There are a lot of interesting story-lines in the 2018 World Cup, but instead of just covering those, I decided to power rank the chances of winning for the 32 teams in this year's edition.
This doesn't mean that this is in the order of the best teams, but rather their chances of ACTUALLY WINNING matches/groups/the whole thing. For example, a team like Croatia is very talented, but there in a group with Super Messi, an Icelandic team that has had their number recently, and a Nigerian team that can hang with anyone when at their best.
As a result, their chances aren't as good as a team like Mexico, who despite losing to Croatia recently, should join Germany out of Group F.
With that out of the way, let's get to the rankings.
32. Panama - No Chance
This World Cup is a learning experience for Panama, and that's something even the team has admitted. That's a nice way of saying they are going to get slaughtered by the rest of their group. Belgium and England are potential championship contenders, and Tunisia could stun this entire group if they play at their best, which all spells disaster for Panama.
31. Iran - No ChanceGiphy
This Iranian team is definitely not the thirty-first best team in the World Cup, but a Ronaldo-led Portugal squad, a Spanish team that is starting to look like the dominate force everyone expected four years ago, and a Morocco team that doesn't concede goals. Seriously, the last time Morocco gave up more than one goal to a team was over a year ago against the Netherlands. Iran will be lucky to even score in all three games, let alone win, but Iran at least has a shot of winning a game, unlike Panama.
30. Saudi Arabia - Almost No ChanceGiphy
Mo Salah's injury for Egypt gives an opening for a new team to rise from Group A to potentially make it out with Uruguay, but Russia seems more capable of doing so than Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia also has the unfortunate position of playing the host nation of Russia in the first game, then a Uruguay team who looks to dominate this group, and ending with an Egyptian team that will likely have Salah back. Things don't look great, but some recent host nations have dropped the ball, leaving Saudi Arabia as potential beneficiaries of an opening day win and a weak group.
29. Tunisia - Almost No ChanceGiphy
Tunisia's chance only exists because England has a history of choking in the World Cup. Belgium looks to be a lock for this group, and Panama is just hoping to not get obliterated, but England's history gives them a chance. Still, just because England can choke, doesn't mean they will, so the talent of this Tunisia squad should not stand a chance against England or Belgium at their best.
28. Korea Republic - Almost No ChanceGiphy
The Korea Republic, which is essentially the South Korean national team, needed a bit of luck to make the World Cup, but that ended when they got their group draw. Sweden is vulnerable, but Germany looks as good if not better than they did win they won the World Cup four years ago and Mexico is heavy favorite to make the round of 16 to set-up a clash with Brazil. Mexico's struggles in international play, however, could leave them vulnerable to either Sweden or the Korean Republic, and Korea has the veterans to help take advantage of such a mistake.
27. Australia - Almost No ChanceGiphy
Australia had some struggles during the qualifying period, but a recent coaching change, they have some hope. The second spot in Group C is winnable, but Peru and Denmark look far more capable of joining France in the knockout stage. Still, a four-nil win over the Czech Republic at the start of June shows that the Socceroos can still score, which they will have to do quite a few times to advance.
26. Costa Rica - A Small Chance
Costa Rica has a small chance mostly based on what happened in Brazil four years ago. They had almost no chance then, and managed to make it to the quarterfinals, so it's hard to say they have no chance, but Group E has cup favorite Brazil, a young Serbian squad looks to make a name for themselves, and a Swiss team that took Spain to the limit earlier this month. Costa Rica could shock the world again, but lightning striking twice seems unlikely with a group this good.
25. Morocco - A Small Chance
Morocco has done a great job of not conceding goals in the lead-up to this World Cup, but Spain and Portugal love to score on everyone when at full-strength. Isco looks ready to help lead the revitalized "Super Spain" and a Ronaldo-led Portugal is always a threat in the World Cup. Morocco should be able to beat Iran, but beating Spain or Portugal is a much greater task.
24. Sweden - A Small Chance
Sweden's chances in this World Cup hinge on two things: they have to live up to their potential and Mexico has to not live up to theirs. Sweden should be able to beat Korea, which means they need to have a successful match against either Germany or Mexico to advance. That's easier said than done, but Sweden looked good enough in qualifying to give them a shot at escaping the group.
23. Japan - A Small Chance
Group H appears to be the most interesting Group in this year's World Cup because there is no real standout teams to advance. That said, Japan appears to be the least likely of the four to make it out. Recent changes made by manager Vahid Halilhodzic has left Japan reeling going into this World Cup, but if it all comes together, Japan could do some damage.
