Sunday is day eight of World Cup 2022 in Qatar and we have nearly completed the second round of group fixtures. With matches coming thick and fast, at a rate of four per day we have taken a breath to reflect on how things stand with our own group-by group power ranking.
1. Netherlands have shown glimpses of their undoubted promise, whilst that almost certainly will be enough for them to top the group, they are going to need to show more adventure, creativity in the final third if they are to progress deep in the tournament. But if they can get Memphis Depay fit and firing again he could really make the difference.
2. Ecuador, whilst far from glittering the first two matches, have shown sufficient grit and solidity to get the draw in their final game that would be enough to see them through. A major determining factor will be the fitness of Enner Valencia who was carried off against the Netherland and has scored all three of their goals.
3. Senegal, go into their final match with Ecuador knowing that only a win will see through. The team looked a bit more confident after registering victory over Qatar in their previous match but broadly appear to lack the cut and thrust to open up defences which does not bode well against a well-organised Ecuadorian outfit.
4. Qatar are only two games into their own World Cup and already eliminated, breaking records for the wrong reasons. Their goal against Senegal looks like it will be the only silver lining in a tournament where they have looked well out of their depth. Netherlands look likely to compound their disappointment in the third game.
1. England flitted between two ends of the performance spectrum in their opening fixtures, ruthlessly brushing aside Iran before scrapping a goalless draw against the US. However, underwhelming, bitty, safety-first performances were England’s trademark in their run to the Euro 2020 final. They look to have the in-game management and quality to defeat Wales. However, a draw against one of the big guns will likely see them come unstuck
2. Iran looked like they were on course for an early exit following their 6:2 thrashing by England but a spirited victory against Wales has left them in the driving seat prior to their eagerly anticipated and highly charged encounter with the US. The Iranian’s ability to spring well-constructed counter attacks may be just enough against the US who will be forced to play for the win.
3. The US, despite only notching up a single and being without a win have broadly impressed. They have impressed in transition, with their young, dynamic midfield providing an excellent platform for the rest of the team. However, they will not be able to rely on their counter attacking approach in their final game as Iran will likely play with a low block. Furthermore, for all their tidy play and potency in transition they do not appear to have anyone able to finish the chances they are creating.
4. Wales have been a team of big moments from big players over the six years but they can count themselves a little lucky to have got a draw against the US and were deservedly beaten by Iran, in the latter of which their star men, Bale and Ramsey were anonymous. This does not bode well going into their final match needing a win against neighbours England, who will be all too familiar with their strengths and weaknesses.
Following Argentina's 2:0 win over Mexico we now know the various permutations required for Poland to reach the World Cup knockout stage for the...
1. Argentina, have started the tournament sluggishly by their own high standards. The high profile defeat against the Saudis does appear to have one off though and a tad more fortune would have seen them take three points. They looked a little rattled by Mexico’s high octane first half last time out but slipped into the ascendency as gaps emerged. This may well be a typical pattern as they progress. They are a team reliant on individual brilliance as opposed to slick team football, which will probably be enough to make the group winners.
2. Poland will be seeking to ride the crest of a wave from the elation of their victory over the Saudis. There are a considerable number of nations at this tournament with the same flaw, for all their good approach they have no one to take the chances created. In contrast Poland, in Lewandowski, Milik and Zielinski have three excellent finishers but simply do not appear to have the know-how to open up defences. If they are able to stumble across a formula to rectify this, and Wojchiech Szczensny continues his imperious form, they should have just about enough for a place in the last 16.
3. Mexico have yet to score and that simple stat epitomises their main problem. They are a hard working and aggressive team who half and puff but fall flat in the final third. However, they have shown enough to suggest a slightly less stubborn defence such as the Saudis may help them claim their first victory. However, barring a considerable Polish collapse, they do not look potent enough to get the goals that would edge them into a qualification spot.
4. The Saudis have been a revelation so far, surprising on-lookers with their bravery with a high defensive line and getting players into the final third. Not to downplay their momentous victory over the Argentines, but the victory was mightily fortuitous as all factors accounted for. However, they were arguably more impressive against Poland where they created chance after chance, just lacking the clinicalness of the previous game.
1. France have been one of the most impressive teams in these early stages, becoming the first nation to make into the last 16. Perhaps only Brazil also have a starting XI devoid of any obvious weakness’ and they seem destined for a place in the semis at the very least. Mbappe and Dembele are in peak condition and no pair of wide forwards are striking more fear into opponents at present. The only surprise so far is that Deschamps has set out the team with such an attacking 4-2-3-1. It would be unlikely that they replicate such attacking intent in the knock stages against fellow serious contenders. The question is would they still have the right balance if they played more within themselves.
2. Denmark face Australia in their final match and with Tunisia unlikely to defeat France it is probable that that will be a straight shootout for the final qualification spot. The Danes are epitome of the previously discussed issue of attractive approach play but lacklustre cutting edge. But Euro 2020 and Nations League performances have shown that this group have the required big game know-how to navigate the Australia game but probably not much further.
