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World Cup Power Rankings - Two

  • Jun 16, 2010
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I made two mistakes with the first Power Rankings - I didn't think that Drogba would be back, and I misread the brackets leading to the semifinals. Both of those have been corrected.

The biggest stories of the World Cup so far are all related - the lack of goals, the lack of upsets (other than Spain), and the lack of dominant performances (other than Germany). When the draw was made, the tournament seemed set up to have a mediocre group stage but set up for some titanic encounters in the knockout rounds. The first round of games was hit especially hard by this, with many of the contenders playing their toughest opponents and settling for the draw: USA/ENG, ITA/PAR, CIV/POR, and FRA/URU.

Notably, every single one of the contenders got either a win or a reasonable draw, so the top eight in my Power Rankings are almost the same teams as before, in a different order, even if Korea did look better than France. Another set of matches may yield bigger changes - or the powers could assert themselves. Except, of course, for Spain.

Things should open up more now, especially with a few of the disappointing teams like Cameroon, Denmark, Serbia, and Portugal being forced to attack.

Top three matches to watch:

  • France v Mexico
  • Argentina v South Korea
  • USA v Slovenia
Last Ranking: 6th
Results: 4-0 v. Australia
Next Match: Serbia

That Germany won isn't surprising. Even that they won big isn't surprising. What's surprising is just how entertaining they were. This wasn't the "methodical" Germans winning through power and stubbornness. This was the beautiful game, filled with short passing, weighted balls, individual skill, and team movement. Lahm, Muller, Podolski, and especially potential breakout star Mehmet Oezil shredded the Australian defense at will, both before and after the red card.

I'm not entirely happy to put the Germans at the top here based on a single result, but there are compelling reasons why all the major contenders won't win, and only Germany did anything to dispel theirs.
Last Ranking: 2nd
Results: 2-0 v. Denmark
Next Match: Japan

Bring back Van Nistelrooy! The 2-0 scoreline flattered the Dutch, who looked limp in the attacking third. Robin Van Persie seemed to always want to take two extra touches, and that lack of killer instinct helped keep the match dull. The Dutch substitutions, particularly the dazzling Eljero Elia, brought far more life into the match. I doubt it would happen, but I'd prefer to see Kuyt play as striker, with Elia, Robben, and Sneijder behind him.

They're still contenders, but shoot the damn ball already.

Still, three points is three points, and, as I mentioned above, I'd made some mistakes in reading the bracket. The draw for the Dutch is a little better than I had expected: if they get to the semi-final, they'll likely take on England or France at worst, instead of Brazil or Italy.
Last Ranking: 1st
Results: 2-1 v. North Korea
Next Match: v. Cote d'Ivoire

Let's be real. Nobody expected North Korea to actually get any points off Brazil, though it did take longer than expected for the Brazilians to break through. But the real problems for Brazil start now. To win the World Cup requires skill and luck during the games, yes, but also luck outside the games. The fewer major powers a team has to face, the better their odds - Italy won in 2006 only facing two (Germany and France), Brazil 2002 had two (England and Germany), and France 1998 had two (Italy and Brazil).

Brazil will likely have to play one of the best 11 teams remaining - the Big 9 plus Cote d'Ivoire and Chile - in every single match the rest of the way - CIV and Portugal in the group stage, then Spain/Chile (16), Italy/Holland (QF), England/France (SF), and then the final (Argentina/Germany/Holland/Spain most likely). Ouch.

Of course, things could get weird and it could go Honduras/Paraguay/Mexico. Who knows?
Last Ranking: 4th
Results: 1-0 v Nigeria
Next Match: v South Korea

Three points is three points, and Lionel Messi looking good is, of course, key to their chances. But their lack of finishing and defensive liabilities won't convince anyone that Argentina is a serious contender just yet.

Their next match against a stellar-looking South Korean side should help sort out what to make of the Argentines. I'm looking forward to it.
Last Ranking: 5th
Results: 1-1 v. USA
Next Match: Algeria

For about 40 minutes England's defensive questions seemed to have decent answers. Then their goalkeeping controversy rears its ugly head and soon after, one of their starting center halfs is out with injury. They can be happy that Ashley Cole and John Terry were healthy, at least, but they need Gareth Barry back to clog the midfield and someone to fill Rio Ferdinand's shoes. The draw itself isn't a disaster, but it leaves little room for error for the rest of the group stage.
Last Ranking: 8th
Results: 1-1 v. Paraguay
Next Match: New Zealand

Without the excellent Andrea Pirlo, getting a draw off of Paraguay is a perfectly fine result for the Azurri, who now should be able to skate through the group and may battle for the win on goal differential. Yeah, they didn't look good, but this was always going to be a difficult match, especially with their injury issues.

The injury to Buffon is far more potentially problematic than the result, but even as good as he is, Italy has always had good goalkeepers and I wouldn't worry too much about his backups until they give reason to worry.
Last Ranking: 7th
Results: 0-0 v Uruguay
Next Match: Mexico

Although the French certainly didn't look good against Uruguay, the draw isn't a major problem either. Both sides will probably be thinking that their best chances to win will be in their next two matches.

