World Cup: Ranking the 32 nations based on squad strength
The FIFA World Cup is upon us. All participating nations have revealed their contingents. Squad strength doesn't guarantee success but what if it did? Who would be the world champion. Who would be the first to bow out? Here’s how we rate the 32 participants.
Thanks to the ineptness of the United States, at football, not electing presidents, Panama skated into Russia by the skin of their teeth. They were surprise qualifiers but unlikely to cause any further upsets. Not with an ageing squad valued at a meagre £8.48 million. Thanks for playing. Johnny has a nice parting gift for you.
The Green Falcons soared in the Asian qualifiers, finishing above Australia on goal difference. But with a predominantly locally-based team somehow estimated to be twice as valuable as Panama, expect their wings to get clipped.
The Carthage Eagles parade a pretty decent squad littered with French-born players. Stade Rennais’ Wahbi Khazri is its fulcrum. Manager Nabil Maalouf is barely three games in charge, however. The players will struggle to adapt to his system. England and Belgium are licking their chops.
Peru is making a return to the global showpiece after a torturous 34-year absence. Much of that was down to inspirational skipper Paolo Guerrero. La Blanquirroja is quite a formidable unit but the lack of quality beyond the captain will haunt them against France and Denmark.
Only South Africa has hosted and failed to sail past the group stage. The Rainbow nation may soon get a new company in Russia. Despite having an experienced crop, Sbornaya has been dreadful in warm-up matches, losing their last five on the spin.
Iran means business. Team Melli was first to qualify. Carlos Queiroz's side were so bored they stormed Russia earlier than anticipated. Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh will lead the true assault but against Portugal and Spain, they may be forced to retreat.
Son Heung-min is South Korea's torchbearer in Russia. That the Tottenham Hotspur forward is valued as much as the rest of the team says a lot about the Taeguk Warriors' potential. They will need more than one world-class player to handle Sweden, let alone Germany and Mexico.
The Atlas Lions boast quality in defence and a glut of creative midfield players but lack cutting edge in attack. They've enjoyed a revival under Herve Renard, the former Ivory Coast boss, but they'll be battling Iran for third-place honours in a group that includes Spain and Portugal.
Australian football is at an all-time low. Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy is Socceroos' sole European star these days. They were fortunate to make the cut after manager Ange Postecoglou's shock departure. Thirty-eight-year-old Tim Cahill is still around, though.
Los Ticos surprised everyone in 2014, making a run all the way to the last-eight. A staunch defensive effort was paired with efficient, deadly play on the counter. The current crop isn’t far off the quality of the 2014 squad. They're not getting out of a group that includes Brazil, Sweden, and Serbia, though.
On paper, Japan flaunts the most talented, extravagant Asian squad, with a combined outlay around £66 million. Like the Aussies and Tunisians, however, they'll struggle to cope with a late managerial change.
Without Mohamed Salah, Egypt is a barren squad, no matter how much Arsene Wenger valued Mohamed Elneny. The Liverpool superstar is worth nearly all the rest of the Pharaohs combined. Thanks to Sergio Ramos, Egypt will be at half strength for at least the first two games.
Isn't it rather shameful that no player from the Swedish league could find a seat on the Russian flight? Still, Janne Andersson parades a tactically astute side, gallant in defence but toothless in attack. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has his own problems in LA, at the moment.
Iceland is a nation on a mission. Their motto is “Let's make our dream come true.” After an improbable run at Euro 2016, the Icelanders are dreaming bigger, even with a patchy squad. Advancing past the group stage should be a realistic target, though.
With an average age near 25, the Super Eagles are the youngest squad in Russia. They'll have strength, speed, and confidence on their side. Experience will be their Achilles heel against Argentina and Croatia. If they can overcome it to move into the knockout stages, it will only get tougher.
The Terenga Lions posses the strongest contingent among African teams represented in the competition. Alou Cisse has the luxury of seasoned Premier League, Serie A and French Ligue 1 stars from whom to choose. Senegal is in arguably the most balanced group, with Colombia, Poland and Japan. They can progress but so can the rest.
