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World Cup 2018 power rankings: Every team in Russia, rated 1-32

Welcome to FC Yahoo’s World Cup 2018 build-up. We’re inside a month until kickoff, and throughout the month, we’ll bring you all manner of content to get you ready for Russia. Up first: power rankings.

FC Yahoo contributors Leander Schaerlaeckens, Doug McIntyre, Henry Bushnell, Ryan Bailey, Cody Brunner and Joey Gulino were asked to order all 32 World Cup participants from 1-32. The following is an aggregation of those individual lists, with personal rankings and averages in parentheses. Without further ado …

1. Germany

(LS: 1 | DM: 1 | HB: 3 | RB: 1 | CB: 1 | JG: 1 | AVG: 1.3)

The reigning title holders have the requisite swagger and as deep a squad as any in the 32-team field – even if they might not have their best player from 2014, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who only recently resumed training following a long injury layoff, back between the sticks. No matter. The Cup remains theirs to lose. — Doug McIntyre

(Getty)

2. Brazil

(LS: 2 | DM: 2 | HB: 2 | RB: 2 | CB: 3 | JG:  2| AVG: 2.2)

The Selecao were expected to win the “Hexacampeao” (their sixth World Cup title) on home soil four years ago. However, you may remember seven reasons why that didn’t quite go to plan. But the demons of Belo Horizonte have been exorcized and Brazil was the only South American team to cruise through qualification. Tite’s side, however, has some potential stumbling blocks. Star show pony Neymar hasn’t played since February due to a metatarsal fracture, Dani Alves’ absence reveals a glaring lack of cover at right back, and a South American team hasn’t won a World Cup in Europe in a half-century. Oh, and Germany’s also in this tournament. But to be fair, that’s a pretty big stumbling block for every other nation, too. — Ryan Bailey

3. Spain

(LS: 3 | DM: 4 | HB: 1 | RB: 3 | CB: 4 | JG: 4 | AVG: 3.2)

Two straight early exits from major tournaments feel like distant memories for a Spain side that evokes the title-winning teams of 2008-2012. It hasn’t lost since Euro 2016 under new manager Julen Lopetegui, and has talent back to front – enough to contend for a second World Cup, and maybe even win it. — Henry Bushnell

4. France

(LS: 4 | DM:  6| HB: 4 | RB: 6 | CB: 2 | JG: 3 | AVG: 4.2)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but France is stacked. The French are young and obscenely talented with the likes of Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann among countless strong players at every single position. But for Les Bleus, it never really comes down to the talent of its players. When they’re on the same page, they win World Cups. When they’re not, it gets ugly. And, well, they’ve only won one World Cup. — Leander Schaerlaeckens

5. Argentina

(LS: 5 | DM: 3 | HB: 6 | RB: 4 | CB: 6 | JG: 5 | AVG: 4.8)

There is a great deal of money to be won if you can accurately predict what this Argentina team will do on any given day. Because there’s just no telling. After losing a World Cup final and two Copa America finals in extra time in three consecutive summers, a shambolic qualifying campaign very nearly saw the Albiceleste miss out on Russia. There are a lot of big names up front, and gaping holes everywhere else in the lineup. Still, Argentina has Lionel Messi. And the world’s greatest player ever might be taking his last stab at finally winning this thing. — LS

Is this the summer Lionel Messi finally wins the World Cup? (Associated Press)

6. Belgium

(LS: 6 | DM: 9 | HB: 5 | RB: 5 | CB: 7 | JG: 6 | AVG: 6.3)

On paper, Belgium’s golden generation is a collection of indisputable world-beaters. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany on their roster, Les Diables Rouges should leave even the most seasoned rivals quaking in their boots. But the perennial dark horses have failed to deliver in the last two major tournaments, leading many to suspect this is their final chance to show what they can really do. While the phrase “World Cup-winning manager Roberto Martinez” sounds fairly implausible, Belgium has the firepower to progress from the group stage and go deep in Russia. — RB

7. Portugal

(LS: 7 | DM: 5 | HB: 10 | RB: 11 | CB: 5 | JG: 7 | AVG: 7.5)

Cristiano Ronaldo is the headliner, the catalyst and the focal point. He’s also a convenient distraction from Portugal’s many problems – namely, an aging defense that restricts the Portuguese stylistically. They ground their way to a European title two summers ago, but will need double the good fortune to repeat the feat on the global stage. — HB

