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 haven't looked very good, are still in the top 10, as they'll be in perfectly fine shape if they manage to beat entirely beatable opponents in their next match.
The biggest story of the tournament now, other than France's hilariously epic meltdown, is the strength of the South American teams. All five are likely to progress, and they take up five of the top eight spots in the rankings. However, this may not be the story it seems to be: every single one of their results should come as no surprise. Of their 10 matches, the only ones which can be described as any kind of surprise would be Uruguay's tie with France and Paraguay's draw with Italy. They've simply been effective and consistent, and consistency can take you a long way in a short tournament like the World Cup.
Now we get into the final stage, with two matches at once. A quick guide to the final day for each group:
Group A - Mexico and Uruguay are virtually qualified, and play each other, with a draw guaranteeing both sides are in. However, second in the group will almost certainly be matched up against Argentina, and Mexico, currently in that spot, could try to win it and avoid Argentina. If either team loses, this gives the winner of France-South Africa the chance to sneak in.
Group B - Although every team still has the chance to go through or be eliminated, Argentina is in the driver's seat and should win the group easily. South Korea will probably be second, so long as they don't lose badly to Nigeria.
Group C - Slovenia are in the lead with 4 points, but are still precariously placed, with their next match against the English. There are dozens of different complications, but the simplest thing to know is that England, the USA, and Slovenia all are guaranteed progression with a win, while Algeria may need a tiebreaker.
Group D - The real "Group of Death." Ghana plays against Germany in the most exciting matchup of the last group games, knowing that a draw or win sees them through. Germany are definitely in with a win, but a draw makes their position precarious, and a loss sends them out. With Ghana the best hope for Africa left in the tournament, this could get exciting. Serbia and Australia match up in the other game, with both needing a win.
Group E - Japan and Denmark have an exciting playoff in this group. Denmark needs to win or they're out, as Japan holds the tiebreakers in case of a draw. Should be fun.
Group F - Another exciting group with every team having a chance, and every team except Slovakia guaranteed progression with a win (and they'd just be very likely.) Can the Kiwis do it?
Group G - The so-called "Group of Death" has only been a group of boredom. Portugal-Brazil was a tempting matchup at the start of the tournament, but seems likely now to be a dull draw, which suits both teams.
Group H - Chile-Spain, on the other hand, could be the most exciting match of the tournament, as both sides are attractive, attacking teams with something to play for. Spain is guaranteed qualification with a win, while Chile will avoid Brazil in the second round if they get any points. Switzerland will try to spoil the Latin party against Honduras.
Last Ranking: 4th Results: 1-0 v. Nigeria, 4-1 v. South Korea Next Match: Greece
Although technically they haven't qualified, missing out now would require the Argentines beaten by Greece and Korea beating Nigeria, with both other teams passing Argentina on goal differential. This is extremely unlikely.
Their defense is still a pretty major concern, but the attacking flair was on full display against South Korea. Although Messi is called the heir to Maradona, I see a more apt comparison in Tevez in the skill, tenacity, and balance. Messi is his own wonderful creature. And how about Gonzalo Higuain, picking up a delightfully easy hat trick on tapping in scraps? There's a skill to being in the right place at the right time, and he's got it.
Still big questions about the defense, especially after Walter Samuel went off injured.
Last Ranking: 2nd Results: 2-0 v. Denmark, 1-0 v. Japan Next Match: Cameroon
I still have big concerns about the Netherlands' finishing ability, but we should bear in mind that their best player is still recovering from injury, and there's something to be said for being able to grind out results against quality, but not top-quality teams like Japan and Denmark.
With qualification assured, and victory in the group being both extremely likely and largely irrelevant, it'll be interesting to see if the Dutch rest their stars against Cameroon in the final match, but probably not interesting enough to watch over the Denmark-Japan match for second.
Last Ranking: 3rd Results:2-1 v. North Korea, 3-1 v. Cote d'Ivoire Next Match: Portugal
A solid victory over a tough opponent puts Brazil into the next round, and so long as they don't lose to Portugal, they'll win the group. This may not be a good thing, though, as Spain could easily finish second in theirs, setting up a titanic battle in the round of 16. That and Kaka's red card are the main things keeping Brazil in 3rd in the rankings.