If Jose Mourinho moves into international management, this is the nation for him. Serbia is extremely solid in defence and midfield but can't brag the same depth in the final third. Aleksandr Mitrovic's return to form and Luka Jovic’s emergence could be key.
A World Cup tourney without Mexico is like Arsenal bereft of European football. Like the Gunners, El Tri has a magical recipe for reaching the Mundial yet none for winning it. That may likely continue in Russia, especially with the second oldest squad.
The Swiss are a quirky team. They possess the necessary quality to trouble Tite's men, rival fellow Europeans Serbia and outwit Costa Rica. The second round is feasible. Progressing deep into the knockout rounds is another matter.
Heavy cracks have surfaced in a once flawless Pole side, particularly in attack. The White and Reds are overly reliant on Robert Lewandowski for goals. When he’s off his usual rhythm, they suffer. That much was evident in the pre-World Cup lacklustre stalemate with Uruguay that was succeeded by defeats to Mexico and Nigeria.
Overall, Denmark is a grand side even though they are dependent on Cristian Eriksen to make things happen, Age Hareide has other options when things don’t go Eriksen's way. Celta Vigo’s Pione Sisto and Leipzig's Yussuf Poulson can be influential, too.
Colombia has a bit of everything; youth, flair, experience. Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez patrol the eighteen-yard box. James Rodriguez brings class and creativity. Radamel Falcao is a clinical finisher. That should be about enough to sneak them to the last-eight.
The Croats are the tournament's dark horses. Vatreni is spoilt for choice in midfield and has sufficient attacking quality to scale through the first two rounds unscathed. Anything beyond will be a bonus.
As always, Uruguay's lack of quality in the middle of the park could haunt them. Oscar Tabarez’s men are solid in defence and deadly finishers, but Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez will spend much of the tournament dropping deeper to pick up the ball.
For the first time in a long while, there's a breath of fresh air around the Portuguese squad. A new level of optimism owing to a European Championship and an injection of youth. The likes of Gonçalo Guedes, Andre Silva and Bernando Silva will only make things easier for Cristiano Ronaldo.
After a lost generation categorized by underachieving superstars, a new, young crop is showing promise. The Three Lions have pace in attack, calm in midfield, experience at the back. Should they keep their heads above water, the semifinals are a possibility.
The Albiceleste are obviously built around Lionel Messi. Everything productive goes through the Barcelona superstar. They are just too talented to not make a deep run. Jorge Sampaoli's side should speed pass Nigeria, Croatia and Iceland and into the late rounds before running out of fuel.
Roberto Martinez caused an uproar by snubbing Radja Nainggolan. Even without the Roma midfielder, the Belgium boss has enough individual quality to compete for the title. Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bryune will be his henchmen. The question is whether there is enough grit.
Even with several star players left at home, Les Bleus are the most expensive squad in Russia, valued at almost £1 billion. It won't be enough, though. Inexperience, poor leadership, and a clear game plan's absence will conspire to ruin their chance.
Joachim Low retained the spine that conquered the world four years ago. He's thrown some youth into the mix. Timo Werner, Julian Brandt and Leon Goretzka have points to prove. Marci Reus' availability is an added bonus. Leroy Sane's absence? It's not as significant as Radja Nainggolan's. The problems are in goal. Manuel Neuer isn't ready. Marc Andre ter Stegen must prove he is.
Spain is second to France in terms of estimated market outlay for its squad members. La Roja, however, is miles ahead on depth. Gone are the days of Xavi pinging the ball around the park with his running mate Andres Iniesta. Julen Lopetegui has invented his own style and he has as many weapons as he needs to make it work.
Brazil is and may forever be the clear favourite before any tournament but there's something quite distinctive about this group. Under Tite, the Selecao have become ruthlessly efficient in every aspect. They fear no team. To prove it, the gaffer named his starting lineup for the first game months ahead. Such arrogance is true hallmark of champions.