The group stage is done, so lets start ranking teams. They are separated in order of points, goal difference (GD), goals scored (GS) and then disciplinary record, before noting where they came relative to their place in the last World Cup.
32. Panama: 0 Points, -9 GD (NA)
I suppose it should not be too surprising that the side with the worst GD in qualifying of all qualified teams wound up at the bottom of the pile in the finals. Panama’s resistance to the big guys lasted little over a half of football against Belgium, and from there the flood-gates opened, with Belgium romping home, with a well-earned hammering from England, and a routine come-from-behind from Tunisia. Panama should never have been here, and their disastrous input will only increase the misery of the United States, who even in their recent bout of awful form would have done better.
31. Egypt: 0 points, -3 GD (NA)
The Salah show came a serious cropper in Russia. Whether playing injured or left hopelessly isolated by his inferior national team, Salah was unable to influence Egypt’s fortunes much, as they suffered from an overly-cautious approach to Uruguay, were undone by the hosts with remarkable ease, and then faltered to a very disappointing loss to near-neighbours Saudi Arabia. Having consistently been hailed as one of the best teams to miss the World Cup every time since their last outing, you would have expected more.
30. Iceland: 1 point, -4 GD (NA)
The strength of the spirit was undimmed, but the spirit just wasn’t enough. The pre-tournament injuries and the inexperience at this level obviously told past the first game, when Iceland put up a very creditable performance against Argentina, but the failure of the game-plan against Nigeria was critical and, in combination with a similar pattern against Croatia, showcased a team who need to start performing better in front of goal if they want to prevent a regression. All going well, the experience of this tournament will stand to them, and they can now start focusing on the run to 2020.
29. Australia: 1 point, -3 GD, 2 GS, 7 yellow cards (+1)
It’s another case of “Difficult to beat, but hard to lose to” for the Socceroos. It’s undeniable now that Australia have reached some manner of ceiling, having performed much the same way in several tournaments in a row. They can frustrate and grind out draws if fortunate, but when it comes to the other end, only two penalties got them on the scoresheet. France were too good to be held and Peru brushed them aside, with only Denmark failing to get a winner. The managerial turmoil obviously didn’t help, and you would hope that over the next few years Australia might revert back to the more attacking mindset that got them through qualifying.
28. Costa Rica: 1 point, -3 GD, 2 GS, 6 yellow cards (-23)
Let the calls of fluke begin. A terribly disappointing result for a Central American team that has pretensions of being considered a consistently major player in their federation, Costa Rica never got going after that first game defeat to Serbia, content to frustrate, time-waste and generally act the maggot against Brazil, before deservedly conceding two in injury time. An all-too-late rally and showcase of their quality against Switzerland wasn’t enough to redeem them fully. This was a talented squad, but 2014 appears to have been their peak, and only lows seem possible in the future.
27. Morocco: 1 point, -2 GD (NA)
The power of their final game performance was impressive, but it should not hide the reality that this is a disappointing performance from a side that could have done more to challenge the top two of their group. Failing to go all-out in the first, very winnable, game against Iran was a killer, and though the concession was cruel, it was hardly a gigantic injustice. From there they needed to give it their all against Portugal but failed to, ineffective in attack, and never exerting the kind of control on the game that they needed to. Battling hard against Spain was all well and good, but the conceded goals were sloppy. Another World Cup, another underwhelming African side making up the numbers.
26. Saudi Arabia: 3 points, -5 GD (NA)
Hard to believe, after the first match, that the Saudi’s aren’t anywhere near the wooden spoon. The thrashing doled out by the hosts was embarrassing, with Saudi Arabia showcasing their lack of quality and lack of fitness. A lackadaisical Uruguay outfit still managed a win without undue trouble, and it was only against Egypt, in a dead rubber, that they showed why there are signs of hope in the Saudi camp, with a bit more of an effective attacking display. But signs is all they are, and there are no firm indications yet that Saudi Arabia are anywhere near where they want to be.
25. Poland: 3 points, -3 GD, 2 GS (NA)
The highest-ranking side to go out this early, Russia 2018 has to be considered nothing short of a disaster for the Poles, who simply failed to turn up in their first two games. Officiating misfortune was only one part of the defeat to a more capable Senegalese team, and they looked distinctly ordinary against Columbia, before salvaging some pride against the a Japanese that didn’t even try for the last ten minutes. Lewandowski never performed, and the team’s fitness levels generally were poor. Is Poland’s nadir upcoming?
24. Tunisia: 3 points, -3 GD, 5 GS (NA)
It was always going to be a struggle for the North Africans, as soon as Harry Kane won all three points for England in their opening game. Tunisia’s backs to the wall mentality failed to pay dividends there and, forced to come out of their shell and play football against Belgium, they got over-run and annihilated, with frailties exposed in all parts of the pitch. A final game win against Panama spares only a few blushes. Their WWE-style defensive philosophy has won them few admirers.
23. Serbia: 3 points, -2 GD, 2 GS, 9 Yellow’s (-9 disciplinary points) (NA)
It was a tough group for Serbia, and of four teams with a chance of progressing, it was their lot to miss out, largely due to coming up short to Switzerland in game two, albeit in somewhat controversial fashion. Serbia, once genuine dark horses, have had to settle down into the role of “happy to be here”, despite the obvious talent in their team. The inability to contain Brazil, and their lack of counter-punch when they conceded in that last game, is proof enough that they aren’t up to the very top level right now.
