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World Cup Power Rankings 2022: Brazil clutch; Spain, England and USMNT on the up; Germany collapse – CBS Sports – The latest soccer highlights and football news



It was not always easy on the eye, but Brazil never really gave Serbia much of an opening, grinding them down on the way to a double for Richarlison, one of several in Tite’s XI who struggled for much of the game but delivered in the clutch moments. Maybe they just needed those goals to work their way into the World Cup. Once the floodgates opened, they crashed over a strong opponent in the fashion that reminds you why this team were favorites before everything began.2


Now that was nice. Some will attempt to deploy the caveats that all they did was swat aside a poor Costa Rica side playing below their collective abilities, but what really good teams do is swat those sorts of opponents aside with the sort of swaggering authority that Spain showed. They may even be good enough to have insured themselves against an Alvaro Morata meltdown.3


Handbrake disengaged, England are motoring. It’s hard to answer a lot of questions off one game against Iran, but you could see some of the things Gareth Southgate’s critics wanted in those 90 minutes: Jude Bellingham gives more verticality in midfield, Mason Mount does the little things well and the Three Lions pressed with a little more verve. They may revert to their sufferball ways as the tournament rolls on but perhaps that is no bad thing: they just have plenty of ways to win a game.4


You’d still rather have Karim Benzema in the squad, but France seem to be absolutely fine without him as Olivier Giroud is the best facilitative forward of his generation. Everyone in this team seems to be better for having him to play off. Meanwhile, the drop-off from N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba to Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot was nowhere near as pronounced as might have been feared, though we’re reserving judgement on whether that lasts.5


The Saudi Arabia loss could just have been their version of Spain falling to Switzerland in 2010, but Argentina are now at risk of a few rough breaks in the brackets that include a possible meeting with France in the round of 16. The defense should be fine in the coming games. A bigger worry might be whether future opponents are as effective at forcing Lionel Messi deep.6


Their 2-0 win over Senegal looked rather more convincing on paper than in practice as the Netherlands huffed and puffed their way against an admittedly conservative opponent. Still, if Memphis Depay can fully recover and Cody Gakpo can take another step up this team could create a few problems in the knockout stages.7


Perhaps now that Cristiano Ronaldo has got his latest moment of history, scoring in a fifth World Cup, Portugal could move a more convincing finisher to the point of their attack. Had he not dived for and converted a penalty, this would have been another staging point in Ronaldo’s road of decline. They looked far more effective when Bruno Fernandes was setting the pace and Rafael Leao and Joao Felix were running off him. Their clumsy late defending of a two-goal lead makes one doubt whether they can actually win this tournament even if they’re well placed to reach the latter stages.8


A smorgasbord of the underwhelming, Uruguay’s display in their 0-0 draw with South Korea drew the most ire of this column. They could be so much better and perhaps placing so high is an expression of faith that it might all click. There are players there who could play in a more front-footed fashion and the encouraging sign was that the young guard of Rodrigo Bentancur, Federico Valverde and Darwin Nunez were among their least unimpressive performers. It may, however, be time to ditch Luis Suarez.9


Some of the Jamal Musiala-led interplay they displayed in their opener was a joy to behold, but the cold reality is they lost this game in a group where they did not have much margin for error against the non-European sides. If Japan take just one point from Costa Rica then Hansi Flick’s side have to beat Spain, it’s hard to see them delivering the error-free performance that that might require.10


They might be higher if they did not still have to negotiate a clash with Serbia on the final matchday because Switzerland looked impressive across the pitch against a good Cameroon side. A solid defense and a midfield that can control games makes for good foundations, if Breel Embolo can catch form over the next few weeks then a deep run is possible for this experienced squad.11


Before the tournament we told you to beware their threat from the dead ball, but at some stage Denmark are going to have to do something in open play. Maybe they will find chances easier to come by than against a cautious Tunisia but registering just 0.36 expected goals (xG) from open play does not augur well. 12


The fact that they have three points keeps them high in these rankings because their overall performance against Canada was, as Roberto Martinez and Kevin De Bruyne acknowledged, rather poor indeed. Their ageing backline looked ultra vulnerable to the press and De Bruyne aside there was precious little ingenuity on display. The likes of Eden Hazard can only be in this team on reputation.13


They might have benefitted from missed chances at one end, but do not take for granted the extremely impressive fashion in which Hajime Moriyasu pivoted his side to exploit Germany’s vulnerabilities down the flanks. The string of match-winning substitutions suggest this Japan side have impressive depth with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Takumi Minamino more than capable of bigger roles. Beat Costa Rica and qualification could be firmly within reach.14


One of the hardest teams to assess from the opening round of games, were Ecuador a little bit underwhelming against a poor Qatar side or did they just play as well as they needed to and no better? Certainly, after their early brace to start things up their xG ran almost entirely to a standstill.15


It is only natural that his teammates would defer to Luka Modric, surely the greatest Croatian footballer of all time, but it is perhaps worrying when three-quarters of their successful crosses are coming from their midfield maestro; he cannot be everywhere at once, but against Morocco he needed to be. This has the look of a team that is a little too light on final third menace to go beyond an elegant but somewhat ineffectual XI.16


