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Re-ranking the 2018 World Cup contenders after one round of group games

We are 17 games in to the 2018 World Cup. Seventeen of 64. More than a quarter of the way through the tournament for which we have waited years. And that means, as is the case every four years, it is time to overreact.

A topsy-turvy opening round, replete with underachieving giants, has taken quadrennial overreaction day to a new level. Germany is apparently fraudulent, Brazil is as over-reliant on Neymar as it was four years ago, and Spain is a circus. Argentina has sunk to Iceland’s level. So Mexico, naturally, is going to win the World Cup.

Right? That’s how this works, yeah?

As you’ll find out shortly, not in our minds. That’s not how these (re-)rankings work. The goal here is to assess both the legitimacy of early performances and importance of early results. The criterion – how likely is a given team to win the 2018 World Cup? – is the same as it was for our pre-tournament list. (Each team’s pre-tournament ranking is in parentheses.)

And the overarching message of what you’re about to read? That the group stage’s opening round didn’t really tell us all that much about who to expect in Moscow on July 15.

2018 World Cup power (re-)rankings after Matchday 1

1. Spain (2) — It was overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo’s exploits and a David De Gea howler, but Spain put on the most entertaining and convincing show of Matchday 1. An in-form Diego Costa is the answer to its most pressing concern. And there is enough of a veteran presence to mitigate any deleterious effects of the Julen Lopetegui saga.

Diego Costa is one of a few reasons Spain should be the 2018 World Cup favorite after Matchday 1. (Getty)

2. Brazil (1) — Brazil looked dominant for prolonged stretches of Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Switzerland. A hobbled Neymar is a concern, but far from a reason to jump ship. With none of its co-favorites wowing, the Selecao very easily could have remained atop this list. The only thing that bumps it down one place, actually, is the increased likelihood of a Round of 16 showdown with Germany.

3. Germany (3)No need to panic … unless Brazil comes knocking on July 2, three rounds earlier than the two pre-tournament favorites would have hoped.

4. France (4)Les Bleus have the most points of the big four through one match, but still have the most unsolved dilemmas as well. Didier Deschamps played the lineup many had pleaded for against Australia, but it’s becoming increasingly clear the French just don’t have a coherent system, no matter the personnel. (They do, though, have special players like Paul Pogba, which is why they hold onto the No. 4 spot.)

5. Belgium (5) — We didn’t learn much, if anything, from the Panama game. Because, well, it was Panama.

6. England (7)Don’t let the need for a late escape fool you. England’s performance was one of the best of Matchday 1.

7. Uruguay (8) — An inability to break down bunkered Egypt doesn’t tell us anything about Uruguay’s ability to win an ugly knockout round match against France or Argentina.

8. Portugal (10)Portugal impressed as much as anybody on Matchday 1, but – dare we say – it benefited from some sizable chunks of good fortune. It isn’t going to get a penalty, an opposing goalkeeper blunder and a Ronaldo free-kick banger every game. It didn’t create all that much else. And Morocco and Iran (not to mention potential knockout round foes) will be different types of challenges.

9. Argentina (6) — The problems: definitely not fixed. The plan: definitely still unclear. But Lionel Messi: definitely still capable of carrying La Albiceleste back to a World Cup final.

10. Mexico (12) — Nothing about El Tri‘s upset of Germany was fluky, per se. But that doesn’t mean it translates to beating Switzerland or Serbia or England in an elimination game with just 72 or 96 hours to prepare. We’re more confident about Mexico after Juan Carlos Osorio’s masterclass, but there’s every chance the CONCACAF kings regress back to their baseline level of play as soon as Matchday 2.

11. Croatia (11) — No obvious positives or negatives from the performance in a 2-0 win over Nigeria. But the result puts the Croats in the driver’s seat in Group D.

12. Colombia (9) — Los Cafeteros got off to a borderline disastrous start, which led to a damaging result, a 2-1 loss to Japan. But they acquitted themselves quite well down a man for 85 minutes. They’re in a hole, but still the best team in Group H.

13. Russia (21) — Is Russia … good? Maybe? We warned you it wasn’t awful. But we didn’t expect eight goals for and one conceded through two games. And while the numbers are a bit deceiving, given the strength of the opposition, the confidence they engender and other intangible effects make Russia a more likely champion than other mediocre outfits.

14. Senegal (19) — On the whole, a very promising display against Poland. More importantly, three points. We’ve got a funny little feeling that Senegal could grow into the tournament, improve as it progresses, and cause some problems in the later rounds.

15. Switzerland (18) — Great result. Need another one against Serbia. We’re still a bit skeptical.

16. Serbia (16) — The Serbs did what they had to do against Costa Rica. Our pre-tournament opinions, just like Serbia’s Group E odds, remain more or less unchanged.

17. Denmark (15) — Needed a still-in-orbit Christian Cueva penalty and some Kasper Schmeichel heroics to steal three points. The Danes should survive Group C, but shouldn’t be expected to do much beyond that.

18. Peru (14) — Looked great. Couldn’t finish. None of Peru’s success in between the penalty boxes will matter if it can’t nick a result off France.

19. Poland (13) — Needlessly tried to forge a Robert Lewandowski-Arkadiusz Milik partnership at the last minute, and it backfired. The Poles looked ordinary in a 2-1 loss to Senegal, and now sit last in the Group H pecking order.

20. Iran (24) — Iran looked inferior for large stretches of its opener against Morocco, but clamped down on any high-percentage shots and stole three points at the death. This is what Team Melli does. Now, for two tougher tasks …

21. Iceland (23)Fantastic, memorable result. Now, can the lovable underdogs open up and play a little more soccer against Nigeria?

22. Japan (28) — In one sense, Japan scored a massive, unexpected victory over Group H favorite Colombia. In another, it squeaked by playing 11-on-10. We’re not sold.

23. Morocco (17) — Don’t write the Atlas Lions off just yet. They’re better equipped to play Portugal than Iran.

24. Sweden (22) — Mexico’s win over Germany hurts the Swedes’ Group F chances.

25. Nigeria (20) — If you can’t generate any offense against a team with zero defensive midfielders, you’re probably not getting out of Group D.

26. Australia (29) — A decent showing against the French, but we’re skeptical they can replicate it to get a result against Denmark.

27. Costa Rica (27)Los Ticos were as toothless as feared against Serbia, and stand very little shot of recovering to get out of Group E.

28. Tunisia (26) — Came within a few minutes of nicking a point off England … but didn’t deserve to.

29. South Korea (31) — The vast majority of the 32-team field would not have lost that game to Sweden.

30. Panama (32)Just happy to be here.

31. Egypt (25) — The Pharaohs are done, barring a miracle. (But the reason we label the scenario a miracle is Saudi Arabia’s ineptitude. That explains why Egypt isn’t rock-bottom.)

32. Saudi Arabia (30)Ouch.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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