Power Ranking the 32 World Cup Nations After Group Stage Draw
A few weeks ago, we ranked all the 2014 FIFA World Cup nations after all 32 participants had been confirmed—and it caused plenty of debate.
Now, however, the draw has been made and the group stages have been arranged—meaning teams who might previously have been fancied dark horses could suddenly have been stuck with two top sides, significantly reducing their chances.
Elsewhere, a minor nation might have received a favourable draw, boosting their hopes of making the knock-out stages.
As such, we've re-ranked all 32—based largely on how difficult or otherwise their group stage looks.
The Order and the Methodology
Naturally, a few nations are going to be sorted into far lower positions than their real level of ability, on account of receiving a difficult group stage draw.
The ranking, however, draws heavily on how projected performances might dictate how the World Cup plays out.
In Group B, for example, three extremely able nations—Spain, Chile and Netherlands line up alongside Australia—could all reasonably be seen as candidates for the last eight or beyond, but (at least) one is not going to progress past the group stage.
The rankings are firstly sorted by stages, so all teams who are not projected to reach the knock-out phase (comprising 16 nations) will be ranked 32 to 17. The top 16 places will be naturally reserved for those who are expected to make the latter stages.
Within each mini-group (group stage sides, first knock-out stage sides, quarter-final sides, etc) in the rankings, the order will be sorted by a combination of the perceived level of ability of the nation, the difficulty of their World Cup group and their expected finishing position.
Australia have a somewhat ageing squad which has not been able to replace previous generations' talent with younger blood at the same level of performance.
Placed in Group B, Australia have been given a simply horrible draw and face a major battle to get a single point, never mind qualify.
They will be rank outsiders for the 2014 World Cup.
Iran are in for a difficult time when they travel to Brazil.
They will contest Group F against Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria and, though it's not the toughest draw they could have gotten, they'll still do well to have any major success.
Iran have to be considered the fourth-ranked side in the group.
30. Costa Rica
Costa Rica had the best defensive record in the Hexagonal during qualifiers and they'll need that strength to stay with them during the tournament proper against the likes of Mario Balotelli, Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney.
With a difficult-looking Group D ahead of them, where they will face Italy, Uruguay and England, Costa Rica will hope that being closer-to-home than the Europeans will give them some advantage with the conditions, but it's still a big ask.
They are perhaps in with a shout of third, but even that will require at least one surprise result.
Algeria have made it to back-to-back World Cup finals after beating Burkina Faso in the last round of the African zone qualifiers.
They are in Group H with Belgium, Russia and Korea Republic.
While none are stand-out in terms of World Cup history, all three certainly have individuals which better anything Algeria can offer and Belgium, certainly, are expected to take one place.
Algeria will do well to avoid bottom place in their group.
28. United States
The United States will face the pressure of expectation after finishing top of the Hexagonal during qualification.
The World Cup group stage draw has not been kind to them, though: Ghana, Portugal and Germany are their three opponents in Group G.
It is likely that the two European nations will have far too much for the United States and even Ghana will be a tough match. It's not the outcome they'll hope for, but fourth in the group is their ranking.
What can Cameroon achieve in Brazil? They're maybe the most historical African nation at the World Cup, yet they face a difficult task this time.
Drawn in Group A alongside hosts Brazil, Croatia and Mexico, it's certainly a diverse and interesting draw to watch, but overall it's likely to be too strong for the Africans.
They'll end bottom, though perhaps not without a win somewhere along the way.
Honduras have made their second World Cup finals in succession after not previously reaching one since their very first appearance in 1982—but here's where the story could end early.
They face Ecuador, France and Switzerland in a difficult Group E, and Honduras will have to be at their best to get anything from the European sides. A direct rivalry with Ecuador will be their best hope, but fourth-place beckons.
25. Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast are many viewers' best competitor from Africa, though they have never managed to actually get out of the group stage at the World Cup. This time they'll hope to call on the likes of Yaya Toure, Gervinho and Didier Drogba to ensure they finally achieve it.
However, disappointment beckons once more for Ivory Coast, who have been handed a draw in Group C alongside three tough opponents in Japan, Greece and Colombia.
All have their own strengths, and the African side won't overcome enough of them to qualify.
Making the quarterfinals of World Cup 2010 was a superb achievement for Ghana and there will be expectations on them to go close to equalling that in Brazil.
Group G is extremely tough, though, and though they should finish ahead of the United States, they're going to find it difficult to end ahead of either Portugal or Germany.
