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Alamy Stock Photo The World Cup trophy (file pic).
# Opinion
Ranking the 8 remaining teams at the 2022 World Cup
Brazil and the other sides who are in contention to triumph.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 7th 2022, 12:00 PM

8. Morocco

The least talented collection of players out of all the teams left in the tournament — their squad contains footballers plying their trade in Morocco (naturally), Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Turkey, Qatar, the Championship, and Serie B. They do, however, have a couple of genuine stars to elevate them, including Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, PSG’s Achraf Hakimi and Bayern Munich’s Noussair Mazraoui. Their obvious limitations make their success all the more astonishing though — already, they have toppled two of the best teams in Europe, Belgium, and Spain. Regardless of what happens next, they are one of the stories of this World Cup and what’s particularly remarkable is they looked in disarray up until recently. Walid Regragui was only appointed manager in August following the sacking of  Vahid Halilhodžić. The latter had fallen out with Ziyech and it was only after the former’s arrival that the Premier League star came out of a seven-month-long international retirement. In a Saipan-esque twist, Ziyech was reportedly accused of feigning injury by the former Morocco coach. For the most part, however, it is excellent organisation and discipline rather than individual quality that has taken the African side to this point. They remain rank outsiders, but their unlikely defeat of Spain had shades of Greece at Euro 2004, so it would foolish to rule out the possibility of more upsets to come. 

7. Croatia

Perhaps even ranking them above Morocco is a tad generous as Croatia were very unconvincing against Japan and lucky to progress on penalty kicks. They are an aging squad and many of their best players have looked like individuals who are indeed on the wrong side of 30 — Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic (despite his brilliant equaliser in the game), and Andrej Kramarić were all substituted in their grueling round-of-16 win. Moreover, a recurring theme of this tournament has been some of the bigger footballing nations faltering because their main striker is either off form or not quite good enough — it has been the case with Spain, Belgium, and Germany, and surely soon will be with Croatia also. They lack the ruthlessness in the final third that the likes of Brazil, England, and France patently possess. Consequently, it is hard to envisage them getting through their quarter-final with the Selecao, let alone going all the way.

6. Argentina

Tipped by a number of critics to triumph before the tournament began, owing primarily to an impressive 36-game unbeaten run, many of the same pundits were revising their opinions following a shock loss to Saudi Arabia in their opening game. Lionel Scaloni’s side have undoubtedly improved since then, beating Mexico, Poland, and Australia. However, perhaps more so than any other remaining team, the potential for implosion is significant. Up against a far inferior Australia team, they made hard work of what should have been a routine victory, surviving a couple of nervy moments late on to clinch an unconvincing 2-1 win. Furthermore, their greatest asset is also, in a way, their biggest weakness. At 35, Lionel Messi remains one of the best players in the world, as his performances thus far have indicated. Nevertheless, Argentina are far too reliant on the overworked veteran PSG star, with others in the team — most notably the out-of-sorts striker Lautaro Martinez — currently well below his level.

5. Netherlands

Their last-16 win over USA was atypical of Dutch footballing tradition. Their opponents had 58% possession and eight shots on target to Netherlands’ six. Yet there was a wiliness about Louis van Gaal’s side that the Americans lacked and they seldom looked in serious danger after going ahead. There are several squads left with a greater depth of talent than the Dutch yet it does not seem beyond the realm of possibility that Oranje could finally win the World Cup after finishing runners-up on three occasions (1974, 1978, and 2010). Recent form suggests they are growing into the tournament, with stars such as Denzel Dumfries, Memphis Depay, Nathan Aké, and Cody Gakpo all catching the eye of late.

4. Portugal

Now almost the inverse to the Argentine team in that their biggest superstar has been seemingly reduced to the margins as opposed to being at the centre of almost everything they do. It feels increasingly difficult to argue against the notion that Portugal are a better team without Ronaldo. In the absence of the ex-Manchester United forward, they delivered their best performance of the tournament by some distance and perhaps the standout display of any side — thrashing a fancied Swiss team 6-1 having previously earned narrow wins over Ghana and Uruguay before losing to South Korea. 70% of Portugal fans reportedly called for Ronaldo to be dropped after some indifferent early performances and the bold move paid off as Fernando Santos’ men produced their most coherent and clinical display in a big game in quite some time. To rub salt in the 37-year-old’s wounds, his replacement Gonçalo Ramos looked phenomenal, becoming the first player to hit a knockout stage hat-trick since Czechoslovakia’s Tomáš Skuhravý did so against Costa Rica in 1990. Few people would have tipped the Portuguese to prevail following their nerve-ridden 3-2 victory against the Ghanaians in their opener, but all of a sudden, the prospect of eventual glory looks far from impossible.   

3. England

For 38 minutes against Senegal, England did not look like a side who were among the favourites to win the World Cup, while their stuttering performance against USA also suggested they can be stopped. However, the forward line of Harry Kane, Phil Foden, and Bukayo Saka is the envy of most sides in the tournament and the trio have been in very encouraging form of late, while Jude Bellingham is confirming his status as one of the world’s most talented youngsters. The ease with which they have ultimately overcome three out of four teams is an ominous warning signal for their rivals. Yet the key question is whether their defence can really be relied upon in the long term — Harry Maguire and John Stones are far from the world’s top centre-backs based on recent club form anyway. While they looked reasonably comfortable against Senegal and other relatively weak opponents, they will surely be given a far greater test when they come up against Kylian Mbappe and co on Saturday.

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2. France

With five goals and two assists, France’s Kylian Mbappé has been the clear standout player of the World Cup so far. The 23-year-old was a revelation in particular as his side comfortably dismantled Poland 3-1. England will likely provide a much stiffer examination in the quarter-finals in what is expected to be a tense and closely fought encounter, but if they can get by that obstacle, the holders will be in a strong position to go all the way while Mbappe will increasingly fancy his chances of claiming both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball. 

1. Brazil

Delivered arguably the most electric performance of the knockout stages so far with a convincing 4-1 defeat of South Korea, at least up until the Portugal game. Their forwards looked particularly impressive in the statement victory, with Vinícius Júnior, Richarlison and fit-again Neymar all starring. France and England have been similarly good, but there is a conspicuous flow and rhythm to the Brazilians’ attacking that helps them stand out, as they look to consolidate their record haul by claiming a sixth title. They also have serious backbone, with Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Casemiro, and Lucas Paquetá providing the kind of protection that few teams can match.

For the latest news coverage on the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022, see here >

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