They really needed the addition of Thierry Henry, as Anelka looked asleep up top.

I'm excited about the France v. Mexico match. Both have plenty of skill players, plenty of questions, and there's even some colonial history that not everyone is aware of.
Last Ranking: 16th
Results: 2-0 v Greece
Next Match: Argentina

South Korea had everything going for them against the Greeks. They were comfortable in possession as well as on the counterattack; they were skilled as well as speedy and fit, and they were superbly organized. I think there will be a surprise semi-finalist, and the Koreans have clearly planted their flag as a contender in Group B. That said, I'm not sure they have the size and physicality they may need against some of the literal giants of the game.
Last Ranking: 11th
Results: 1-0 v. Honduras
Next Match: Switzerland

I'd been looking forward to seeing the Chileans play on the big stage after reading about their attacking exploits during qualification, and they didn't disappoint, creating chance after chance against Honduras. Only one goal is a slight disappointment, but I got more of the feeling that it was due to Honduras' stellar last-gasp defending than a lack of finishing from Chile.

Their winger Alexis Sanchez also joins Germany's Oezil and Holland's Elia as an exciting young player to watch through the tournament.
Last Ranking: 3rd
Results: 0-1 v. Switzerland
Next Match: Honduras

Well, well, well. Look who's back. After three years of Dominant Spain, suddenly and not terribly surprisingly, World Cup Spain is back.

Yes, they're not out of it, but neither Honduras nor especially Chile are pushovers.
Last Ranking: 10th
Results: 1-1 v. Italy
Next Match: Slovakia

A goalkeeping error - what else? - cost three points against a beatable Italian side, but Paraguay should still feel very comfortable about their chances to progress or even win the group. We'll know more after the match against Slovakia.
Last Ranking: 20th
Results: 1-0 v. Serbia
Next Match: Australia

I'd love to see a Ghana/South Korea match, which would be the quarterfinals at earliest. Both are skilled, speedy, smart, and immensely likable sides without a dominant superstar. I don't think the Ghanaians are quite skilled enough to make a run at winning the tournament, but they're young and may be ready in four years. They certainly can pull off an upset or two.
,,US Soccer Logo
Last Ranking: 12th
Results: 1-1 v. England
Next Match: Slovenia

Although the English goalkeeper made a horrid mistake, let's give some credit to Clint "Big Goal" Dempsey. He spun his defender on a string, creating the space for a long shot. The shot was low, hard, and skipping, with a bounce right before hitting the keeper. It's a perfect setup to cause a mistake, and it worked. You can't score goals on shots you don't take.

The draw with England is a good result, and even the win by Slovenia isn't as bad for the US hopes as some say, as it almost certainly guarantees that the English will have something to play for in the last match. The US has got to get a point or three off of Slovenia, though.
Last Ranking: 15th
Results: 0-0 v. France
Next Match: South Africa

Most of the previews for the Uruguayans focused on their strength in attack with Forlan and Suarez and their questions in the back. Those questions have been answered, and pretty resoundingly, with a superb defensive demonstration against France. Forlan was always dangerous as well, which bodes well for their next few matches.

(note: I'm ignoring the Uruguay-South Africa match for the purposes of these rankings, even though they're being published as the match is being played, for the obvious reasons that the rankings make the most sense with every team having played one match)
Last Ranking: 26th
Results: 1-0 v. Spain
Next Match: Chile

Although I expected Spain to disappoint, I wasn't expecting Switzerland to actually beat them. Especially on a goal scored without Alexander Frei. This is still a tricky group, but getting points off of Chile will almost certainly see the Swiss through the second round.
Last Ranking: 9th
Results: 0-0 v. Cote d'Ivoire
Next Match: North Korea

Portugal gets docked points for their negative tactics through most of their first match, and especially for Cristiano Ronaldo's constant diving. I don't have a cheering interest for most teams, but I really dislike Portugal. It's sad that Ronaldo has to resort to diving, because his long shot off the post and a well-struck free kick indicate that, unsurprisingly, he's the player closest to figuring out the Jabulani ball.

They're also the only one of the Big 9 that I've knocked out of the top nine slots, thanks to looking terrible and being in the Group of Death.
Last Ranking: 24th
Results: 1-0 v. Algeria
Next Match: USA

Sure, Slovenia got three points, but they didn't exactly do it in style. They won't frighten the USA and England offensively, but with a superb goalkeeper, they may have the ability to grind out a draw in one or both games. If that happens, we may end up with a 5-5-5 group and goal differential deciding things.
Last Ranking: 28th
Results: 1-0 v. Cameroon
Next Match: Netherlands

Full marks to Japan for winning their first World Cup match away from home soil, but we'll have to see if it was their quality, or Cameroon's lack thereof. If they can get a point in the next match against the Netherlands, they'll be for real. As it is, they're in great position to get to the second round.
Last Ranking: 14th
Results: 1-1 v. South Africa
Next Match: France

