We’ve reached the midway point of the World Cup in Russia and there are plenty of goals and drama to go around. What if I told you that there was a chance that Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Portugal could all be out before the knockout rounds? That sounds catastrophic for their federations; Germany defending World Cup champs, Portugal reigning European champs, redemption-seeking Brazil not out of the woods yet and historically great Argentina hanging on by a thread. Six of the 16 spots have been filled for the knockout rounds, which means that there’s a lot to be decided for the casual sports fan who’s just now joining the watch parties.
I have decided to help everyone out and review what has transpired over the last two weeks. Disclaimer: all rankings are based on how a team looked when they played and competition was a tiebreaker. Along with their current rankings, here’s everything you need to know about every team heading into the third round of group play matches this week:
Belgium have looked to be the best side in the tourney heading into the final round of the group stage. Injuries to Hazard and Lukaku will certainly hurt the side against England. When healthy, however, this team looks near impossible to stifle and frustrate. The hammering of both Tunisia and Panama have shown the class and talent of Belgium. They are formidable side regardless of who they play in the knockout rounds.
Although they haven’t clinched a spot in the knockout stages, they’re too talented of a team to not make it. Once Neymar stops playing to get a foul call, and start playing for his teammates, they’ll be unstoppable. Coutinho’s goals have proved vital for Brazil’s redemption path; a curling effort against Switzerland and a stoppage-time winner against Costa Rica. A win is what Brazil will want against Serbia, but they will accept a tie since it would see them through on goal difference.
They may not be the most talented team, but they know their identity and they stick to it. The players know their role and know who the best player on the field is; Ronaldo. The Euro champs have had a solid run thus far heading into the final round of group play; a classic against Spain that resulted in a draw and a gutsy 1-0 win against Morocco. Portugal aren’t off the hook yet though. They need at least a draw against Iran to advance into the knockout rounds.
Trying to bounce back from their poor showing in Brazil, España has proven they can compete and beat anyone. The only thing they’re lacking is better finishing from players not named Diego Costa. After squeaking by Iran and drawing with Portugal, Spain need only a draw against Morocco to advance into the next round.
After a poor (but fortunate) showing against Australia, the French performed much better against Peru. One of the most talented in the tourney, the question remains can Deschamps find their identity before it’s too late and make a deep run in the knockout rounds. Perhaps they will find it in what is essentially a friendly against Denmark. The French have already clinched their spot in the knockout rounds with six points.
We thought England would advance through to the next round but not like this. Six goals against Panama put them right on pace with Belgium to win the group. As it currently stands, England led the group on fair play. Harry Kane is currently in the running for the Golden Boot with a tournament-leading five goals in two games against Tunisia and Panama. England will be perfectly content with a draw against Belgium.
The perennial dark horse of the last two major tournaments has finally seemed to have found a rhythm at the World Cup. Modrić and Rakitić have performed superbly and don’t look to be slowing down. Can their finishers up front handle the pressure in the knockout stages? Wins against Nigeria and Argentina say they can. They’ve clinched their knockout round spot, but do they want to win the group? A draw or win against Iceland will ensure that. A draw or win would also be doing Argentina a favor, but I’ll get to that later.
Mexico is probably the best counterattacking team in the tourney. Manager, Juan Carlos Osario, has been under fire leading up to the World Cup. Nothing but praise is on the manager now after wins against South Korea and defending champion Germany. Barring a collapse against Sweden, Mexico are through to the knockout rounds; if Mexico lose they have to rely on South Korea to draw or beat Germany.
The Swiss impressed in their comeback win against Serbia. Xherdan Shaqiri has shown his leadership and determination in the final third becoming a handful on his own. A draw with Brazil and win against Serbia awards Switzerland four points. They’ll need to win against Costa Rica to seal their place in the next round; the Swiss can afford a draw assuming Serbia draws with Brazil 0-0 (if Serbia and Brazil draw with goals involved, the tiebreaker becomes a little more complicated).
Speed. Length. Energy. Senegal has all these traits in abundance. Every team should fear their ability in the knockout rounds should they make it. Two goals against both Poland and Japan have the African team at 4 points. At a minimum, a draw against Colombia is required for Senegal to qualify into the knockout rounds.
Respect. Japan have earned it and will not be overlooked as the weak link in the competitive Group H. A decisive win against Colombia and a deserved draw against Senegal put Japan in position to make it into the knockout rounds. Japan need at least a draw against Poland to advance.
After a rough first game from Los Cafeteros, they bounced back against Poland with an emphatic 3-0 win. Note: an early red card and James Rodriguez not starting against Japan may prove costly in qualifying for the knockout rounds. They must win against Senegal on matchday 3. If they draw, Colombia must rely on Poland to beat Japan, as Colombia has a greater goal difference.
