FIFA World Cup 2022 Power Rankings: Argentina rise; England slide down contender list; knockouts await USMNT?

Mon, Jun 20, 2022
Soccer News (AP)

FIFA World Cup 2022 Power Rankings: Argentina rise; England slide down contender list; knockouts await USMNT?

At long last, the 32 nations that will compete at the 2022 FIFA World Cup are set. Wales, Costa Rica and Australia became the final three teams to book their Qatar berths earlier this month, setting the stage for the greatest competition in the sport. Here is how the teams are shaping up with less than five months to go until kick off:

Tier 1: The favorites

It is perhaps fair to note that -- at the moment -- making a clear assessment of where the two South American rivals stand against their European counterparts is not easy. But the signs we have suggest that Brazil and Argentina merit a spot at the very top of our rankings. It is an open debate whether the Finalissima should count for much, but crushing Italy to win more silverware is never a bad sign for any team; Argentina look robust in defense, and in Lautaro Martinez seem to have a striker who grows in stature alongside Lionel Messi.

Of course, Argentina were not the only ones to mete out a heavy beating on the European champions, who would be surging toward the middle of these rankings if they had managed to qualify. Germany wrapped up a largely impressive quartet of Nations League games in outstanding fashion with a 5-2 thumping of Italy in Monchengladbach. Hansi Flick may be hunting for a true line leader at center forward, but the ingenuity behind them makes this look like the coming force for Qatar, particularly if Florian Wirtz can play himself into contention this summer.

Making way for Germany in fourth are England. While calls for Gareth Southgate to be sacked seem like catastrophizing in extremis, considering the manager has taken the Three Lions to a World Cup semifinal and Euros final, there is a clear problem that threatens to hold them back. England are simply incapable of dictating the course of games and have not been able to exploit their talented collection of forwards and playmakers to their fullest. One might blame the absence of a tempo-setting midfielder or Southgate's caution and it could even be noted that the most defensively resolute sides -- which they have tended to be -- win tournaments. But the unity that drove England forward over the last two tournaments looks in danger of slipping away before they reach Qatar.

1. Brazil (--)

2. Argentina (+2)

3. France (-1)

4. Germany (+4)

5. England (-2)

6. Spain (+1)

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Tier 2: Possible contenders

Since Diego Rossi succeeded long-serving head coach Oscar Tabarez in December, Uruguay's seven-game record is as followed: Won six, lost none, scored 16, conceded one. Having barged their way into the final World Cup spot for South America, the two-time champions are shaping up to be dark horses once more. Edinson Cavani rolled back the years in the June international break; with Darwin Nunez bound for Liverpool, he and Luis Suarez cannot rest assured of their place. There is similar depth in defense where Barcelona's Ronald Araujo supplements Jose Maria Gimenez and Diego Godin.

Uruguay are not the only veterans getting the band back together for one last job. The issue for Belgium, heavily beaten at home to the Netherlands this month, might be how few of them will enter the World Cup at the peak of their powers. Perhaps only Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois will be at that level in Qatar while uncertainty hangs over Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and so many others. There is a good team for 2026 bubbling away -- Lois Openda scored in a heavy win over Poland while Youri Tielemans looks ready for a bigger role -- but this might be the awkward in-between phase for the Belgians.

7. Uruguay (+3)

8. Netherlands (-1)

9. Senegal (--)

10. Belgium (-4)

Tier 3: The knockouts await

When the final whistle blew in the Luzhniki Stadium four years ago, the consensus view was that was the last gasp of this particular great Croatia team. Their historical form since independence was enough to suggest that they would be back but perhaps not for a while. Maybe they have not left yet. Defeat to Austria made for a rough start to their Nations League campaign, but they responded with impressive wins in Denmark and France to show they will be a force in Qatar.

As for the United States, A top-tier striker is not coming between now and December and though Jesus Ferreira did what he could to claim the job, four goals against Grenada is not that illustrative of what he could achieve in Qatar. Still, the right collection of defenders might just be able to keep it tight at one end, allowing Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson and Tim Weah to pounce at the other.

11. Denmark (--)

12. Croatia (+2)

13. Portugal (--)

14. United States (-2)

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Tier 4: In the mix

Ghana rise swiftly up our rankings not for much of what they are doing on the pitch -- they lost 4-1 to Japan in the Kirin Cup -- but for the recruitment drive off it. This squad does not look fantastic at the moment, but add Premier League talent to it in Eddie Nketiah, Tariq Lamptey and Callum Hudson-Odoi and they could be quite the challengers, if they can coalesce in time.

They are not the highest risers, however. At that same Kirin Cup, Tunisia beat Chile and Japan to lift the trophy, continuing what has been a solid run of results for the Eagles of Carthage. In the last year, they have reached the final of the Arab Cup, the Africa Cup of Nations quarters (where they might have felt they deserved more against Burkina Faso) and won in Mali on their way to the World Cup. This may not be a team full of big names but it is getting results.

So are Wales, at least in the most important games. They may have wobbled in the Nations League, but those results come with the caveat that Rob Page's side had already achieved their biggest objective for the summer: Beating Ukraine and reaching the World Cup. They are certain to be a hard out; Gareth Bale rolls back the years when he dons Welsh red, a shirt which seemingly brings miraculous healing properties to Aaron Ramsey's bruised body. There may not be any other players of that class in the squad, but everyone else is good-to-very good and this team knows exactly what they are doing. The U.S. should beware.

Meanwhile, sliding down our rankings are Switzerland, though they are a tough team to call playing in a group when any one of three could claim second place behind Brazil. A 1-0 win over Portugal in Zurich was an encouraging end to a tough Nations League campaign for Murat Yakin's side, blighted by the same issue that has stopped them from taking the leap at major tournaments. When an ageing Haris Seferovic is your best option at center forward you are going to need your defense to do a lot of the heavy lifting. '

15. Serbia (+3)

16. Ghana (+5)

17. Ecuador (-1)

18. Mexico (-3)

19. South Korea (+1)

20. Wales (new entry)

21. Tunisia (+8)

22. Switzerland (-5)

23. Morocco (-3)

24. Cameroon (--)

25. Japan (-2)

26. Poland (-4)

Tier 5: Unlikely to escape the groups

It's at this stage -- before we make enemies in countries we may wish to holiday in in the future -- that we emphasise that there are no bad teams at the World Cup or else they would not be there. There are just maybe some that are a little less good. New entrants Costa Rica fall into that category, with their placed booked in customary fashion as they nicked an early goal against New Zealand before riding a wave of shot-stopping excellence from Keylor Navas. If he continues his remarkable form from qualifying, they might just be able to rustle up a few points.'

Canada, meanwhile, might not have abandoned hope of escaping their group yet, but their preparations have been rather spoiled by pay disputes and the obvious political tensions that come with booking a friendly against Iran.

27. Australia (new entry)

28. Qatar (-2)

29. Canada (-4)

30. Costa Rica (new entry)

31. Iran (-4)

32. Saudi Arabia (-4)

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