Power ranking the 10 teams most likely to win the 2018 World Cup
Spain, Brazil and Germany are among the favourites.
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VERY MUCH A dark horse to prevail, but with the likes of Dejan Lovren, Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, they certainly have plenty of individuals who are accustomed to playing at a high level. Their group, however, is not the easiest, with Iceland, Argentina and Nigeria also vying to progress to the second round. If they click though, Zlatko Dalić’s side are likely to prove formidable opposition for most teams.
Some people’s dark horses for the tournament, Uruguay had an encouraging qualification, finishing second in the CONMEBOL table ahead of Argentina and Colombia among others. Their squad doesn’t have the depth of talent of rival teams featuring on this list, but certainly contains world-class stars such as Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and Diego Godin.
Needless to say, any side with Lionel Messi cannot be written off and it would be an incredible story if the world’s best footballer were to claim the one major accolade that has so far eluded the superstar in his decorated career. With the likes of Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria, Argentina have plenty of talent elsewhere. Nevertheless, whether they function well as a unit remains to be seen. They only scraped through qualifying, though in ex-Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli, they have one of the most highly-rated coaches at the tournament, who has a track record of helping sides perform beyond their means.
Gareth Southgate boasts a squad with a number of players who have enjoyed excellent seasons in the Premier League — Kyle Walker, Fabian Delph, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane to name a couple. Certain areas are a concern — they lack an experienced goalkeeper at international level, while their midfield looks a little short in terms of creativity. They should certainly have enough talent to get out of a weak group though, while the likes Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier and Dele Alli are no strangers to playing in big games.
The Euro 2016 champions, Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to be pivotal as always for Portugal. They don’t have the individual talent of other countries considered contenders, but are likely to be well organised and hard to beat as they were two years ago. They have plenty of experience in their squad — the likes of Pepe (91 caps), Joao Moutinho (109 caps) and Ricardo Quaresma (76 caps) are all extremely familiar with playing at international level.
Belgium are certainly one of the teams to have underperformed at international level of late. They were knocked out of the 2016 Euros by a Wales side who were patently inferior on paper, while they lost in the quarter-finals to Argentina in the World Cup four years ago. Yet if Roberto Martinez can get his team to gel, there is no reason why they can’t be legitimate contenders. Consider some of the players at their disposal: Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku — so throughout the team, there is immense quality.
We’re moving from the mere hopefuls to the strong contenders now. Reigning champions Germany are certainly in the latter bracket — the fact that Leroy Sane, the PFA Young Player of the Season in the Premier League, was left out of their squad highlights the abundance of quality that they possess. There are slight doubts. Will Manuel Neuer be 100% fit? Are their out-and-out forwards, Timo Werner and Mario Gomez, good enough? Will their ageing defence cope? Overall though, there is no doubting they have one of the strongest squads in the competition, with many of those from the triumph in Brazil four years ago still around.
Irish fans saw first-hand how good France are last week amid a comprehensive 2-0 friendly defeat for the Boys in Green — and that was largely their second-string team. They had to settle for the runners-up spot at the Euros, but the likes of Hugo Lloris, Samuel Umtiti, N’Golo Kante and Antoine Griezmann are now two years older and wiser, and should certainly be in a better position than before to reach their maximum levels and potentially enable Les Bleus to prevail on the 20th anniversary of their sole World Cup triumph.
Ederson, Marcelo, Thiago Silva, Fred, Philippe Coutinho, Neymar — Brazil have a strong player in practically every position. They highlighted their quality as they impressively advanced in qualifying, topping the CONMEBOL table and losing just one of their 18 games. However, it’s been more than a decade since they lifted a major trophy at international level (the 2007 Copa America) and 16 years since their last World Cup success. The memory of the 7-1 humiliation by Germany four years ago also will continue to loom large over these players, and whether their array of young talents have the mentality to cope with the burden of expectation remains to be seen.
The 2010 champions, Spain’s current squad contains some of the best players in the world – David de Gea, Sergio Ramos and David Silva to name a few. At times in past tournaments though, they have lacked cutting edge in attack and while they are number one in this power rankings list for now, there is still plenty of question marks. They topped their group, winning nine out of 10 games, albeit against mostly weak opponents (Macedonia, Albania, Liechtenstein).