Uruguay have barely squeaked by playing defensive oriented football; 1-0 wins against both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They’ll need to stifle Russia and their outpouring of goals and prove they’re the class of Group A. Speaking of whom…
The hosts have surprised many this World Cup having scored eight goals across two games; five against Saudi Arabia and three against Egypt. They now face Uruguay to decide the group winner.
The Serbs have looked like a tough out thus far. A win against Costa Rica and a devastating loss to Switzerland put Serbia in an underdog situation against Brazil; Serbia have to upset one of the tournament favorites and could possibly knock them out of the tournament.
After a poor performance against Australia, the Danes will have to have a good showing against France to advance. Also, Peru missed a VAR-penalty which gave Denmark three points; the draw with Australia gave them a point which accumulates to four. Fortunately, France has already clinched their place atop the group and into the knockout rounds. France may take it easy this game, however, that is unlikely since if Denmark wins, they win the group. Denmark needs only a draw with France to advance.
Three words describe the Germans World Cup title defense: Emotional roller coaster. They had a wake-up call loss to Mexico to start their campaign and then a stoppage-time win against Sweden to keep their hope alive. If Germany don’t want to rely on Mexico, they have to beat South Korea to clinch their spot in the next round. Otherwise, should Germany lose, they need Mexico to beat Sweden; a German/Korean draw and a Swedish/Mexican draw would see Sweden and Mexico into the next round.
After a rough start to this World Cup, Messi and Argentina have a lifeline after Nigeria defeated Iceland. Argentina drew with Iceland and lost in humiliating fashion to Croatia. They currently stand with one point. The South American team controls their own destiny and it’s a must win against Nigeria. Can they squeeze into the knockout rounds and live to fight another day? They will have to win by multiple goals if they don’t want to worry too much about the Iceland vs Croatia matchup; Iceland holds the goal difference advantage by one goal.
Nigeria bounces back from their defeat at the hands of Croatia and are in a position to get into the knockout rounds. All it will take is to hold Argentina scoreless across 90 min. After defeating Iceland 2-0, Nigeria can get into the knockout rounds with a draw or win against Argentina. Barring Iceland winning by four goals against Croatia, Nigeria will advance on just a draw as they hold goal difference over Argentina and Iceland.
The Swedes have put in a respectable showing thus far at the World Cup. However, a heartbreaking stoppage-time goal from Toni Kroos force Sweden into a must-win against Mexico. If they draw, they would require South Korea to beat Germany.
Iran began their World Cup with an own goal gift from Morocco to give them three points. Iran were competitive against Spain, but unfortunately couldn’t grab a goal. Now, they to beat the European champions, Portugal, to advance to the knockout rounds.
The Vikings have performed admirably thus far snagging a point from Argentina. But a taste of their own counterattacking medicine saw Nigeria hand them their first defeat of the World Cup. Iceland now has to beat group-leaders Croatia by 1 to advance should Argentina beat Nigeria by 1; Iceland has a goal difference advantage of 1.
Arguably the scrappiest team in the tourney, Australia were able to hold Denmark to a draw and compete with France; France played poorly but still won by a goal. They dictate the pace of the game and are determined not to get knocked out like they did in Brazil. Australia requires a win against Peru and for France to beat Denmark to advance into the knockout rounds.
Salah made his return seemingly too late. The shoulder injury suffered in the UCL final against Real Madrid kept him out of the opener against Uruguay and he had a minor impact on the Russia match. Just being at this World Cup meant a lot to a country that hadn’t been in this position since the 1990s.
Robert Lewandowski was held scoreless in Poland’s two games; his goals have been critical to their success. Lack of service to the Bayern man has been the big factor in their World Cup failure. They play their final game of the World Cup against Japan; Poland would be helping Senegal and Colombia if they beat Japan.
Valiant efforts from the North African team, but England and Belgium are in a different league. There isn’t anything to play for in their final game against Panama.
Of all the teams that didn’t score in the group stage so far, Morocco was the most deserving of a goal or two. A heartbreak-loss against Iran and not being able to finish chances against Portugal knock them out of the World Cup.
28. South Korea
Son could only do so much. South Korea have put forth the effort, with Son producing the only goal, but seemed like they aren’t organized. South Korea could do Mexico and Sweden a favor by upsetting Germany.
Peru has been competitive with both Denmark and France. Unfortunately they don’t have a goal to show for it. Hopefully they can grab the goal they deserve from Australia in their next game on their way out of the World Cup
Panama scored their first goal ever in a World Cup against England, but that doesn’t excuse the poor results. England and Belgium were leagues above this Panama side.
31. Costa Rica
Costa Rica put in great effort but didn’t score any goals. No surprises this World Cup like in 2014.
32. Saudi Arabia
To put it simply: they shouldn’t be here.