Third for Ghana.
Nigeria are the Africa Cup of Nations current holders and qualified easily for the World Cup finals at the expense of Ethiopia.
Unfortunately for them, being grouped with Bosnia and Argentina means they're likely to complete a quintet of African sides who fail to reach the knock-outs in Brazil.
Third place, ahead of Iran, but not enough to trouble the two favourites.
Ecuador's passage to the finals in Brazil was secured largely as a result of their home form during qualifiers; seven of their eight home matches were won—yet they failed to win a single match away from home, drawing three and losing five.
In Brazil, they will have the advantage of being closer to home than their group rivals Honduras, Ecuador and Switzerland—but not enough quality to overcome the two European teams without a certain amount of luck or a surprise result along the way.
Not since 1986 and still under the name of the old Soviet Union have Russia managed to get out of the group stages at a World Cup finals.
Led by Fabio Capello and with the likes of Alan Dzagoev, Roman Shirokov and Aleksandr Kokorin, on paper they should be capable of achieving it this time.
Looking at the draw though, Group H could well defeat them: they should finish ahead of Algeria, but Belgium and Korea Republic are too good for Russia. This could well be a tight group, but Russia's relatively recent history of tournament choking goes against them.
Croatia have changed managers en-route to making the World Cup via the UEFA playoffs, and saw Mario Mandzukic sent off in their final game, meaning he'll be suspended for at least one and up to three games at the finals.
That will be a huge disappointment, as Croatia have been drawn in Group A against Brazil, Mexico and Cameroon.
They'll have to be at their best and far more settled tactically to progress past the groups, but we're predicting a third-place finish here.
Euro 2004 winners Greece have never exactly been the neutral's favourite to watch as a result of their gritty and rather defensive nature of playing, but they have used their talents to reach a second World Cup in succession.
They certainly could make it through this group, though the conditions could play far more into the hands of their rivals than Greece themselves, meaning that although they'll push the likes of Japan and Colombia, they won't finish ahead of them.
England always have big expectations on them from back home, often unrealistic ones, but this World Cup could provide a new low.
The draw saw them into Group D with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
There's certainly the potential for England to beat one of the bigger teams in that group, but do they have the consistency, confidence and flexibility to win two or more games? Probably not, and that will equal third place and an early exit.
Holland were runners-up at the last World Cup and will be one of the favourites to at least reach the last eight this time in Brazil. They were beaten by Spain in the final last time out, but they'll get an immediate chance to rectify that—they face Spain in their group opener.
Unfortunately, it doesn't get much easier thereafter, with Chile and Australia also in the group.
Something's got to give in Group B, and in this instance it's Holland who suffer the big-name group-stage exit.
Into the top 16 now, and the teams who can hope to reach the knock-out stages.
Chile's strengths in attack are at times countered by a porous defence, with both likely to be important factors in how far they go in Brazil.
While they can qualify from the probable Group of Death, Group B, Chile would need to finish top in all likelihood to avoid Brazil in the knock-outs.
If that happens, while Brazil aren't unbeatable, it seems that it will take a more consistent all-round side than Chile to stop them at present.
A last-16 exit for Chile, but given their group, they'll have done well to get there.
Japan are arguably the strongest side from Asia right now and will be hopeful of making a good impact in Brazil.
They will have their work cut out to finish above Ivory Coast and Greece, but they should have enough to do it.
If they make it through, they'll face a tough fixture against one of the top two of Group D, whoever that might happen to be. Either way that might be a step too far, given those potential opponents.
Second round exit.
14. Korea Republic
Korea Republic can hope to have a good impact at the World Cup once more, following their Round of 16 exit in South Africa in 2010. This is their eighth finals in a row, a superb record.
Korea Republic will have to beat Russia in a direct confrontation more than likely, but they are capable of doing that to qualify.
If they finish second, though, there's a good chance they'll play Germany in the second round. And their adventure could end there.
A talented and relatively young Switzerland side has plenty of options in attack, though perhaps a stand-out name or two in defence would make a big difference.
Switzerland should have enough about them to get through the group stages, but they will likely face a very difficult task in the knock-outs.
A last-16 exit will be no slight on their ability.
Goals were a problem for Mexico in the qualifiers, but after going through four different managers in qualifying, they have made it to Brazil.
Despite only scraping through to the World Cup, Mexico will suddenly fancy their chances of making a decent impact.
