goal, a beautiful curler that Caballero could do little about.
A point against Iceland and Croatia will win the group, then Denmark will likely lay in wait; Modric and Co. will be seriously eyeing up a Quarter-Final berth already. JG
- England (up 1)
What can we say? Two wins against, it has to be said, poor/modest opposition have blown the ‘low expectations’ theory out of the water I’m afraid.
As a veteran of far too many World Cup heartbreaks, I’m loathe, for now, to hop aboard the ‘It’s coming home’ train but there is no denying there is something building in and around Gareth Southgate’s eminently likeable squad.
The ridiculous leaking of the team by the English press pack (who continue to insist they did nothing wrong) was thankfully a mere footnote to our biggest-ever World Cup finals win, and we head into the final group game with Belgium with one eye on who we could meet in the Round of 16. The line-up will be interesting, so too the tactics, but these are nice conundrums for Southgate. GG
- Mexico (up 1)
With two teams that naturally prefer to play on the counter-attack, Mexico edged out South Korea with a display that lacked the sparkle of their opening win against Germany.
Six points from the opening fixtures looked to have been enough to secure the Mexicans a place in the knock-out stages (for the first time since 1986), right up until Kroos’s late winner for Germany. A point will be enough in the final fixture against Sweden but nerves are sure to be jangling. Ay Caramba! SC
- Russia (up 2)
Russia have probably shocked us all with a maximum six points, which puts them in the final 16. The 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday night will have the host nation brimming with confidence going into their final game, and with a massive goal difference I can’t see them being anywhere other than top of Group A.
Cheryshev seems to have been Russia’s stand-out man in the last two games and, after a quiet first half against the Pharaohs, he was by-far man of the match in the second half.
Russia play for first place against Uruguay today at 3. AB
- Colombia (up 11)
After a first-round disaster against Japan, precipitated by going down to ten men after three minutes, the Colombians bounced back in style last night with a scintillating 3-0 win over a hapless Poland. Goals from Mina, Falcao and Cuadrado gave them a victory with ease and backed by tens of thousands of countrymen and with James Rodriguez finding his form of four years ago, they are a formidable force.
But, a big but, they have work to do before they qualify for the Round of 16. Thursday’s tie against Senegal looks to be a must-win and with the Senegalese in exactly the same boat, this promises to an absolute thriller.
Columbia, as one of the most aesthetically pleasing teams in the tournament, would be a loss to the World Cup if they go home after the group stages but it remains a distinct possibility. GG
- Uruguay (down 4)
Uruguay secured their place in the final 16 with a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia, thanks to a close-range Luis Suarez goal.
This was Luis Suarez’s 100th cap for Uruguay and he’s also the first Uruguayan player to score in three different World Cups (2010, 2014 and 2018).
Uruguay have gone through on the back of two 1-0 wins, playing organised football, but there really wasn’t much flair on offer. AB
- Switzerland (down 2)
After an encouraging performance and result against Brazil, Switzerland were extremely lucky to come away with all three points against Serbia, in a game where they were second-best for long periods. It doesn’t matter – they got the three points, and will probably go through regardless of their final result – Serbia, one point behind the Swiss, have Brazil last.
Of more concern for Switzerland are the possible two-game bans for Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for their political goal celebrations (in reference to Serbia’s treatment of Albanians in Kosovo in the 90s – both players are Kosovan-born). If they are banned, the Swiss will find it hard to progress beyond the last 16. JG
- Argentina (down 7)
What a mess. I actually saw a lot of people blaming Willy Caballero for his team’s defeat, which is frankly ridiculous. Yes, he was at fault for Croatia’s first goal, but Argentina were dreadful.
They remain in the top 16 here by virtue of the fact that, remarkably, their fate is still in their own hands – beat Nigeria in the last game and they’ll be through.
Are they remotely capable of doing that though? Coach Jorge Sampaoli looks hopelessly out of his depth, seemingly with no Plan B, the midfield is virtually non-existent, meaning Messi has to play far too deep, and his supporting cast of attacking talent are useless in their national shirt. I think I fancy the Super Eagles. JG
- Senegal (no change)
With four points already on the board, the Senegalese are in a great position to qualify for the knockout stages – but they do need to avoid defeat against the impressive Colombians on Friday in what promises to be a thriller.
They could, possibly, be England’s Round of 16 opponents and if so will give us problems. They play with power and pace and have an attacking threat spearheaded by Liverpool’s Sadio Mane.