Last Ranking: 17th Results: 0-0 v. Cote d'Ivoire, 7-0 v. North Korea Next Match: Brazil
I'm made my point about how frustrating the 0-0 draw against the Ivory Coast was, but it's all worked out quite well for the Portuguese, as a 7-0 thrashing of North Korea leaves them almost certain to qualify, unless they lose to Brazil and Cote d'Ivoire gets even more goals against the hapless North Koreans. Even better for Portugal, the chaos in Group H means that second place doesn't necessarily mean a clash with archrival Spain in the round of 16.
Last Ranking: 14th Results: 0-0 v. France, 3-0 v. South Africa Next Match: Mexico
I have to give credit to Uruguay's tactics and strategy for the tournament. They played for the draw against France and never looked bothered, and played for the win against South Africa and never looked bothered. Now they go into the last match against dangerous Mexico knowing they only need a point to guarantee qualification, and that their goal differential is solid regardless.
Also, striker Diego Forlan is staking his claim as one of the best players in the tournament - and the first player to get two goals total as well as two goals in a single match.
Last Ranking: 11th Results: 1-1 v. Italy, 2-0 v. Slovakia Next Match: New Zealand
Like Uruguay, Paraguay have done what they've needed to do to virtually ensure qualification into the next round. They haven't done it in as strong a group, so they're lower - but if they win the group, they should have a winnable match against Japan or Denmark in the next round, making Paraguay a decent bet for the quarterfinals.
Last Ranking: 1st Results: 4-0 v. Australia, 0-1 v. Serbia Next Match: Ghana
Was Australia that bad? Is Serbia that good? Did the ref break the flow of the game too much? Or did the Germans lose their advantage in terms of knowledge of the Jabulani ball? Whatever the reason, Germany goes into their last game against a tough Ghana team needing points of some kind to qualify, and probably a win.
The job was made more difficult by the nitpicky sending off of star striker Miroslav Klose. Klose's dismissal is a demonstration of something I've been saying for a while - the game would work far better if three yellows led to a red, not two. I doubt this'll happen anytime soon, barring my sudden election to President of FIFA.
Last Ranking: 9th Results: 1-0 v. Honduras, 1-0 v. Switzerland Next Match: Spain
Chile were supposed to be the swashbuckling attacking side of the tournament, so two one-nil matches are something of a disappointment. More than disappointing, they could prove to be bad news in terms of goal differential, as if they lose to Spain by any scoreline, Spain will surpass them and knock them into second, or perhaps knock them all the way out if Switzerland win as well.
Last Ranking: 5th Results: 1-1 v. USA Next Match: Slovenia
Dear oh dear. How to look at this: England is still firmly in control of their own destiny, and can easily win the group by beating Slovenia by more than the USA beats Algeria? Ok, no. They looked all right against a game American side, but Algeria? You gotta win that.
Of course, one slight tactical change, or one fire lit under Wayne Rooney's rear end, and they win the group and can slip into the semi-finals gaining confidence all the way, like France in 2006. They've been poor, but they're not out.
Last Ranking: 6th Results: 1-1 v. Paraguay, 1-1 v. New Zealand Next Match: Slovakia
Like England, Italy is sitting on two points when they should have six. Like England, it seems like a crisis but can easily be righted with a win against beatable opponents in the last match. Unlike England - and the reason they're lower - Italy is likely to finish second in the group, setting up a potential matchup against heavyweight Holland.
Last Ranking: 10th Results: 0-1 v. Switzerland, 2-0 v. Honduras Next Match: Chile
Spain never looked like losing against Honduras, and indeed seemed to walk the ball around for scoring chances in the second half. A fascinating matchup with Chile awaits, as a win guarantees Spain is through, while a draw or even a loss could see them qualify if Switzerland do worse against Honduras.
Last Ranking: 20th Results: 1-1 v. South Africa, 2-0 v. France Next Match: Uruguay
Decision time for Mexico. They're tied with Uruguay atop Group A, with a draw sending both sides through. However, Uruguay has the edge on goal differential, and the potential opponent in the round of 16 is almost certainly Argentina for second place, or the second place side from Group B, probably South Korea.
