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World Cup Power Rankings Zero

  • Mar 12, 2010
  • by
A few months ago I wrote a review asking for World Cup predictions, based on a set of criteria that seem to work for this very difficult-to-predict tourney. It was based on five criteria:

1. Repeat champions are extremely rare. Too much pressure, probably.

2. The host nation usually does better than expected.

3. European teams win in Europe. South American teams win on other continents.

4. Qualification results don't matter all that much.

5. It's rare to see a first-time winner. The only winners in World Cup history are Brazil, Argentina, Germany, England, France, Uruguay, and Italy. That's it!

This first list is based on the history in tournaments, their recent results, and their specific players. I'm not going into injuries or the draw. I'll do another rankings right before the tournament with that info.
The Contenders - Teams With A Chance

Brazil's been on a pretty good streak of winning every other World Cup. They were first in South American qualifying, and won the Confederation's Cup as well. The old stereotype of Brazil as a finesse team, winning with creativity and flair, has never been less true than now with this team. They're built on power, speed, size, and technical ability, though with superstar Kaka, they've also got enough flair to get goals.
Spain has always had the players. They've always had the team. They've also always failed. This time, the players are even better, and they've actually got real success, as the winners of Euro 2008. Their history of disappointment and the fact that they've never won the World Cup make me extremely wary of saying they're the second-most likely team to win the World Cup.

However, when you can make the argument that they have the best goalkeeper in the world (Casillas), the best defender (Puyol), the best midfielder (Xavi) and the best striker (Torres), it's hard not to rank them so highly.

The explosion of money and media interest in the English Premier League may have caused a general overrating of the English national team over the last decade. Or perhaps they've underachieved, or been unlucky. Either way, they seem as solid a choice as ever, with a collection of great players and a superstar in Wayne Rooney.
Argentina has a squad as talented as any, although they struggled in qualification, and Diego Maradona has yet to prove his worth as a coach. Can you write off a squad with Lionel Messi, though? If they do get it together, they're as good as or better than anyone else. Shades of Brazil in 2002.
The Germans always do well in the World Cup. Maybe not as well as they hope. But usually better than most of their opponents. Write them off at your own risk.
The Dutch are usually good, and when they're great, their passing and skill are mesmerizing. This team is built perhaps too much on easily-injured stars like van Persie or Robben, or tempermental geniuses like Wesley Sneijder to rate at the very top, but this may be their chance finally win that first World Cup in a field without clear favorites.
The pressure on the Italian team is almost always extreme. The pressure on the defending champions at the World Cup is even worse. These would be two strikes against the Italians even without the aging of their 2006 stars and uninspiring results over the last few years.
This French team is in a transitional stage, and it showed, as they barely qualified for the World Cup over a game Irish squad. They do have a few rising stars, and the French league is getting more and more respect in European competition.
The last of the contenders, and only there because any team with the best player in the world has a chance - and much as I may dislike Cristiano Ronaldo, I have to give him that trophy. Their squad overall is weaker than in recent years, and they struggled to qualify.
Ivory Coast
The Sleepers - Semifinals in sight?

The balance of power in Africa has moved north and west recently, away from South Africa, Cameroon, and Nigeria and towards Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Ghana advanced to the Round of 16 in 2006, memorably beating the United States, and the Ivory Coast, stuck in the Group of Death, was perhaps the best team in the tournament not to advance. Both are also best-known for their Chelsea-based superstars, Ivorian Didier Drogba and Ghanaian Michael Essien. I give the slight edge to Ghana thanks to Essien, who is the player that, if healthy, I would pick first in any game at any time.

It will be interesting to see if the first Cup in Africa will have a galvanizing effect on African teams. Given the general quality of European results in Europe, and Asian results in 2002, I'm betting on a strong African showing.
Paraguay and Chile have risen to the top of the South American heap in the group below Argentina and Brazil. Are they good enough to win it? Maybe not yet, but they could do some massive damage.

They're also, interestingly, built on opposite philosophies. Paraguay is defensive, Chile attacking. Keep an eye on them.
United States of America
These three teams, despite very different histories, sizes, geographies, and everything else, are all very similar in their approach. They're fit, they're tactically aware, defensively oriented, and while they may have a standout player like American Landon Donovan, they don't have any superstars. In short, they're solid, and solid can take you far. The Koreans demonstrated that in 2002 with their semifinal run; the Greeks in 2004 winning the European Championships, and the Americans in '02 in the quarterfinals and last year in the Confederation's Cup.

They're unlikely to beat a major power playing well, but if they catch them on, or cause them to have a bad day, watch out for upsets.
There's probably an excellent book to be written about the former Yugoslavia, soccer. politics, culture, and war. The Yugoslavian team became Serbia & Montenegro and is now just Serbia. And they keep qualifying for World Cups. A laughingstock last time, thanks to getting whipped 6-0 by Argentina, they'll probably do better this go.
The Aussies switched from the Oceania zone to Asia in order to get more consistent quality of opposition. They were already an improving team. Keep an eye out for them.
At some point, the consistently disappointing Mexican results in qualifying and major tournaments should force a re-evaluation, and perhaps they should be considered just "appointing." To be fair, the Mexicans did give Argentina a hell of a game before losing the last 16 in 2006. But should we really expect more?
The last qualifier from South America, Uruguay doesn't have the players they had at the start of the decade that made them decent challengers.
The Underdogs - Happy to Progress

All right, I gotta admit it. I don't really know how to tell these two apart. It doesn't help that they were in the same qualifying group. Learning about them will be my homework for the second batch of rankings.
Back in the '90's and early 2000's, it looked like Scandanavia was where it was at for the future of soccer. Norway, Denmark, and Sweden were World Cup regulars, with some of the biggest names in the sport. Now only Denmark remains even in the Cup.
The two former superpowers of African football, they've been surpassed in recent years. Cameroon in particular has some of the players to regain their supremecy. It'll be fun to see.
Algeria had perhaps the toughest and most emotional path to the World Cup, with two games against super-archrival Egypt in a group that ended with them completely tied. So they had to do a third play-in game, which Algeria contrived to win. They could be interesting.
Japan keeps showing up for World Cups. Until they do some real damage, I'm not likely to consider them much higher than this. They have the potential to be in that Korea/Greece/USA group, though.
South Africa
When South Africa launched their bid, they had one of the stronger teams on the continent, and had been qualifying for the Cup reasonably consistently. Now, they're looking like arguably the weakest host in the history of the World Cup. Then again, that was said about the US in '94, and Korea/Japan in 2002. Don't doubt the power of the hosts.
The Swiss just keep qualifying for major tournaments. They did well in 2006, if rather boring, and did poorly in 2008. Let's see.
Nobody seems to want to claim that third North American qualifying slot with regularity. Costa Rica gave it two goes, but couldn't do it again this time around. Now it's Honduras.
New Zealand
The Minnows - Just Happy To Be Here

If the North Koreans are allowed to be happy. Just think, China, Sweden, Costa Rica, Ukraine, Poland, Ireland, Scotland, Turkey, Ecuador, Egypt, Croatia and Senegal will be at home watching, while these two are playing.

What did you think of this list?

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May 19, 2010
I see that the Men's National Teams were added for most of these countries. I'll do a new rankings in early June with injury data added. Ghana's gonna drop 10 spots if they don't have Essien.
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