22. Iceland - A Small Chance
The World Cup's Cinderella Story, Iceland looked to make a huge splash in Russia after stealing the show during qualifying. Then they drew a legitimate "Group of Death" (according to Elo ranking) with Argentina, Nigeria, and Croatia. Iceland may have beat Croatia a year ago, but Iceland hasn't won in their last four matches, whereas Croatia beat Mexico and lost two-nil to Brazil, and all three of Iceland's opponents have that extra gear that Iceland just can't reach.
21. Nigeria - A ChanceGiphy
Nigeria looks like a team that is athletic enough and talented enough to compete with the other teams in Group D. Still, Argentina and Croatia can handle everything Nigeria can throw at them. While Nigeria can overpower Iceland, the question is whether or not they can actually do that to either Croatia or Argentina, because if they can, Nigeria might just find themselves in the Round of 16.
20. Serbia - A Chance
Serbia has been somewhat of a roller-coaster in the lead up to this World Cup. They dominated in qualifying, then lost their manager, and followed up their qualifying dominance by losing to Morocco, beating Nigeria, and losing to Chile. This team is talented, but the inconsistency combined with the age of the defenders leaves them susceptible to getting torched by Brazil and Switzerland.
19. Denmark - A Chance
The winner of Group C seems to be pretty clear-cut, but the clash for second between Denmark and Peru should be interesting. Lucky enough for us soccer fans, the match between Denmark and Peru is early in the World Cup. June 16th should have some great matches, but Denmark vs. Peru looks to be the highlight.
18. Peru - A Chance
What gives Peru the slightest of edges over Denmark is that Peru's play style favors them in their head-to-head match. Peru has done a better job scoring this year, and they specializes in playing keep-away, whereas Denmark has been struggling to score this year, and their defense is a weak-point despite great goalie play. Both teams should lose to France and beat Australia with their current squads, but Peru just seems better equipped to reach the Round of 16, and maybe further.
17. Senegal - A Chance
Senegal is a tough team to rank because they are talented enough to make a run this year just like they did in the 2002 World Cup. They have to live up to their potential early, however, as they start the 2018 World Cup with a Polish team has the ability to score in bunches. Colombia appears to be the class of Group H, but Senegal could challenge for 2nd if they steal the opener against Poland.
16. Egypt - A Decent Chance
While Mo Salah appears to be fit to play in the World Cup opener against Uruguay, if he is not at 100%, Egypt is in trouble. Salah is one of the best players on the planet, and he takes this Egypt team from a team that could get swept to a team that could sweep Group A. Still, having to play a great Uruguay team, and then the host nation Russia, Egypt's road to the Round of 16 might just be too much for them without Salah at his best.
15. Switzerland - A Decent Chance
At this point in the rankings, these are the teams that should reach the Round of 16, and Switzerland looks capable of doing so by beating Serbia and Costa Rica. Unfortunately for Switzerland, if they lose Group E to Brazil, then a potential match with Germany awaits in the Round of 16. Switzerland has what it takes to reach the Round of 16, but the elite competition at that stage looks to be just a little too much for them to handle.
14. Russia - A Decent ChanceGiphy
Recent history has not been kind to host nations, but Mo Salah's injury could weaken Egypt enough to give Russia a strong opportunity to advance to the Round of 16. If Salah is at 100%, then flip the positions of Russia and Egypt, but even if Salah is at 99%, Russia will find a way to exploit the his injury, along with a less then great Saudi Arabia team, to join Uruguay in advancing out of Group A. Once in the Round of 16, a showdown with Ronaldo's Portugal or "Super Spain" will be way too much for Russia to handle, but this team has the grit to make things interesting.
13. Poland - A Decent Chance
Poland appears to have the tools to escape a Group H, especially if Senegal makes it easy for them, but things won't be as simple if they advance. Any hopes at a World Cup run appears to mean having to go through four of the five best teams in the world. When underdogs win the World Cup, they tend to avoid some of the best teams, but Poland will have to earn this one, and this team is just a few pieces short of being able to beat so many great teams in such a short frame of time.
12. Mexico - A Decent Chance
Mexico is historically penciled in for a trip to the Round of 16, and I don't see any reason for them to not be again. This Mexican team has a ton of talent, but has entered the World Cup looking weak for a potential contender. They should make the Round of 16 even with their recent problems, but any kind of championship run will require this team to play at their absolute best, which hasn't been scene recently.
11. England - A Good Chance
England is a team that is getting some love for a potential run after some good matches in the lead-up to the World Cup. England also has a rich history of imploding before the quarterfinals. Ranking them at eleven feels fitting because they are poised to make a serious run, but are also likely to blow the game against Tunisia and end up at home before the Round of 16.