Now, I personally would be happy to see Mexico finish second and play Argentina, as that's a rematch of the second-best match from World Cup 2006, which had the first-best goal:
I suspect Mexico is going to go for it, however. They don't seem to be the sit-back type.
Last Ranking: 13th Results: 1-1 v. England, 2-2 v. Slovenia Next Match: Algeria
Although there's no excuse for the referee's screw-up preventing the USA from getting three points, it's actually not as damaging to American hopes as it may seem at first glance. The only major difference is that it'll be slightly harder to win the group, but with Germany's loss, Group D is up for grabs anyway, so there's not a huge advantage for the group winner. Either way the US would have needed to beat Algeria to guarantee progression. Likewise, the draw between England and Algeria doesn't help the USA as much as it seems - any result from that match would still have left the US needing to beat Algeria to get into the next round.
And let's hear it for the Americans never being boring! Between this and their 1-1 v. Italy in 2006, they have some of the most exciting group stage games.
Last Ranking: 12th Results: 1-0 v. Serbia, 1-1 v. Australia Next Match: Germany
Ghana missed their chance to grab the tough Group D by the scruff of the neck, but they're still leading and will still qualify with a draw or win against the Germans. However, Germany will know that a win guarantees them a spot in the next round. Should be a fascinating match.
Last Ranking: 16th Results: 1-0 v Spain, 0-1 v. Chile Next Match: Honduras
The red card was unlucky, but the end result really wasn't. I think it's perfectly appropriate that the monumentally dull Swiss got the record for longest World Cup run without conceding a goal, then promptly gave up the goal to lose the match.
If they beat Honduras by more than one goal (ha!) then the Swiss are guaranteed qualification, otherwise they need to simply do better against Honduras than the Spanish do against Chile. With Honduran national pride at stake, I predict an upset.
Last Ranking: 24th Results: 0-1 v. Ghana, 1-0 v. Germany Next Match: Australia
It looked like the Serbs were in terrible shape following their rather sluggish defeat to Ghana, but now having defeated Germany and with only Australia in their way, they're actually looking to be in great shape. Superb tactics flustered Germany long enough for Serbia to get a goal, and luck, skill, and bad refereeing helped them keep their lead. Perhaps their darkhorse status is worthwhile after all.
And keep an eye on their right winger, Krasic, who torched the German defense when he had the chance.
Last Ranking: 19th Results: 1-0 v. Cameroon, 0-1 v. Netherlands Next Match: Denmark
Japan actually goes up a few spots after losing to Holland? Two reasons - they didn't look half bad against a team that should have overwhelmed them, and the narrow defeat improves their goal differential, which could prove necessary - they're guaranteed qualification for the next round with a win or a draw, whereas Denmark needs an outright victory.
Last Ranking: 22nd Results: 0-2 v. Netherlands, 2-1 v. Cameroon Next Match: Japan
After a nightmare start against a motivated Cameroon side, Denmark steadied the ship and picked up an excellent win. Now they go into their last match with a good shot to progress - they just need to win.
Winger Dennis Rommedahl has been the most exciting winger of the tournament over age 25, and he got a great individual goal against Cameroon to remember.
Last Ranking: 18th Results: 1-0 v. Algeria, 2-2 v. USA Next Match: England
A lot of what I've read about the game with the USA says that Slovenia "dominated" the first half. No, not really. They were better in the first 15 minutes, but sat back after the first goal. The second was completely against the run of play, although good counterattacking should always be lauded, it doesn't necessarily come from dominance.
Slovenia were scrappy, stubborn, and occasionally skilled. Also, very lucky. They'll need those things against England, knowing that a point gets them through. I'm not yet convinced, but I'm not counting them out.
Last Ranking: 9th Results: 2-0 v. Greece, 1-4 v. Argentina Next Match: Nigeria
The skill and poise the Koreans demonstrated against Greece were mostly gone against a swarming Argentina. Likewise, the tactics which serves so well against Greece were completely eliminated. Still, the Greek win against Nigeria means that in order to progress, Korea simply has to do better against Nigeria than Greece against Argentina. This isn't a given, since Argentina will almost certainly win the group regardless and may rest players or get complacent, but it is likely.
