The 2014 World Cup group stage is now complete, and the original 32 team field has been trimmed to 16 after a two-week round-robin bonanza. The EDIZD staff members have each ranked the remaining teams 1-16 as we say our final goodbyes to a thrilling group stage and get ready for what will surely be a superb knockout stage. (NOTE: this is quite long, so it may be best to view the rankings in chunks.)
1. Holland: Louis Van Gaal has taken this team and molded it in his own image. The Dutch play quick, controlled football and you always feel like they’re a Robben run away from scoring.
2. France: Benzema’s Boys have erased all the fears I had coming into Brazil. They look like a complete team, balanced and able to attack you in a number of ways.
3. Chile: The Bielsa template is still there. Chile press like there’s no tomorrow, hounding teams into making mistakes. Their lack of defensive height and Arturo Vidal’s fitness are still concerns, however.
5. Germany: Like their cars, the Germans were efficient during the group stages. They blew away a weak Portugal side, were somewhat exposed against Ghana, and did just enough against the US to advance. Fullbacks are still a concern if Lahm is going to be a CDM, however.
6. Brazil: The hosts weren’t that impressive, truth be told. They depend entirely too much on Neymar’s goal scoring and their defense is suspect. This team goes as far as playmaker Oscar takes them.
7. Costa Rica: Defense is the name of the game for the surprise of the tournament so far. No one picked Costa Rica to advance out of their group of heavyweights, but while Uruguay, Italy and England worried about each other, Costa Rica did just enough to surprise them and come out as group winners.
8. Argentina: Messi, Messi, Messi. Without Messi’s goals, Argentina would have a measly two points. Sabella’s tactics hinder their chances more than help them, and a stout defensive team willing to sit deep and absorb their attacks can derail them.
10. Belgium: Think of them as Germany lite. Belgium did just enough to come out as leaders of their group. Like Germany, they weren’t as impressive as they were thought to be, and full backs are a concern. They only have one.
11. Switzerland: France exposed the suspect Swiss defense. Their full backs attack way too much, leaving teams acres of space to attack. This could be a MAJOR problem against Argentina.
12. Uruguay: The Suarez ban probably seals their fate. Uruguay aren’t as impressive without their talisman, lacking the attacking bite Luis provides. While Edinson Cavani has been good in spurts, he doesn’t have the guile required to lead a line, no matter how much he wants to be a 9.
13. United States: The US has spirit in spades. They do, however, lack the skill required to advance. Michael Bradley is tasked to do too much with Jozy Altidore out injured, and his form (or lack thereof) is paramount to that.
14. Algeria: The Algerians are a joy to watch. They press with such force and attack with a lot of style. Their form in the group stages was erratic, however, and they are prone to mental breakdowns.
15. Nigeria: The Nigerians are probably lucky to be here. Their attacking efforts against Argentina notwithstanding, they were lucky that Bosnia’s goal was incorrectly ruled out. On the strength of that, they are here. Eminike is impressive, though.
16. Greece: I hate so much about the things that this team choose to be.
1. Netherlands: Very, very impressive display by LVG’s troops in group stage. The Oranje kicked off its World Cup with a shocking dismantling of Spain and eventually advanced as Group B (aka group of death) winners, scoring 10 times in three wins. Arjen Robben is probably the front-runner to take home the Golden Ball.
2. Colombia: Who needs Radamel Falcao? Not his national team, apparently! James and Juan Cuadrado combined for four goals and five assists in the group stage. The defence put some concerns to bed, as Colombia conceded only twice in the group. This team could make the semifinals.
3. France: I discussed Karim Benzema’s rise to #1 option here, and France are another example of a team thriving without an injured superstar. A potential quarterfinal matchup against Germany looms.
4. Costa Rica: Talk about eating crow. The surprise of the tournament, Costa Rica deservedly topped a group that featured three former World Cup Winners. Los Ticos did not concede in open play and have gone 246 minutes without conceding overall. I think that will be extended to 336 minutes after the Greece game.