The draw isn't a disaster yet, but El Tri may live to regret their missed chances against the weakest team in the group. Still, if they can start taking those chances against France and Uruguay, they've still got a good shot at advancing. Group A was always looking like it would be total chaos, and it hasn't disappointed yet.
Last Ranking: 30th
Results: 1-1 v. Mexico
Next Match: Uruguay

Bafana Bafana came to play, and got a confidence-building point against Mexico. Whether they build on this remains to be seen, but they've already demonstrated that they're not the total embarrassment some had predicted.
Last Ranking: 16th
Results: 0-2 v. Netherlands
Next Match: Cameroon

The first goal against the Danes was terribly unfortunate, but they did very little to try and bring it back, and wilted late in the second half - perhaps due to altitude? Second place in the group is still wide-open, however, and there are two winnable games in front of Denmark.
Last Ranking: 25th
Results: 0-1 v. Argentina
Next Match: Greece

If you're going lose your first match, a 1-0 defeat to the heavy group favorites is probably the best way to go about it. Nigeria's going to have to hope that the Greeks stay as depressed as they were against South Korea, as they'll almost certainly need at least a draw and probably a win.
Last Ranking: 19th
Results: 0-1 v. Ghana
Next Match: Germany

There is no room for error in a group as tight as Group D, and the Serbs - a darkhorse semi-final pick in some circles - made two, with a stupid red card and a stupid penalty costing them a draw against a motivated Ghanaian side. Although, to be fair, the Serbs actually looked better after the red card.

They do have the quality to get four or even six points and progress, but the mental energy and effort were sorely lacking.
Last Ranking: 29th
Results: 1-1 v. New Zealand
Next Match: Paraguay

Slovakia's chances to progress almost certainly required beating New Zealand, and they couldn't manage that. We'll see if they can surprise Paraguay, but the South Americans will be the clear favorites. Almost as bad: the Italian draw against Paraguay means that Slovakia's chances to sneak points off an already-qualified Azurri in the final match isn't relevant anymore, as Italy will almost certainly have something to play for.
Last Ranking: 13th
Results: 0-1 v. Japan
Next Match: Denmark

Ouch. A dull match compounded by a loss to the underdog. Cameroon had looked like the African team with the best chance to progress. Now they're looking like the best chance to implode. Someone try to keep Samuel Eto'o happy.
Last Ranking: 31st
Results: 1-1 v. Slovakia
Next Match: Italy

Some have been saying that New Zealand might be one of the worst ever at the World Cup, but in picking up a point off Slovakia, they've removed themselves from that contention, and rocketed up my Power Rankings!
Last Ranking: 27th
Results: 0-1 v. Chile
Next Match: Spain

Save some pity for Honduras. They didn't play poorly against Chile, with some dogged defense, but couldn't sneak a draw. Now they have to face a Spanish side who will be both pissed off and aware that they'll likely need a great goal differential moving ahead. Still, don't count Honduras out, even if just from playing spoilers.
Last Ranking: 32nd
Results: 1-2 v. Brazil
Next Match: Portugal

A draw or win against Brazil was always unlikely, but for a while North Korea looked like they might be able to do it. Cote d'Ivoire and Portugal played out a dour draw while possibly looking ahead to beating North Korea, but to be honest, the Asians looked good enough that they might be able to play spoilers in the Group of Death.
Last Ranking: 17th
Results: 0-2 v South Korea
Next Match: Nigeria

All is not totally lost for the Greeks, but they're going to need dramatic improvement in a hurry. At Euro 2004 they made a habit of doing just-barely-enough when they needed to, and a victory against Nigeria is almost certainly that. I don't see it happening.

On the bright side, it only took 24 hours for their goalkeeping gaffe on Korea's first goal to be surpassed not once but twice. So there's that.
Last Ranking: 22nd
Results: 0-4 v. Germany
Next Match: Ghana

Note to Australia - there's more to defending than raising your hands every time a German runs by, hoping for offside to be called. Australia looked old and old-fashioned, a far cry from the entertaining side from 2006.

To add insult to injury, their best player got a soft red card, and will likely miss one or both of their remaining games. The only reason they're not last is that I think they have a slightly better chance than Algeria of pulling off upsets in their next two matches.

Last Ranking: 23rd
Results: 0-1 v. Slovenia
Next Match: England

The match against Slovenia was likely a playoff to determine the third contender to advance from Group C, and Algeria lost. Maybe they can squeak out a draw against England and get the jump on the US and somehow get through with four points, but that's a lot to ask of a squad that doesn't look capable of either.

What did you think of this list?

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June 21, 2010
Nice list, Rowan. On to the next round! :D
June 21, 2010
There you go, less than an hour after the last match finishes!
June 21, 2010
Suh-weet, I'll check it out!
This list was inspired by:
created a list. May 21, 2010
In the first Power Rankings I focused primarily on pedigree and team strength. This time around I'm looking more at injuries and path to the final. The …
U.S. Men's Soccer Team
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created a list. June 21, 2010
Just a quick note: these are rankings for most likely to win the tournament, not necessarily the best teams so far. So Italy and England, who certainly …
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