It appears Aliou Cisse’s approach without Sadio Mane will be to lean into the defensive approach that won this country the Africa Cup of Nations, trusting in Ismaila Sarr in particular to craft a moment of magic at the other end. That it did not entirely work against the Netherlands, when there was simply too much pressure on their goal to hold firm, does not mean it won’t when they come to face Ecuador in what may well be a playoff to join the Dutch in the knockout stages. For it to do so, however, Edouard Mendy must improve.17


One suspects that the cautious approach we saw from Dragan Stojkovic’s side is not going to be replicated in the next two matches, though in the first half they defended manfully in holding Brazil to just five shots. The talent is there but the pressure will be on against Cameroon. If they do not win, there will be huge pressure on them in what could be a feisty clash with Switzerland in the final round.18

Saudi Arabia

From the narrowest of offside margins to the two stunning goals, it is fair to say that Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina was probably not one they could replicate given another 100 attempts, but there are other facets to that performance that can carry them through in Group B. Certainly, when the backline reverted to a more orthodox approach, they did a very good job limiting the shots Argentina had, when two points might be enough to qualify Herve Renard could always lean on the outstanding Hassan Al Tambakti and those around him.19

United States

Their opener only reaffirmed what we already knew about the USMNT. The midfield trio is the great hope, the defense suffers from inexperience at the highest level and the forward line needs some work. Though Christian Pulisic did assist Timothy Weah’s goal, it was perhaps the only real occasion when his point forward work paid off. He needs someone else to take a lead on the playmaking so he can be the player he has grown into at Chelsea, a penalty-box poacher.20

Korea Republic

Holding Uruguay to zero shots on target was fairly impressive even if the post acted as something of a 12th man for South Korea. However, a solid defensive performance came at the cost of an attack that only created one clear-cut chance, spooned over the bar by Hwang Hi-Jo. Heung-min Son looked off and that is not a good sign at all.21


The chances never quite came Morocco’s way in a game where they saw little of the ball, but there was a lot to like in how Walid Regragui’s side held firm against Croatian pressure. Facing Belgium next might suit them as well. If they can get Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazrouai flying up the field, then they could overwhelm a side that looks more leaden footed than even the most pessimistic projections might have thought.22


Having had arguably the better of their tepid draw with Poland, they get to sit slightly the higher on these rankings and if they can replicate their passage of play from around the half-hour mark at Stadium 974, they have a chance. Though Saudi Arabia’s win really has complicated matters for these two teams almost as much as Argentina. They now need to do each other a favor against the Asian side if they are to have any chance of qualifying.23


If your team is reliant on one player to deliver on the biggest stage, it is perhaps not ideal if that player seems to have been struck by an incredibly specific curse that seems to cripple him once every four years. The reality is that Robert Lewandowski does not yet have a World Cup goal because of the issues with the supply line to him, but a missed penalty does not augur well.24


This team can rest assured that its elite talent will deliver after Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale combined to win a penalty, the latter scored following a pretty nothing display beforehand. If their first half against the USMNT was mere nerves, then they will fly up these rankings and perhaps into the last 16, but Iran will have more time to prepare for the threat of Kieffer Moore than the Americans did.25


What an exceptional way to announce your return to the international stage. As John Herdman told his side after their heartbreaking defeat to Belgium, if they replicate that performance they will get rewarded. They should endeavor to get those goals quickly next time out (not that they weren’t in the first place); Canada tired precipitously in the second half and will now have to play in the early evening heat.26


Their games are going to be some pretty tough watches, aren’t they? Still, their way is relatively effective, they held a Denmark side who have beaten France and Serbia this year to just 1.4 xG while putting up 0.9 of their own. They are suddenly in with a serious chance of reaching the last 16 though goal difference could yet be their enemy. Can they keep it tight enough against France and run up the score when they meet Australia? 27


Don’t rule the Black Stars out yet. They were an Inaki Williams slip away from stealing an unlikely point against Portugal, something that would have been fair reward for their response to the early setbacks. The Ghanaian public will be hoping that Otto Addo continues on the path his side took in the second half, when an unleashed Mohammed Kudus turned Ghana into an effective, front-footed force.28


Rigobert Song’s side created the chances for a very different result against Switzerland and did plenty to disprove the stereotype that African teams cannot play the ball from one end of the pitch to the other with a few crisp passes. The issue was rather that in the final third they were a little light of match-winners and will need Andre Onana to be even better in the games ahead.29


Outclassed by England though they absolutely were, Iran showed the goalscoring punch to test Gareth Southgate’s side and it is clear Mehdi Taremi only needs one good chance to find the net. Unlike those teams below them in the rankings, there is not another side in their group who look significantly better than them, beat Wales and they are firmly in the mix.30


Their tie against France had something of the feel of an FA Cup third round tie between a superpower and lower league opponent to it. For a moment there was an inkling of a shock on the cards, but in reality the level of the best in this competition was far beyond that which Australia are capable of reaching. They are almost certainly just playing for pride.31


Did they simply freeze on one of the biggest moments in their nation’s history? Certainly in those opening exchanges against Ecuador, it did seem that some of the players had gone right the way to losing their footballing faculties. This team is the reigning champions of Asia after all, but they do not look like a team with the attacking nous to break down Senegal in their next game.32

Costa Rica

Perhaps this is harsh and Costa Rica had the misfortune to simply run into a rampant opponent in Spain, one who were so dominant that it’s hard to know what they could do with the ball. But this team really did look leagues below their opponents and it isn’t going to get much easier against Japan and Germany.

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