5. Chile: This team is fuuuun. Chile’s livelihood is its smooth, hyper-aggressive attack, born out of relentless pressing and led by soon-to-be-ex-Barcelona forward Alexis Sánchez. We could see a lot of goals between Chile and Brazil, especially considering the former’s questions on the backline.
6. Germany: The Germans put some fitness concerns to rest, as they destroyed Portugal, played out an entertaining draw with Ghana, and squeaked past the U.S. to top Group G. Thomas Müller scored his ninth World Cup goal in that final game and could win the Golden Boot.
7. Brazil: The hosts haven’t been terribly impressive as a whole, but Neymar and Oscar were enough to see this team through as Group A winners. The game against Chile will be entertaining, but not easy, and Brazil could feasibly be eliminated as early as the quarterfinals.
8. Mexico: Memo Ochoa almost made it through group play with three straight clean sheets, but Ivan Perišić’s goal three minutes from time in the final game ended that bid. Still, Ochoa (who is available for free, by the way) and Mexico did well enough; that 0-0 with Brazil was the best goalkeeping performance of the group stage. Big test coming up against Holland’s dangerous attack.
9. United States: Good work from the USMNT to advance from a difficult group, but advancing did not come without its share of good fortune. Who could have predicted John Brooks snatching victory from the jaws of a draw, for example? U.S. supporters have reason to be optimistic ahead of the team’s next match, however: Belgium haven’t played that well.
10. Uruguay: Things weren’t looking good for Uruguay after Costa Rica sank its teeth into the vulnerable charrúas back line, but Luis Suárez returned to munch on a youthful England squad, netting a brace to keep his side alive. Diego Godín, who only scores big goals, headed home the winner against Italy less than 10 minutes from time in a game marred by Suárez’s third biting incident. The team and its supporters are awaiting word on the status of an appeal lodged against FIFA after its Suárez sanctions came down Thursday, but Uruguay were in trouble anyway against Colombia.
11. Belgium: I can’t dock Belgium *too* much; after all, the Red Devils are one of four teams left with a 100 per cent record. But, my word, have they been unimpressive. Romelu Lukaku has been nonexistent and sat against South Korea. Eden Hazard has struggled for swaths of game action before breaking loose just before the death. Belgium needed a late goal to win each game, and it may have to keep winning with defence; Marc Wilmots’ side have gone 245 minutes without conceding, and Thibaut Courtois has been beaten only by a Sofiane Feghouli penalty.
12. Argentina: Lionel Messi has been amazing. So what’s the problem? No one else has come close to replicating his form. Argentina really could have finished with two points from three group games. With Sergio Agüero potentially out for the tournament, the farther Argentina go, the more it will need contributions from players not named Messi. Gonzalo Higuaín? Ezequiel Lavezzi? Anybody?
13. Algeria: Algeria have lived up to its billing as an intense, pressing side for the most part, nearly stealing a win against Belgium before running wild on South Korea and clinching its first round of 16 berth thanks to Islam Slimani’s goal one hour into the game with Russia. Algeria won’t beat France, but like Brazil-Chile, the match could be high-scoring.
14. Switzerland: I was expecting a balanced Switzerland side to wow me in Group E. But instead, it needed a late winner to fend off Ecuador and got smashed by a clinical France. A Xherdan Shaqiri hat trick against Honduras saved face, somewhat, but Argentina have a good draw here considering the state of this back line.
15. Nigeria: Emmanuel Emenike was pretty awesome in the group stage, especially against BiH. So was Vincent Enyeama, who will need to conjure up another clean sheet to stun France.
16. Greece: I was very much looking forward to filling out a capsule for the Ivory Coast, but nah. Ten years after Euro 2004, Greece are at it again.
1. Colombia: James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado have been two of the most impressive players in the tournament. They easily broke down Greece’s stingy defense and looked the better side against Cote d’Ivoire and Japan. As of now they have no clear weakness and I think they have the quality to make the semifinals.