10. Croatia - A Good Chance
Croatia has a good shot to win every tournament they are in because of the talent they have and the style they play. That said, there's a reason they keep coming up short, they struggle to execute when it matters most. This team is on-par to the team that came in third back in 1998, but they have to be careful with a young Nigeria squad and an Iceland squad trying to continue their Cinderella story for just a little longer before the clock strikes midnight.
9. Colombia - A Good ChanceGiphy
Colombia has the capability to be a dominant force in this World Cup, and has many of the same players who did so just four years ago. While previous World Cup performance must be taken with a grain of salt, Colombia made a name for themselves as a talented squad that can kick it into high gear at any point. Winning Group H should be a cakewalk for Colombia, which should give them the opportunity to get some rest before the Round of 16, which could prove huge for this team when trying to make a run.
8. Portugal - A Good Chance
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the top two players on the planet, but the 2014 World Cup showed what happens when Ronaldo doesn't play like it. That said, if the Euro team from 2016 shows up for the World Cup and Ronaldo plays at his best, this Portugal could be unstoppable. That's a lot of "Ifs," so Portugal can only be ranked so high, but a showdown with Spain to open group play will show exactly what this team is capable of.
7. Uruguay - A Good Chance
If Mo Salah is not at 100% for the opening match, Uruguay should march all over Group A and have the easiest rode to the Round of 16 of any of the contenders. Uruguay is so talented, in fact, that they are a solid "dark horse" for winning the whole World Cup, but pulling it off will require this team with superstars to beat at least on of the super teams. Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez will have to lead this squad through either a potential showdown with Spain or Portugal, which might just be to tall a task for this squad.
6. Belgium - A Great Chance
No offense to any of the other teams in the World Cup, but. at least on paper, there are only six real contenders for a win in Russia, and Belgium is definitely worth keeping an eye on. You know how in the last entry I mentioned that Uruguay is a group of super stars having to try and beat one or more of the super teams, well Belgium has even more super stars thanks to an incredible generation that is coming into its prime. While this may be the greatest Belgian squad to play in the World Cup, it's worth wondering if the absence of Midfielder Rodja Nainggolan will have an impact on this teams championship hopes.
5. Argentina - A Great Chance
Argentina is in a now or never situation in this World Cup because many of their stars, especially Messi, are at the age where it's doubtful that they will have one more run after 2018. After the 6-1 beat-down from Spain not too long ago, the defense of this team is questionable at best, but they might be able to pull it together long enough for a championship run. Still, a World Cup win for this team will likely require avenging that loss to Spain and avenging the 2014 World Cup loss to Germany, which isn't impossible, but is far from a safe bet.
4. Spain - A Great ChanceGiphy
Don't let Spain being fourth let you think that this Spain team can't win it all, just like they did in 2010, because they only fall to four because their road to a World Cup win could be the hardest of any team not in Group D. An opening loss to Portugal might actually be beneficial to Spain because the longer Spain can avoid potential rematches Argentina, Switzerland, or Germany, the better. Spain has a world class defense and goalkeeper, but outside of Argentina, they haven't been able to score multiple goals against a team this year, and that matters when the attack is Spain's weakness and that Argentina game was against a Messi-less Argentina, Spain beating any of those three teams is worth questioning.
3. France - A Great Chance
France, just like Argentina and Uruguay, is a team of super stars, but this team of super stars is so deep that if they can bring it together and play as a cohesive unit, then they could be unstoppable. Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe might just put on a show better than the one that Colombia put on four years ago. The problem with France is that they have a knack for being the bridesmaid and not the bride, which could be a returning feeling if they can gel into a cohesive unit, but they could also provide some of the highlights of this World Cup.
2. Brazil - A Great Chance
7-1 is something that will continue to haunt Brazil unless they win this years World Cup. That annihilation from Germany four years ago was avenged a bit earlier this year with a 1-nil win over Germany, but winning a friendly and winning a World Cup match are two different stories. Given that Brazil and Germany are very likely to win their groups, Brazil vs Germany is a likely World Cup Final, which could be an instant classic.
1. Germany - The Best ChanceGiphy
It's funny how the defending champs might actually be BETTER than they were four years ago, yet people have written them off as potential repeat champs. Germany, historically, is penciled in for at least a quarterfinals spot, and this century they have been penciled in for a semifinal spot. Germany feels like the most likely team to reach the semifinals because that's what they do, and once teams get to the final four of the World Cup, anything is possible, like beating a host nation that was supposed to win it all 7-1.
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