8. Colombia

(LS: 10 | DM: 7 | HB: 9 | RB: 7 | CB: 8 | JG: 8 | AVG: 8.2)

Los Cafeteros were one of the joys of the 2014 tournament, and they’re back again with a very familiar look. James Rodriguez is the creative fulcrum, but just one of many key pieces of a team with quarterfinal potential. — HB

9. Uruguay

(LS: 8 | DM: 12 | HB: 7 | RB: 8 | CB: 9 | JG: 9 | AVG: 8.8)

With all-world strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani leading the line, Uruguay – which lost in the Round of 16 four years ago after reaching the semis in 2010 – could be poised for another deep run. But only if Suarez can keep his teeth to himself. — DM

10. England

(LS: 11 | DM: 10 | HB: 8 | RB: 12 | CB: 11 | JG: 12 | AVG: 10.7)

Say what you like about England, but the Three Lions follow an incredibly consistent pattern in every tournament cycle: qualify with a near-perfect record, capitulate under the unbearable pressure created by media hype, quietly exit the tournament in underwhelming fashion. Wash, rinse and repeat. With a squad full of exciting Premier League players and the resources of a nation obsessed with the beautiful game, they have all the ingredients of a dominant national team. However, Team England is rarely better than the sum of its parts, and performances can frequently be as scintillating as watching paint dry. With Gareth Southgate’s successful back-three experimentation, surprising depth in midfield and the prolific Harry Kane leading the line, there’s always the chance England will relive the magic of 1966 and go all the way. But there’s a better chance of going out of the Round of 16 to Colombia on penalties. — RB

11. Mexico

(LS: 9 | DM: 11 | HB: 11 | RB: 13 | CB: 10 | JG: 11 | AVG: 10.8)

El Tri has qualified for the knockout stages at the past six tournaments, and no doubt coach Juan Carlos Osorio expects that streak to continue this summer. Question is, can Mexico finally win a do-or-die World Cup match? It’s accomplished the feat just once, playing on home soil, way back in 1986. — DM

Javier Hernandez and Mexico have the talent to finally get over the Round of 16 hump. (AP)

12. Croatia

(LS: 12 | DM: 8 | HB: 12 | RB: 10 | CB: 15 | JG: 10 | AVG: 11.2)

The men with the greatest jerseys in sports are also a confounding team. They have a midfield that most every other team in the tournament would envy: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic. Elsewhere, they’re fair to average. But with a core that has a wealth of experience, a dawning realization that its run will be up soon and a manageable group, Croatia could make a surprise run to the quarterfinals – or possibly further. — LS

13. Poland

(LS: 13 | DM: 18 | HB: 15 | RB: 9 | CB: 12 | JG: 15 | AVG: 13.7)

The Poles gamed FIFA’s rankings to sneak into pot 1 at the draw, and thus into a winnable group. Robert Lewandowski aside, however, they don’t have the quality of other top-seeded sides. Failure at the group stage is more likely than a knockout stage victory. — HB

14. Peru

(LS: 15 | DM: 15 | HB: 13 | RB: 16 | CB: 17 | JG: 13 | AVG: 14.8)

In spite of doing well in recent Copa Americas, Peru hadn’t qualified for the World Cup since all-time great Teofilo Cubillas’ heyday. This drought, dating back to 1982, finally ended when the Blanquirroja snuck through with a tie against Colombia – paired with Chile’s loss – on the final day of qualifiers, whereupon they beat New Zealand in the playoffs. Never underestimate a team that survived South America’s brutal qualifying slog. — LS

15. Switzerland

(LS: 14 | DM: 20 | HB: 16 | RB: 15 | CB: 13 | JG: 18 | AVG: 16.0)

The Schweizer Nati squeezed through UEFA qualification by virtue of a controversial penalty in a rain-sodden playoff with Northern Ireland. It was far from a glamorous route to Russia, but it must be noted Vladimir Petkovic’s side won nine of its 10 qualification games, and reached the knockout stages at Euro 2016 and the 2014 World Cup. With talent like Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and veteran defender Stephan Lichtsteiner, the Swiss have every chance of progressing from the group. To call them a dark horse, though, would be a stretch. — RB