They have enough to qualify ahead of Cameroon and Croatia in Group A. The problem is, though, if they finish as runners-up behind Brazil...they could well play the reigning holders Spain.
Almost 16 years after their last showing at a World Cup, Colombia are back on the big stage after finishing second in the CONMEBOL qualifying league table.
Group C could honestly go any way, with four well-matched sides, but Colombia will believe they can get through to the knock-out stages.
A last-16 performance could be seen as a big step for them, but anything further will be difficult.
Bosnia-Herzegovina's rise from fledgling nation to qualifying for the World Cup has been gradual yet progressive, and this current side has plenty of exciting talent to look out for.
They have enough to get through the group stage past Nigeria or Iran but might find it hard to top Group F ahead of Argentina.
That would mean a potential meeting against the likes of France, which could be a step too far. Still, a last 16 place in the debut tournament would be an excellent display.
Cristiano Ronaldo powered his (and his nation's) way past Sweden to see Portugal through to the World Cup after the UEFA zone playoffs.
Portugal have Germany, Ghana and USA in Group G and should now have enough to get through to the knockout stages, and really they have the talent to go beyond the last 16.
However, they have perhaps not been as good, tactically or in terms of consistency, as they need to be to go beyond the second round.
Into the quarterfinals now and any of these sides could think they have a chance of going significantly further by this stage.
Italy are first up and might be looking to their exciting front line to fire them to victory, including the likes of Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Balotelli.
A tough Group D for Italy could well bring out the best in them, and if they get through it unscathed then they'll be favourites against any of the Group C nations.
The big clashes will come in the last eight, and perhaps this Italy side doesn't have enough to go beyond that stage.
Uruguay produced a stunning end to their qualification campaign to steal fifth spot and then make their way to the World Cup finals via the intercontinental playoff system.
Like Italy, they'll have to play well to get through Group D, but should be able to overcome most Group C nations in the second round.
Another quarterfinal appearance for Uruguay.
France will be under pressure to produce a big performance at the finals after only making it out of the group stages once since they won the World Cup in 1998.
Even so, they should relatively cruise through Group E and, if they avoid Argentina in the second round, should also look good for a last-eight appearance.
They're not one of the very best sides around, but can still beat the big teams on their day.
In Group H, Belgium will feel expectancy to get through past Algeria, Russia and Korea Republic—but have the talent to do so.
It's entirely possible that their mettle and ability will be severely tested by Portugal in the second round and the true level of this talented young side could be found out, or proven, a that point.
We'll back them to reach the quarterfinals and prove that good times are ahead.
The four semifinalists now, ranked by how difficult their groups are and thus how they might be expected to fare during the tournament as a whole.
In reality, any of these four could be chosen as likely winners if all four make up the semifinals.
Spain are the current World Cup holders and few would go against them making it four major tournament wins in a row in Brazil.
They face a tough Group B against Chile and Netherlands but will still come through it. The likes of Mexico and Uruguay could easily follow, but they're not three-time major tournament winners since 2008 for no reason, and they can go right to the last four.
Spain against Argentina anyone?
Germany have a huge squad to choose from and a very high standard to uphold at World Cup finals.
Portugal, USA and Ghana should not provide anywhere near enough opposition to stop Germany, who should be looking at finishing top.
A potentially difficult second round and quarterfinal should still be navigated by Germany even if they come up against the likes of France, Korea or Bosnia along the way.
They're one of the top sides and could be the first truly difficult side that Brazil face in the tournament.
Leo Messi, the World Cup and Brazil. It almost seems to fit just a little too well for the man who has been the best player on the planet for the past few years.
The draw throws up the question, though: do Argentina have the most favourable potential run of all?
They should come out on top of Group F ahead of Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria, meaning a second round clash against the likes of Switzerland, France or Ecuador, all of whom are beatable by a team of Argentina's stature.
Even at the quarterfinal stage they'll face at best the likes of Belgium or Portugal.
It could be a relatively straight-forward run to the semifinals for Argentina, who will by then be one of the biggest threats to the host nation to take home the major prize.
The world's eyes will be on Brazil next year—both the country and the team.
A nice, if exciting, Group A sees them pitted against Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. Brazil will be favourites to progress top of that quartet, and everything then depends on if they face the likes of Spain or Holland in the next round.
If they do, anything can happen—but if it's South American rivals Chile, expect Brazil to go from strength to strength.
They'll reach the last four and will still be a great shout to win the tournament outright at this point.