After 56 matches so far, producing drama aplenty from all 32 teams, just eight competitors remain. As we approach the quarter-final ties, here are our power rankings of the eight sides left in the tournament.
8. Croatia – We are at the stage of the competition where there are truly no weak teams left but it’s still incredible to think that the finalists from four years ago might be the weakest team left in the tournament. After squeaking past Japan on penalties, Zlatko Dalić’s side tackle Brazil, who many still consider to be the favourites. It is remarkable what Croatia have managed between the last World Cup and this one but they’re in for their toughest task yet which contributes to their low ranking here.
7. Netherlands – Having flown under the radar throughout the tournament, the three-time losing finalists are still unbeaten. They might not always be the best watch but remain an incredibly organized side, efficient in front of goal. Relatively unchallenged throughout their first four matches, handling the step up in opposition will be key against the Copa America holders Argentina. De Oranje will need to be at their very best.
6. Morocco – Becoming just the fourth African country to reach this point in a World Cup finals, Morocco have conceded the least number of goals so far. In fact, the only goal that has been scored against them came via one of their own players. To get through 390 minutes and concede just once is an incredible feat given their opponents but up next for the Atlas Lions is a Portuguese team who ran riot in their round of 16 game against Switzerland. However, this is likely to be a very similar game to Morocco’s last game against Portugal’s Iberian rivals Spain. Whether the Moroccans can provide another defensive masterclass remains to be seen.
5. England – The Three Lions have scored goal after goal in Qatar, with their dozen goals across four games being the most of the teams remaining. It’s the third time that England has gotten to double digits at a World Cup and on both previous occasions they reached the semi-finals. For them to keep up that streak, they will have to get past the reigning champions France. In what is the tie of the round, England have their work cut out in the only quarter-final matchup to be played between former winners.
4. Portugal – Fernando Santos’ Portugal were at their sparkling best against Switzerland on Monday, finding the back of the net six times. Along with England, the 12 goals scored by Os Navegadores is the most at the tournament – not bad for a team who fell at the round of 16 stage four years ago. Next up is a defensively astute Morocco team, a serious test for Portugal who have largely had it their own way in Qatar up until this point. Focus will be key as a true test of their mettle lies ahead.
3. Argentina – It seems like Argentina have shaken off their shock opening game defeat to Saudi Arabia. It feels like ages since La Albiceleste were stunned by two quick-fire second-half strikes to end their lengthy unbeaten run. Since that defeat, they have looked like the Argentina side everyone was talking about ahead of the tournament. Wins over Mexico, Poland and, more recently, Australia now pits Lionel Scaloni’s men against the Dutch. The pair have had some memorable showdowns in the past, setting the stage for a mouth-watering clash between two footballing juggernauts. This promises to be a fascinating match.
2. France – Les Bleus seem not to have missed a beat in Qatar. There were many questions pre-tournament about the loss of several star players. Yet, so far, Didier Deschamps’ French side has barely shown any weaknesses and looked comfortable in Sunday’s success over Poland. Free-scoring England are the next obstacle in France’s pursuit to become the first team to defend the World Cup title since Brazil did so back in 1962.
1. Brazil – A Seleção ripped South Korea apart at will in the first half of their round of 16 meeting, scoring four times and Tite’s Brazil is showing why they were, and still are, the favourites to go all the way. Croatia are the next team standing in the CONMEBOL team’s way. They have proven to be a challenge to break down, keeping two clean sheets thus far, but with the attacking flair Brazil possesses, the Croats will need to play their cards right.
David Parkes | GWFN