Ranking the World Cup Teams: 28-25

Posted: 05/10/2014 by levcohen in Soccer

Here’s the next installment of four teams. I’m doing this ranking based off both the quality of the team and the chance they get through to the next round.
As a reminder, here is 32-29:
#32 Australia
#31 Iran
#30 Cameroon
#29 Ecuador

#28 Algeria: I actually think that Algeria is the worse team than Cameroon and Ecuador, at least on paper. The reason I have them ranked at a more-flattering 28th (granted, it still isn’t that flattering) is that their group seems very winnable. Joining the North African nation are prohibitive favorite Belgium (it feels weird to say that), Russia, and South Korea. In the end, I think Belgium will win the group with the Russians and South Koreans fighting for second. I just don’t think this Algerian team is very good. We saw them in the 2010 World Cup, and they weren’t very good then, but to be fair I think they have improved a bit. Still, they had to face Burkina Faso in a home and home series. After losing in Burkina Faso by a score of 3-2, Algeria squeaked into the World Cup thanks to the away goals rule with a 1-0 tense home win. This team looks destined for a quick exit. Valencia winger Sofiane Feghouli is the star player here. He had a chance to play for France, and did so at a younger age, but decided to play for the Algerian team. He adds an extra layer of attack and could be the player to open up a game against a methodical team like South Korea or an imposing one like Russia. Nabil Bentaleb, another young midfielder (he’s just 19 years old), has already played in the Premier League, so he could also elevate this team to another level. I think that this team is going in the right direction, with youth and promise. I just don’t think they are ready to impress at an international level, even with an easy group. They could take a point from South Korea or Russia and make a game interesting against Belgium, but in the end they’ll fall short and will likely end up last in their group. The arrow is pointing up, though, and I think Algeria could make it three straight times qualified for the World Cup in 2018.

#27 Costa Rica: In Joel Campbell, an Arsenal player on loan to Greek club Olympiacos, and captain Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica has two very dynamic attackers. The CONCACAF second place finishers don’t have any big name defenders, but they allowed just seven goals in 10 qualifying games. So why am I ranking them this low? The obvious reason is the group, which is really, really tough. Their first qualifying game is against Uruguay. The second is against Italy. And the third is against England. Those teams all have legitimate aspirations of qualifying for the final 16 and the first two could easily be in the semifinal. That is really really tough. Another issue is Costa Rica’s recent poor performances. I know these were all friendlies, but since they’ve qualified, Costa Rica has played four games. The results: 1-0 loss to Australia, 4-0 loss to Chile, 1-0 loss to South Korea, and a 2-1 win over Paraguay. That’s 0-3 against the World Cup teams, and unfortunately the quality of their World Cup opponents will be more at the level of Chile than of Australia, who I ranked last of the 32 qualifiers, or of South Korea, who will come before too long. I think we could see a few big losses as the untested defenders start facing superstars like Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, and Mario Balotelli. In a group that is probably the toughest, Costa Rica could lose all three games handily. I don’t think they will, as I think they have proven enough to suggest that they can give at least England a run for its money and probably one of the others, too. Keylor Navas, the goalie, plays in La Liga for Levante and has shown up big time this season, playing like a top goalie against the top teams in the league. He should make some big saves in the World Cup, too. But expect at least one blowout and one win at the very most. I think Costa Rica is a better team than Honduras, but I have to rank them worse because of their near-impossible group. Bummer.

#26 Honduras: Group E now has two of the bottom seven, while Groups C and G have yet to have a team called. And that’s not by accident. Group E is really really bad. It’s not just that the bottom two teams are poor, it’s that they don’t even have a top team. France and Switzerland join Ecuador and Honduras, and both look pretty sure things to advance to the round of 16. And it’s not as if France, who barely qualified, or Switzerland is a powerhouse. Anyway, back to Honduras. It’s important to note that they have never won a World Cup game, so one win seems like it would be a good start. Because they have no big stars, Honduras is going to have to have tremendous chemistry and self belief, and they are going to have to play cohesively. They did well in CONCACAF, finishing third and ahead of Mexico. Emilio Izaguirre and Maynor Figueroa, both of whom played in the U.K. this season, are the best players, and it’s no coincidence that both of them are defenders. Central midfielder Wilson Palacios is also a key player. In the end, Honduras will be happy with a win, and I think they can get that over Ecuador or one of the European teams. Anything more would be unexpected but not impossible in this weak group.

#25 Greece: It’s tough to rank Greece in the bottom eight, because I feel like they always over perform. I just think they are going to have a really tough time scoring goals against Colombia, Japan, and Ivory Coast. In a way, Group C is the most interesting one. There isn’t a dominant team, but all four should be competitive. You’ll see who I have progressing later, but it should be a thriller. Anyway, I think Greece will play three tough, close games. They definitely won’t be embarrassed. Konstantinos Mitroglou is the star striker, but the problem is that Greece’s midfield sometimes struggles to get Mitroglou the ball in goal scoring positions. In the end, I think that’s what will come back to bite Greece: their inability to score goals. They could well be defending for most of each of their three games, and while that might work in Greece, we’re bound to see some cracks in the armor in the Brazilian heat. The defense remains solid, as they gave up just four goals in 10 qualifying games. A 0-0 draw against one of their opponents seems likely, and they could sneak two ties in. But in the end, if Greece allows a goal, they’re going to be in trouble. They just don’t have the dynamic midfielders to push the ball up the field and score goals, and that’s going to be a big problem against Yaya Toure’s Ivory Coast, dynamic Colombia, and talented Japan. Fourth place seems likely, but they won’t go easily.

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