3. Australia have performed well above expectations thus far, especially considering how underwhelming their qualification was and their lack of star quality. A promising start against France gave them the confidence to take a well earned win over Tunisia. Offering a threat at set pieces and being well-organised will not be enough against Denmark though.
4. Tunisia, reportedly the best supported side at the World Cup have given very little for the faithful to cheer. One point, no goals and being the weaker team in both encounters does not bode well for their must win match against world champion France.
1. Spain grabbed the headlines after notching up seven goals in the first match against Costa Rica. At the time of writing they have not faced their first real test against Germany which will naturally be a better reflection of where they are. The anticipated continuity of having so many players in the first XI from the same few clubs does appear to be paying dividends. No team has looked like such a slick unit so far. That appears to make them realistic contenders for a place in the last four.
2. Germany can see a glimmer of hope following a disaster in the opening match knowing that even defeat against Spain could still leave them in with a chance if they see off Costa Rica in the last match. Germany’s loss to Japan was possibly the oddest defeat so far at this tournament. They dominated the game, scored, continued to create chances, substituted their two best performing players, in Gundogan and Musiala and then utterly imploded in the final 20 minutes. They still have potential to reach the semi finals but there are serious doubts over defensive understanding and a noticeable drop off in quality in the fullback positions.
3. Japan have bounced from sublime to ridiculous with a superb second half performance in their victory over Germany followed by a desperately poor performance in defeat against Costa Rica. Coach Moriyasu made the highly questionable decision to make five changes from the first game. Japan may well rue those changes.
4. Costa Rica are probably only second to Qatar as the weakest team at the tournament and that was reflected in their heavy defeat to Spain. All of which made the victory over Japan all the more admirable. They will likely suffer defeat against Germany in their final game but the aforementioned win means they can exit with a lot more dignity.
1. Croatia have started the tournament slowly but have picked four points so far, much through virtue of their talented midfield controlling matches. The extra cutting edge on display against Canada will offer encouragement. Their approach favours teams with less dynamism and they will likely come a cropper against decent teams who play with real intensity.
2. Morocco, TVP World’s pre-tournament tip as a dark horse, have looked solid if unspectacular. They have not really offered the flair and excitement that the potential suggests. However, their back four has provided them with a great platform to progress and their pragmatism has paid off. A bit of fortune could see them make the quarter finals.
3. Belgium, also tipped to struggle to get out of the group by TVP World, are underwhelming beyond expectations. They were mighty fortunate to scrape a 1:0 win over Canada and were equally poor in defeat to Morocco. Few sides have such little fluidity and they seem ill suited to the three man defence coach Martinez is wedded to.
4. Canada are already out of contention for the knock stages but have excited audiences in both of the outings and show promise of much to come in future. Put simply there is a significant gulf in class between the attacking and defensive third.
1. Brazil are probably the most complete squad in this tournament and the unity and composure they showed against Serbia is a positive sign. They look capable of lifting the trophy but there is a question mark as to how they will react to losing Neymar to injury, likely for two matches. They have the personnel to replace their star man but how big a blow mentally will it be to lose such an influential figure?
2. Serbia did not have much influence over proceedings against Brazil but many sides will walk away with similar sentiments in this tournament. If they can get their attacking talents in the game in the final group matches they are capable of taking six points. Kostic will surely return to the starting XI, while Vlahovic will likely see more minutes. If they make it out of the group they will be awkward opponents for all but the true elite.
3. Switzerland have started the tournament in their customary low key manner, looking solid and uncompromising. Unless they can spring a surprise against Brazil, much will depend on their final group game with Serbia.
4. Cameroon are possibly the weakest of all African nations and despite a fairly spirited display against Switzerland are short in the required quality throughout their side. There is a particular problem with giving striker Choupo Moting the service he needs to prosper.
1. Portugal participated in a topsy-turvy affair against Ghana which confirmed much of what we already knew about them before the tournament began. They are a team packed with individual brilliance but do not have a formula to get the best out of them all. Some suggest this due to the insistence of including Ronaldo but it applies to other positions. However, they have stumbled across a magic formula mid tournament and if they can find the right structure in midfield in particular they could still go deep in the tournament.
2. South Korea’s match against Uruguay, of all openers, was possibly the match where we could draw the fewest conclusions from. South Korea have enough defensive solidity to contain Portugal and will likely sneak past Cameroon. Although a lack of cut and thrust in the final third means they will struggle to go beyond the last 16.
3. Uruguay have an amusing blend of superb players at the peak of their powers in midfield to veterans well past their best in defence and attack. If they are brave enough to drop Luis Suarez and give Darwin Nunez a more central role they would be a less predictable outfit.
4. Ghana showed spirit to fight back against Portugal and barring an ill-timed slip Williams whilst nicking the ball off Costa would have grabbed a point against the Portuguese. However, they do not have the ability to craft chances against more stubborn defences which will cost them.