Last Ranking: 30th Results: 0-2 v. South Korea, 2-1 v. Nigeria Next Match: Argentina
Congrats to Greece for their first World Cup goals and first World Cup victory - at least since this one:
Now they have to pick up points against Argentina or somehow beat the other two sides on goal differential. Not impossible, but very difficult.
Greece v. Argentina is also a rematch of one of the most memorable matches of World Cup 1994, in which the Greeks had no concept of defense against one of the most potent attacking forces in World Cup history, and a hopped-up Diego Maradona scored a goal and celebrated in a rather inebriated fashion - conventional wisdom suggests that it made his impending failed drug test seem rather unnecessary.
Last Ranking: 23rd Results: 0-1 v. Argentina, 1-2 v. Greece Next Match: South Korea
Oddly enough, despite two losses, Nigeria has a decent chance to progress. They'll have to beat the Koreans, which is entirely possible, and hope that Argentina beats Greece - also entirely possible. This'll leave three teams on three points, with the winner decided on goal differential, and since Nigeria only conceded one goal to Argentina, Nigeria would likely be the favorite. This kind of situation is rare, but US fans will remember it from last year's Confederation's Cup.
Beating South Korea is a tall order, however, and it should be an interesting match.
Last Ranking: 7th Results: 0-0 v. Uruguay, 0-2 v. Mexico Next Match: South Africa
Apparently they should have fired Raymond Dommenech before the Cup after all. The manager was a disaster, allowing the completely ineffectual Nicolas Anelka and Sidney Govou to start again against Mexico. He then compounded the error by bringing on equally ineffectual substitutions in the second half, all the while leaving the talismanic Thierry Henry on the bench.
Yes, I know that Henry had a poor season with Barcelona, and he's on the downside (the MLS side....) of his career, but in the small amount of time he was on against Uruguay, he demonstrated exactly the sort of soft, creative touches that France clearly lacked against both of their opponents.
Now, in order to qualify, they have to whip South Africa for goal differential and hope for a winner from Mexico/Uruguay. It could happen, as the American teams will be playing to avoid Argentina in the round of 16, but it'll take a lot of luck and even more skill.
Nicolas Anelka has now been kicked off the team for saying what everyone was thinking about cussing out the manager. He's got a valid point - the striker Dommenech was playing in the first two matches was absolutely useless. And in getting kicked off the team, Anelka probably helps them! What a patriot!
Last Ranking: 32nd Results: 0-1 v. Slovenia, 0-0 v. England Next Match: USA
Who saw the point against England coming? Well, I kind of did, in that I warned that Algeria could raise their game when it mattered, but I really didn't expect the point they got to come off of England. And you know? They can beat the Americans. I don't expect it. But it could happen. Off the bottom of the rankings for you, Algeria!
Last Ranking: 25th Results: 1-1 v. New Zealand, 0-2 v. Paraguay Next Match: Italy
Horribly sloppy defending and an inability to get their star player Marek Hamsik into the match have almost certainly doomed Slovakia, who now beat the defending champions to have any hope of progressing.
Last Ranking: 31st Results: 0-4 v. Germany, 1-1 v. Ghana Next Match: Serbia
A decent bounceback for the Aussies after a terrible first match. They've even got a shot, albeit a slim one, at the second round if they can beat Serbia with a decent goal differential and get a good result from Germany-Ghana.
Last Ranking: 21st Results: 1-1 v Mexico, 0-3 v. Uruguay Next Match: France
Never really looked like getting going against a well-organized Uruguayan side, and now they must defeat France to have even a chance at progressing, and even that may not be enough - they also need a winner in the Uruguay/Mexico match and better goal differential than the loser.
If only they could take the vuvuzelas with them when they go.
Last Ranking: 28th Results: 0-1 v. Chile, 0-2 v. Spain Next Match: Switzerland
Honduras have the same chance Nigeria does - if they win their match and Chile beats Spain, they could go through on goal differential. Of course, this will require scoring at least two goals against the Swiss defense, something that seems to be virtually impossible.
Last Ranking: 26th Results: 0-1 v. Japan, 1-2 v. Denmark Next Match: Netherlands
To some extent, Cameroon can feel unfortunate to have been eliminated, as they played well in their second match and the other results in the group didn't go their way. However, even when they were trying to tie the match with Denmark, there wasn't much movement off the ball, and a little bit too much cleverness and not enough directness.