2. Holland: After a dumpster fire at Euro 2012, Oranje have bounced back by winning their group of death. They put on an attacking masterclass against Spain, beat an Australian side that’s better than their 0 group stage points and took care of Chile to win the group. Arjen Robben is in top form and could very easily carry them a long way.
3. France: No Ribery, no problem. The question for France is how would they get along without Franck Ribery. So far the answer has been fantastic. Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann have done well on the LW in his place and France has scored eight goals. The defense has been solid too, only allowing two garbage goals against Switzerland. Germany in the quarterfinals will tell us how good this French side really is.
4. Costa Rica: CONCACAF REPRESENT. Costa Rica has been the positive surprise of the tournament thanks in large part of their defense. Allowing one goal in three games while facing Balotelli, Sturridge and Cavani is quite impressive. Costa Rica’s success in the knockout stage will have to come down to what Joel Campbell and other attackers can do.
5. Chile: Chile is really fun to watch in attack with Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas teaming up along with a decent midfield. Chile in defense though? Oof. Their lack of height was exploited by Tim Cahill and could be done again against Brazil if Fred decides to show up. While Chile is certainly aesthetically pleasing, defense will likely be their downfall.
6. Mexico: I have to give a huge amount to Miguel Herrera for taking a team that limped through qualifying into the last 16. Mexico has been stout in defense: their only goal came in garbage time against Croatia. Their offense has been solid enough to do the job at this point. Them against the Netherlands could be the best round of 16 match.
7. Germany: They looked really dominant against Portugal and kept Ronaldo largely in check. Ghana exposed their key weakness for me: not starting natural fullbacks at the fullback positions. Germany needs to get their defense together otherwise France could easily have a field day against them in the quarterfinals.
8. United States: THEY’RE FIRST IN FREEDOM, DAMN IT. Squeaked out a win against Ghana, looked great against Portugal but were outplayed by Germany. Michael Bradley has been shockingly poor and will need to pick up the slack if MURRICA wants to beat Belgium.
9. Brazil: As Neymar goes, Brazil goes. Neymar put Brazil on his back in the group stage with four goals in three games. Other than Neymar though, Brazil has looked underwhelming. Oscar is the only other person who you could say has done well for Brazil thus far. They’ll need others to pick up the slack if they want to win it all on home soil.
10. Argentina: As Messi goes, Argentina goes. Messi put Argentina on his back in the group stage with four goals in three games. Other than Messi though, Argentina has looked underwhelming. Di Maria is the only other who you could say has done well for Argentina thus far. They’ll need others to pick up the slack if they want to win it all in their home continent.
11. Uruguay: I really had to gnash my teeth to figure out where I wanted to rank Uruguay. Costa Rica held them completely in check without Luis Suarez. With Suarez back he single handedly ripped out English hearts everywhere. Against Italy they were strong defensively but their attack lacked bite. Based on what Costa Rica showed us, they need Suarez and won’t have him for Colombia.
12. Greece: Everyone, myself included, hates watching Greece. But give credit where credit is due: they’re very good at what they do. They’re extremely tough to break down at the back and have just enough attacking talent to finagle a goal. They scored two goals in three games and advanced and they’re damn proud of that.
13. Switzerland: Switzerland looked great against Honduras, terrible against France and decent against Ecuador. I’m inclined to give more weight to France’s domination than the Honduras game. Switzerland’s defense is highly suspect and one of the weakest out of the teams who have advanced.
14. Nigeria: Nigeria gave us the most boring game of the tournament in their 0-0 draw with Iran. Let’s ignore its existence. Against Bosnia, Nigeria benefited from a poor offside decision along with Vincent Enyeama going into God mode. Ahmed Musa’s brace showed they do have some attacking firepower at their disposal. The game where Nigeria looked the best was the one they lost, go figure.