I have a sneaking feeling they will present the Colombians with a rather sterner test than they faced against the Poles and will sneak through. GG
- Denmark (down 2)
Perhaps not one of the greatest strikes witnessed in Russia, but the anatomy of Christian Eriksen’s masterful half volley was definitely one of the tournament’s most aesthetically-pleasing goals so far. It does underline Denmark’s reliance on Tottenham’s attacking midfielder, however.
It was the 18th goal Eriksen has been directly involved in in his last 15 appearances for Denmark – 13 goals, five assists – reflecting both how this Danish team is built around his talents and his ever-growing sense of personal responsibility.
As the ball soared past Mat Ryan, Denmark had seemingly kickstarted their World Cup campaign – if they could see off Australia they would have progressed to the knockout stages there and then. Any prosperity that Denmark have this tournament will be likely to leave the boot of Eriksen.
That said, improvement is required to ensure their progression beyond the Group Stage of the finals. A point against France will do it. CS
- Japan (up 3)
No-one expected the Japanese to be heading into their final group games as favourites to qualify, but here they are! That opening win against ten-man Columbia set them up nicely for a crack at the knockout stages and an incredibly hard-fought 2-2 draw against Senegal has offered them a great chance.
Their final group game against the Poles, who have been awful so far, presents them with a great chance of both qualifying and topping the group.
Their brand of high-tempo, high-energy football makes them dangerous opponents and if they can successfully negotiate the Poland game, they’ll present a tricky challenge for someone in the Round of 16. GG
- Nigeria (up 9)
The Super Eagles looked like a different side altogether in their win against Iceland, Ahmed Musa defying his sub-par first season with Leicester to grab both goals in a convincing win.
It was also a result that was largely unexpected – and as such, was probably celebrated just as wildly on the streets of Buenos Aires as Lagos – it sets up a winner-takes-all battle with Argentina on Tuesday. A draw will do for Nigeria, and you’d fancy them to just about manage it – especially if Musa and Argentina’s forwards continue to subvert their club form. JG
- Sweden (down 3)
One-time City target Ola Toivonen produced an exquisite goal to put Sweden in control at half-time and dreaming of the knock-out stages. Despite being pegged back soon after the break, the Swedes dealt with everything the Germans through at them and even played the final minutes against 10 men. Poor game-management and decision-making left the door open for Toni Kroos to break Scandinavian hearts and whilst they can still qualify by beating Mexico in Wednesday’s show-down, the Swedes know they wasted a massive opportunity. SC
- Iran (up 4)
Heartbroken by VAR, as an equaliser against 2010 champions Spain was disallowed and hindered the likelihood of progression beyond the Group Stage.
Iran are built upon the pragmatism installed by head coach Carlos Queiroz, and at times their formation has resembled a 6-3-0, but Iran will leave with their first World Cup victory since 1998, and can consider themselves unfortunate not to leave that game with Spain with more.
Queiroz has arguably been at fault for Iran’s lack of output, but the experienced coach has implemented a defensive organisation which kept Spain at bay for lengthy periods and nicked a win against Morocco.
Despite a lack of progression [Ed – unless they win against Portugal!], Iran will be happy with their performance, and 3 points from a possible 6 at time of writing isn’t bad. CS
- Serbia (down 4)
It isn’t quite over for Serbia. They were unlucky to lose to Switzerland after all, but lose they did – now they just have to beat Brazil.
It’s unlikely, but not impossible – the Serbs have proven themselves deadly enough going forward to produce problems for the Brazilians (especially with the talents of Sergej Milinković-Savić). But let’s be honest, it ain’t gonna happen. They’re not out though, yet. JG
- Iceland (down 3)
It seems as if people got a bit carried away with Iceland, especially after their incredible qualification campaign, in which they finished above Croatia, and of course their performance against Argentina (I’m fed up with mentioning that Euro 2016 result.)
Of course, they should have never been expected to beat Nigeria – especially when considering their population was 556 x smaller than that of their opponents. But the 2-0 defeat was nonetheless disappointing, and means Iceland will almost certainly be going home after their final group game. They’ve done themselves proud. JG
- Australia (no change)
The Aussies will be relatively pleased with their performances thus far. A defeat to France, which didn’t disgrace them, and a well-earned point against Denmark has left Australia with an outside chance of progression.
Despite starting nervously against Denmark, Australia took control and were unlucky not to leave Samara with three points. They are a side of consequence in this tournament, when nobody expected them to be.
