THIS IS THE third instalment of World Cup power rankings. Read the second here.
8. Sweden (new entry)
Defensively, Sweden have been very impressive at this tournament, but player for player, they are arguably the weakest side left in the competition. A team who dumped Italy out of the World Cup play-offs cannot be dismissed too lightly, but surely they don’t have enough individual quality to go much further.
7. Russia (new entry)
The hosts have already exceeded the expectations of many by overcoming Spain and getting to the quarter-finals. A few players have impressed, most notably 22-year-old Aleksandr Golovin, who is reportedly close to joining Chelsea. Yet their limitations were evident in the somewhat fortuitous spot-kick victory over Spain and more clinical opponents than Fernando Hierro’s men will likely fancy their chances against the Russians.
6. England (up one place)
They had an almighty scare against Colombia tonight, but the Three Lions are still alive. They probably just about deserved their win, and many will now fancy them to overcome Sweden and reach the semi-finals. There are better sides in the competition quality-wise, but strange things can happen in football, so an English triumph is not completely unthinkable.
5. Uruguay (up three places)
The likes of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani invariably attract the headlines, but Uruguay’s defence more than anything else has stood out in the tournament. Atletico Madrid star Diego Godín has been typically immense, with Óscar Tabárez’s side conceding only one goal in four games so far. Not that their attackers have disappointed though — Cavani scored two brilliantly taken goals in the win over Portugal, though he is a fitness doubt for their upcoming clash with France, and whether the PSG star is ready in time for that game ultimately could have a big say in determining his country’s fortunes.
4. Croatia (up one place)
Croatia were less than convincing in their round-of-16 clash, squeaking past Denmark on penalties. Yet they won all their group games, most notably a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Argentina. With Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitić, few if any sides in the competition have a better midfield. In addition, they have a beatable Russia in the quarters, and then if they get through, England or Sweden in the semis, a final appearance is hardly beyond the realms of possibility.
3. Belgium (up one place)
In terms of individual talent, Belgium are as good as most of the teams mentioned here. Yet despite reaching the quarter-finals, they were deeply unconvincing in their 3-2 last-16 victory over Japan, with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard below their best for much of the contest. So in many ways, they are the anti-Sweden, with an abundance of brilliant players, but a lack of balance to the team at times, while their three-man defence has looked shaky on occasion.
2. France (up one place)
If France were to win this World Cup, it would not be the first time the tournament victors have started slowly. While the narrow wins over Australia and Peru as well as the drab draw with Denmark were hardly too impressive, they got the job done. Didier Deschamps’ side looked much better in the 4-3 win over Argentina, a game they really should have won more comfortably. And in Kylian Mbappé, they have one of the best individual talents left in the competition.
1. Brazil (up one place)
Many people’s tips to prevail pre-tournament, Brazil have not exactly taken the World Cup by storm. They have, however, improved with every game, and were quietly impressive as they rode out an early storm to dispatch a strong Mexico side. Neymar, for all his antics, has looked sharper with each game, while defensively they have looked very compact for the most part, conceding just 11 goals in 18 games in qualifying, as well as one in four since the tournament began.
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