When it comes to the World Cup, momentum is everything. Surviving and advancing from the group is an accomplishment all its own, but moving on from here is an even tougher challenge. The remaining field is filled with underdogs, favorites, and everything in between. If the knockout round turns out to be half as exciting as the group stage, we’re in for a treat.
I’ve ranked all 16 teams in order of who I think has the best chances to lift the trophy at this moment. To put together these rankings, I looked at group stage records, goals scored, goals conceded, opponents faced, and the momentum of each team at this point in the tournament. Truth be told, there’s probably some personal bias thrown in there as well, but who doesn’t love a good hunch? This has been a crazy World Cup, but I think one of the favorites will rise to the challenge.
14. South Korea
In this bottom tier, I’ve put a mixture of disappointing teams and inspiring underdogs. Croatia and Poland did enough to survive their groups, but they haven’t given me any confidence they could go further. On the flip side, Australia and South Korea defied the odds to advance from their respective groups, producing some of this tournament’s most wonderful moments. While I’d love to see Son Heung-min power his nation to the quarterfinals, I’m just not feeling it, especially considering the incredible Brazil squad standing in their way. A lack of world-class quality will likely see the Socceroos and the Taeguk Warriors fall short of any more miracles. All four of these teams will probably be packing their bags soon.
Ranks 9 through 12 include some dark horses to win the whole tournament, as well as a former favorite that has been really disappointing. Spain’s 7-0 win against Costa Rica seemed to promise a great tournament on the way, but lackluster performances against Germany and Japan indicate that they used up all their goals in game one. Senegal managed two wins and an unfortunate loss to the Netherlands, but their weak group didn’t really pose much of a challenge. Qatar was rubbish and Ecuador fell apart when they needed to stay composed, so it’s hard for me to give Senegal too much credit. Group A was probably the worst group in the whole tournament, so I’m not giving Senegal or the Netherlands much credit. Neither the USA nor the Netherlands have lost a match, but while the Dutch have largely produced underwhelming performances, the Americans have impressed the world with three solid showings. In fact, the USA are the only team left that has yet to concede a goal from open play. Though scoring has been a problem, I’d tip these guys to at least make the quarter-finals.
As we reach the top half of the teams remaining, I’ve slotted in some nations with talented squads and inspired performances thus far. The Japanese have emerged as giant-killers, taking down Spain and Germany and winning us all over in doing so. If it weren’t for their loss against Costa Rica, I would have put them higher on the list. Switzerland’s composure and professionalism saw them navigate a tough group with relative ease, never losing their heads and following a clear game plan at all times. Both Argentina and Portugal are filled with talent, including two GOATs seeking the missing trophy in their cabinets. While both squads suffered losses in the group, Argentina’s loss seemed to wake them up and Portugal’s came from squad rotation. While I struggled to separate the two, I see Argentina’s two game win-streak as a major positive, helping them edge a Portugal side that could afford to take the foot off the gas for their final game. After ending up on opposite sides of the bracket, the dream of a Messi v. Ronaldo final is still alive and well, and it may just happen.
Now we’re at the business end of the rankings: my tournament favorites. The English have dominated, allowing just two goals in their route of Iran and going on to destroy the Welsh with their backups. Though they couldn’t break down the USA, the Three Lions are looking good. Brazil and France both handled their groups with ease, rotating their squads heavily in their final group matches and dropping points. Had they kept their best 11 on the pitch, there’s little doubt they’d both have three wins to their name. While most people will be surprised to see Morocco this high in the list, take a second to look at what they’ve done. They blanked Croatia and Belgium, allowing just one goal against Canada in a game they didn’t need to win. A combination of underdog mentality and elite level skill from Hakimi and Ziyech could power this squad to a shocking run. Call me crazy, but I just have a funny feeling about this one, especially with a matchup against an underwhelming Spain squad in the next round.
Barring any Cinderella stories, my favorites to win the whole tournament have to be Brazil. They’ve ended up on an easier side of the bracket, avoiding any real contenders until a possible semi-final match against Argentina. While England looks like the best side to me, I just can’t see them beating France and Brazil in the same World Cup. They might make a run at it, but football is probably not coming home this year.
So there it is, my official guide to the remainder of this incredible World Cup. We’ve already seen so many upsets, heartbreaks, and come-from-behind victories; surely, nothing will surprise us now, right? The USA in the semi-finals? Why not! Maybe Captain America will be the one to end Messi’s World Cup dreams. Japan going all the way? I’m here for it. Whatever the next few weeks have in store for us, one thing is certain; it’s going to be an epic ride.