T-16. Denmark

(LS: 16 | DM: 16 | HB: 18 | RB: 17 | CB: 14 | JG: 21 | AVG: 17.0)

The Danish have not been so dynamite of late, missing two of the last three World Cups and two of the last three Euros. This entirely Christian Eriksen-centric team won’t set the world alight either. But its 5-1 destruction of Ireland in the European playoff demonstrates an ability to outperform its talent on the day. And a weak group improves Denmark’s chances of advancing – and likely crashing out in the Round of 16. — LS

T-16. Iceland

(LS: 19 | DM: 13 | HB: 23 | RB: 17 | CB: 14 | JG: 21 | AVG: 17.0)

Famously, Iceland is the smallest nation to reach the World Cup. It’s a big volcanic rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with fewer than 350,000 citizens – about a fifth of Manhattan. But it punches incomprehensibly far above its weight. Because Iceland came within a game of making it to Brazil in 2014. Then, it made Euro 2016 and stunned England to reach the quarterfinals. But this team, coached by a former part-time dentist, remains a Cinderella story and a long shot to accomplish much. — LS

18. Egypt

(LS: 18 | DM: 19 | HB: 24 | RB: 19 | CB: 20 | JG: 14 | AVG: 19.0)

Led by the English Premier League’s best player in Mohamed Salah, the Pharaohs are making their first World Cup appearance since 1990. It could be a memorable return: Group A is as survivable as any in the competition, and Salah, who set a new Prem record with 32 goals this season, can win a game on his own. — DM

Mohammed Salah was the Player of the Year in the Premier League. Can that form carry over to Russia? (EFE)

19. Serbia

(LS: 25 | DM: 24 | HB: 14 | RB: 20 | CB: 21 | JG: 16 | AVG: 20.0)

With a recent history marred by political unrest, crowd trouble and – to put it bluntly – a lack of quality on the field, the stars have aligned for Serbia, which last featured at a major tournament when it crashed out of the 2010 World Cup group stage. To avoid such a fate in Russia, the Balkan nation will call upon the experience of Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Nemanja Matic, while hoping that gems like Luka Milivojevic replicate their impressive form from 2017-18. Escaping the group, which the team hasn’t done since playing under the guise of Yugoslavia in 1998, could be a tall order. — RB

20. Sweden

(LS: 22 | DM: 17 | HB: 21 | RB: 21 | CB: 18 | JG: 22 | AVG: 20.2)

After beating four-time world champ Italy over two legs to qualify for Russia, the Swedes justifiably fancy their chances of advancing – to the point where they didn’t even bother trying to lure all-time top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic out of international retirement. — DM

21. Nigeria

(LS: 24 | DM: 27 | HB: 17 | RB: 18 | CB: 22 | JG: 20 | AVG: 21.3)

The Super Eagles reached a fifth World Cup in six editions by strolling through qualifying. Nigeria has yet to make it past the Round of 16, and this probably won’t be the team to do it either. In Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi and Wilfred Ndidi, there is promising young talent in the team, of whom the 22-year-old Iwobi is the oldest. But the rest of the squad is mediocre, as are Nigeria’s chances. — LS

22. Costa Rica

(LS: 21 | DM: 14 | HB: 27 | RB: 24 | CB: 19 | JG: 25 | AVG: 21.7)

Christian Pulisic will more likely be found in Costco than Moscow this summer, thanks in part to Costa Rica. Oscar Ramirez’s side overpowered the USMNT in the Hex to the tune of a 6-0 aggregate scoreline, while securing a second consecutive World Cup berth. Los Ticos were the true surprise package in 2014, topping a group in which they were expected to finish rock-bottom, before taking the Netherlands to a shootout in the quarterfinals. This is a young and relatively inexperienced squad, but given their track record, it would be churlish to dismiss a side featuring the likes of Bryan Ruiz and Keylor Navas. — RB

23. Senegal

(LS: 23 | DM: 21 | HB: 19 | RB: 25 | CB: 30 | JG: 19 | AVG: 22.8)

The Lions of Teranga have the talent of a quarterfinalist but the uncertainty of a group stage flop. The likes of Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly make them dangerous. A lack of World Cup experience, though, and a manager who seems unsure of what system to play, make them difficult to forecast. — HB