More expressive than expected, more positive than anticipated and the critics may be left eating their words should they conjure up a win against Peru and France see to Denmark. Considering their preparation for the tournament being placed in disarray, this would be considered some achievement.
Let’s just hope no ball tampering follows and they aren’t left tearful and regretful in front of their own cameras. CS
- South Korea (up 4)
The instructions to South Korea’s players appear to have been fairly simple. When you’re out of possession, foul the opposition, and when you’re in possession, give the ball to Son. Energetic and willing but lacking quality (aside from the Tottenham forward), the South Koreans wasted the handful of chances they created and look destined to be knocked out with Son’s wonder strike the only consolation from a disappointing tournament so far. SC
- Peru (down 4)
A huge following arrived in Russia, with stories of Peruvians selling their houses in order to watch their nation perform in the World Cup common.
In between the boxes, Peru looked confident, and took the game to France and Denmark, even having more possession and shots than their respective opponents in both fixtures. Yet that won’t prevail in the memory.
The sound will; vocal off the pitch, but frustrating on it, that will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of their supporters, but they will still be proud to see their nation represented on the world’s greatest stage.
When all this gets sorted out in Moscow on July 15, the staggering sound of the Peruvian fans should linger as one of the hallmarks of this World Cup. Their national anthem rendition from Thursday night alone surely will withstand the test of memory, leaving seasoned mouths agape as it did. CS
- Poland (down 8)
Not sure where to start, or to even bother at all…
For Poland’s performance v Columbia read Norwich City v Sheffield Wednesday on the final day. Enough said.
They’re going home for a reason. GG
- Tunisia (down 1)
To be fair to the Tunisians, despite not ripping up any trees they were within a whisker of getting a point against England, but Saturday’s scoreline suggests it all started to unravel against the impressive Belgians.
In truth, there was still a lot to admire about the way the Tunisians went about their business, but they simply had no answer to Belgium’s attacking power. They did however play some nice football and arguably emerged with more credit than they did from the England game, where they deployed the game’s dark arts to spoil and frustrate (thankfully in vain.
They were deserving of their two goals and I expect them to beat Panama in the final game. GG
- Morocco (up 3)
Ex-Cambridge United manager Herve Renard has transitioned from a figure of belief and tactical bravery throughout qualifying into the boss of a side who have struggled at both ends of the pitch.
Morocco’s profligacy in front of goal coupled with an exposed defensive line has proved detrimental to their lack of productivity in Russia. 1-0 defeats to Iran and Portugal mean Morocco’s final game becomes redundant, and they are heading home.
A positive for the Lions of the Atlas is their determination to play their high tempo, possession-based game. Nordin Amrabat championed their spirit, but in the end, Morocco bit off more than they could chew. CS
- Egypt (down 4)
Mo Salah finally got his start at the World Cup, but he really didn’t seem to get out of second gear, and neither did his team.
After a very pedestrian first half, Salah’s team-mate Ahmed Fathy was at fault for Russias first goal, and from there things unravelled.
The first goal spurred Russia on, and at 3-0 down, when VAR confirmed a tug on Mo Salah and awarded a penalty in the 73rd minute, it was only ever going to be a consolation goal.
Sadly, for Salah and his team, they won’t be progressing any further in the World Cup. Their final match is against Saudi Arabia, today at 3. AB
- Costa Rica (down 1)
In fairness, you don’t see many teams go 90 minutes without conceding to Brazil – especially teams whose average age is 29, in summer heat. But they couldn’t last 91 minutes and as such, they’re now out. It’s been a disappointing tournament for the Costa Ricans, with their heroics of four years ago now a distant memory. JG
- Panama (down 1)
Tunisia’s defenders got away with wrestling England’s players to the floor. Panama’s didn’t. Taken apart by a first-half blitz, the Panamanians did little to help or endear themselves by gifting England two penalties in a niggly, petulant display of foul-play and time-wasting. However, it would take a cold heart not to have enjoyed the celebrations that followed Felipe Baloy’s late consolation goal – their first ever in the World Cup.
Knocked out after two games, they’ll look to enjoy the dead rubber against Tunisia on Thursday. SC
- Saudi Arabia (no change)
Saudi Arabia have unsurprisingly failed to make it out of their group, after losing 1-0 in a dull affair to Uruguay. They face Egypt in their final game and, although the Pharaohs have also failed to make it to the final 16, I really can’t see them winning a single game. AB