22. Germany: 3 points, -2 GD, 2 GS, 1 Red, 2 yellows (-5 disciplinary points) (-21)
Oh boy, what to say? Germany become the third straight defending champions to go out in the first round, bamboozled by the strength of the Mexican counter-attack, scrapping over the line against Sweden, and then failing spectacularly against South Korea, when a single goal would have seen them through. The defence looked shockingly ragged at times, and the previous star-men, most notably Ozil, didn’t show-up, in a series of flat, toothless performances. Apparently suffering from squad discord, it might be time for Loew to consider his position. This is real “end of cycle” stuff, and the re-building should start now.
21. Nigeria: 3 points, -1GD (-5)
A bitter ending, where blind luck as much as anything decided things for Argentina, is bound to dominate Nigerian thinking for this tournament, but there are positives. After an opening disaster against Croatia, they bounced back very admirably, putting Iceland to the sword before dominating large stretches of the final game, a game they really should have gotten something out of. Despite failing to progress, this was a big step-up from previous tournament performances, and speaks well of recent efforts to reform the Nigerian FA and promote a greater unity within the senior team.
20. Peru: 3 points, 0 GD, 2 GS (NA)
This has to be considered a disappointing return for a side so high up FIFA rankings, that overcame the legal obstacles placed in front of star man Paolo Guerrero. Perhaps inexperience at the top table played a part in the lack of finish, and the lack of composure when things went wrong against Denmark and France. The Danish game especially, with the one goal being a killer blow, seemed to knock the confidence out of Peru, and it was only in the last game that they seemed to play to the level that you would expect. Something to build on, and they’d want to be quick about it, because this squad won’t be at this level forever.
19. South Korea: 3 points, 0 GD, 3 GS (+8)
The positive final result against Germany should not hide the reality that this tournament was another Finals failure for South Korea, who have never come close to matching the heroics of ’02. They never really looked likely to beat Sweden, were undone fairly easily by Mexico, and needed injury time goals against a dis-spirited flat German side to claim their only points, one of them aN “empty-netter”. Lacking in all areas of the pitch, and bizarrely willing to fall back on time-wasting tactics in their last game, even as they still had a chance to progress, really leaves a sour taste.
18. Iran: 4 points, 0 GD (+10)
The highest ranked Asian side could not progress out a difficult group, largely due to a simple “too little, too late” performance against Spain in the second game. A gift of an own goal had given them a real shot at getting out of the group, but their willingness to sit back and let an otherwise unexceptional Spanish side come at them cost them dearly. Just like with the last game, by the time they decided to play football, it was too late. That bad-tempered final game against Portugal, where the Iranians and their coach looked like they preferred to blame VAR for all of their self-inflicted ills rather than face up to them, was the cherry on top of a final position and points out of kilter to their actual performances. They are no nearer to making the breakthrough than they were four years ago.
17. Senegal: 4 points, 4 GD (NA)
The best of the rest caps an utterly miserable tournament for the CAF sides, with all five of them crashing out in the First Round. It didn’t seem likely for Senegal after a quickfire win against Poland and a 2-2 draw with Japan where they arguably should have put the game to bed before Japan were given the chance to bounce back. All they needed then was a draw against Columbia, but then the flaws really came into plain sight: an over-reliance on opposition mistakes, all-too-easily simulating and no plan B when everything went wrong. Senegal were Africa’s best hope, and that says a lot.
So, how did I do prediction wise? Looking at group position and qualifiers for a total of six predictions per group, for an overall total of 48 I got: 27! A solid 56%!
Looking ahead at the Last 16, here’s my picks for who is going on to the quarter-finals.
It took a while for Uruguay to get going, but they showed the real quality in the Russian game. Portugal, in contract, have played poorer in every game and, barring another showcase from Ronaldo, I think they are going home. Prediction: Uruguay.
France eased home in their group and have yet to really be tested. But judging from the state of Argentina’s squad cohesion and tendency to buckle under pressure, France’s test might have to wait until the next round. Prediction: France.
In a re-match from their fractious draw in 2014, Brazil should on paper, be more than good enough to account for Mexico. Much will depend on who can get the first goal, with Brazil still showing some mental fragility, and Mexico going into this game after a woeful loss to Sweden. Despite improvements, another Second Round exit beckons. Prediction: Brazil
Probably the most impressive team in the tournament so far, Belgium has dispensed with all of their opposition with relative ease, and this game should be no exception. Japan have impressed, playing far better than expected, but getting this far is a result in itself. Prediction: Belgium
Spain appear to have weathered the managerial turmoil that threatened calamity, and their reward is as easy a Second Round match as they could get, on paper. Russia have done far better than it appeared they would do, but this really should be the end of the line. Prediction: Spain
Croatia have rivalled Belgium for performance, and need to be considered among tournament favourites now. Denmark, in contrast, struggled at times in the group stages, and it’s hard to see them going any further. Prediction: Croatia
One of the major beneficiaries of Germany’s collapse, Sweden have proven themselves one of the tournaments most hard-to-play sides, with an attacking threat few perceived when things started. Switzerland, for their part, have also proven hard-to-beat, and after getting by Brazil and Serbia will have no trepidation of this challenge. Prediction: Sweden
But for that early red card, Columbia might well be considered the team to beat in the knock-out stages, with a rip-roaring return to form in their second and third group matches. England haven’t looked as convincing, even with a demolishing for Panama, and arrogant talk of the “easy side of the draw” could easily back fire. Prediction: Columbia