15. Algeria: This team’s exciting, at least!
16. Belgium: A group winner at 16 seems odd but Belgium fits the bill. They have looked uninspiring in all three matches. Divok Origi and Dries Mertens are the only people who have impressed me thus far. Belgium has underachieved more than any other team at this tournament to advance and that’s what puts them last for me.
1. Holland: There was a feeling of pessimism behind this iteration of Holland with what happened in Euro 2012 and that fateful night in Johannesburg, one that through three games looks as dumb as the pants Andrew Wiggins wore on draft night. With Robben playing a more central role, RVP’s renaissance and the tactical flexibility behind Van Gaal’s 3-5-2/5-3-2, we may be staring at the first ever European team to win a World Cup on South American soil.
2. Colombia: Bar none the most attractive team to watch (sorry Chile) led by the breakout star of the tournament in James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, and a tempo that’s so intoxicating to watch. They’ve been everything we wanted to see from them and more, with James Rodriguez looking the part as the World’s next great mainstream playmaker.
3. France: Le Pattern is holding up really well so far.
4. Chile: They play 3 at the back, Gary Medel is playing center back, they press like they have the stamina of long distance runners. It’s Biesla ideologies held true, and we could be staring at the team who dethrones Brazil.
5. Costa Rica: #TeamCONCACAF.
6. Germany: A total destruction of Portugal followed by two tame performances against Ghana and the United States. They play a false nine with Lahm playing a central defensive midfield role. They’ve got a cupcake draw into the quarterfinals and they’re good, really good.
7. Mexico: I have to be frank here, this is one of the biggest surprises to me in the World Cup. I had Croatia pegged through to the Round of 16 until out of nowhere, a competent Mexico side started playing like Mexico does at the World Cup. Wet Herrera will be ingrained in the folklore of the World Cup while they’ve surprisingly have been really stout at the back, one of the few teams to do so despite employing Rafa Marquez, who’s played football since the Mesozoic era.
8. Brazil: This is everything we thought of Brazil when we saw them at the Confederations Cup last year. Athletic, dodgy going forward, stout in the midfield with Oscar leading the way. The big question coming up with Brazil is whether Scolari will keep favorite Paulinho over perhaps the better option of Fernandinho. I hate to dumb it down to cliches, but Brazil will live and die with the brilliance of Neymar.
9. Argentina: Even though I have Argentina 9th, I feel much better about their prospects going forward because they have too much talent going forward to look like a team that’s constipated in attack.
10. United States: It’s the plucky Americans who break the top 10. Fabian Johnson was marvelous versus Portugal while Tim Howard continues to be very good in goal. Michael Bradey looks overwhelmed for a USA side that seems to lack formation flexibility relative to other sides in this tournament. Jermaine Jones and John Brooks have become household names while Clint Dempsey continues to be everything a leader should be (he’s also good at football which helps in the leader narrative…) #MURRICA.
11. Uruguay: It’s amazing how much better a team gets when their old CB who has no pace to speak of is dropped for someone who isn’t named Diego Lugano. Suárez is gone and they have to play Colombia in an all South American Round of 16 matchup.
12. Nigeria: a fun team to watch when they have it going, they have one of the great goalkeepers in the world, Emenike gave Bosnia fits, and WOOO AN AFRICAN TEAM MADE THE ROUND OF 16!!!
13. Switzerland: A really open and vulnerable defense for Switzerland that was exposed greatly by Karim Benzema in their group stage encounter. On the bright side though, they gave us one of the great finishes to a World Cup match you’ll see in quite some time.
14. Belgium: Speaking of a team that looks constipated going forward, Belgium top our list on that criteria. Hazard has had moments of brilliance, the Lukaku experiment was a failure unfortunately while Dries Mertens has looked very good coming off the bench. Their encounter with the USA screams of a penalty shootout tied at 0-0.
15. Algeria: WOOO! ANOTHER AFRICAN TEAM MADE THE ROUND OF 16!!!!
16. Greece: You ruined the Ivory Coast’s golden generation’s shot at World cup knockout stage football, you suck!