24. Morocco

(LS: 17 | DM: 26 | HB: 20 | RB: 23 | CB: 31 | JG: 24 | AVG: 23.5)

Morocco scored 11 goals during the final round of qualifying and conceded zero. It will be a popular dark horse in Russia, and rightly so. It has a diverse collection of European-born talent headlined by Juventus’ Medhi Benatia. The Atlas Lions are outsiders in a group that accounts for the last three European championships, but they’re capable of springing a surprise. — HB

25. Russia

(LS: 31 | DM: 28 | HB: 22 | RB: 22 | CB: 24 | JG: 23 | AVG: 25.0)

FIFA ranks the home team 65th in the world, behind the likes of Albania, Haiti and Burkina Faso. As such, simply emerging from their cupcake group would be a triumph, not least because it would spare Russia the embarrassment of becoming just the second host nation not to advance to the knockout stage. — DM

26. Japan

(LS: 20 | DM: 29 | HB: 30 | RB: 28 | CB: 23 | JG: 28 | AVG: 26.3)

Japan underwhelmed in 2014, and has struggled in the buildup to Russia. It looks like a team caught in between generations at the worst possible time. Group H is there for the taking, but the Blue Samurai are the least likely of four participants to take it. — HB

27. South Korea

(LS: 26 | DM: 23 | HB: 30 | RB: 28 | CB: 23 | JG: 28 | AVG: 26.3)

With nine straight World Cup trips, the Red Devils own the fourth-longest active streak behind only Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain. They’ve advanced from group play just twice during that span, however, and will be hard-pressed to emerge from one of the most fearsome foursomes in Russia, even with dynamic Tottenham striker Son Heung-min as a legit scoring threat up top. — DM

28. Iran

(LS: 29 | DM: 22 | HB: 26 | RB: 29 | CB: 29 | JG: 27 | AVG: 27.0)

Team Melli, as it’s known, is built to frustrate favored opponents, just as it did Argentina for 90 minutes and 28 seconds in 2014. Four years later, though, it possesses a bit more of a counterattacking threat. Spain and Portugal – the latter, especially – must be wary. — HB

29. Australia

(LS: 30 | DM: 25 | HB:  29| RB: 27 | CB: 26 | JG: 30 | AVG: 27.8)

The Socceroos are headed to their fourth straight World Cup, and just their fifth overall. But they’re unlikely to replicate their only trip out of the group stage in 2006. This team beat Honduras in the playoffs but is decidedly lacking in pedigree. Other than 38-year-old all-time leading scorer Tim Cahill and 33-year-old captain Mile Jedinak, the average fan is unlikely to have even heard of anybody on Australia’s roster. — LS

30. Tunisia

(LS: 28 | DM: 30 | HB: 28 | RB: 30 | CB: 28 | JG: 29 | AVG: 28.8)

One of Africa’s five representatives in Russia, Tunisia failed to qualify for the previous two iterations of the World Cup and has only won a single match in four appearances at the tournament. There are no household names in the squad, but to their credit, the Tunisians emerged from qualifying undefeated. If Doctor Strange could foresee 14 million scenarios for the World Cup group stages, it’s likely that only one of them would see Tunisia emerge to the knockout rounds. — RB

31. Panama

(LS: 27 | DM: 31 | HB: 32 | RB: 31 | CB: 27 | JG: 31 | AVG: 29.8)

USMNT fans need no reminding Panama is heading to Russia at the expense of the Yanks, thanks to a ghost goal against Costa Rica in that fateful last round of Hex qualifiers. In their first-ever appearance at the World Cup, Los Canaleros boast a team made up predominantly of domestic-based players, who favor physicality and force over tactics and finesse. Panama will be no pushover, but it’s difficult seeing anything better than an honorable discharge from the group stage. — RB

32. Saudi Arabia

(LS: 32 | DM: 32 | HB: 31 | RB: 32 | CB: 32 | JG: 32 | AVG: 31.8)

After missing out on the last two tourneys following four consecutive appearances, Al-Akhdhar, or The Green, mostly are just happy just to be in Russia. As the weakest squad in the field according to both the FIFA (No. 70) and Elo (67) rankings, odds are they won’t be there for long. — DM

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