Ranking the World Cup teams: 24-21

Posted: 05/15/2014 by levcohen in Soccer

The next four teams on the third of eight posts on this countdown. As a reminder, here are the eight squads who have already been knocked off (from worst to 25th): Australia, Iran, Cameroon, Ecuador, Algeria, Costa Rica, Honduras, Greece. That’s one team from groups A, B, C, D, F, and H, two from E, and none yet from the so-called “Group of Death”. Remember, this is based both off of chance I think these teams have of progressing and general quality of the team. That means that I won’t necessarily have two teams from each group in the top 16 (I might well have a team I see eliminated early in the top half of these rankings).

#24 Ghana: This is where it starts getting tough. It’s not that I think Ghana is a bad soccer team, because I actually think the opposite. It’s not that I don’t think Ghana is “ready” for the big stage, because they clearly are, having qualified for at least the last 16 (quarterfinals in 2010) in each of the last two World Cup’s, knocking out the United States in each of those two competitions. There are two big reasons I have Ghana at #24. First is their group, which includes Germany, Portugal, and USA. That’s tough. Second and more importantly is the lack of a solid defense. The goalie situation is not settled, and neither is their back four or back three or however many defenders they plan on using. And that’s a problem, because this group includes the vaunted Germany attack, Cristiano Ronaldo, and, um, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Altidore the Great. So yeah, Ghana is in trouble. With all that being said, this is still a team with a great midfield and one that showed a lot in qualifying. First, the great midfield. Even as Michael Essien ages and declines, it’s probably still one of the premier midfields in the world. The Ayew brothers, Jordan and Andre, both of whom star at Marseille, could both start… or one or both might not. Kwadwo Asamoah, probably the team’s best all-around player, is an excellent player for Juventus. Kevin Prince-Boateng is a regular for Germany’s Schalke and Sulley Muntari is the same for Inter Milan. Christian Atsu, a 22 year old Chelsea player on loan, is added depth. And the qualification was also impressive, featuring three wins by at least four goals, including the first leg of a two-leg matchup against an Egypt team that should have been a tough matchup for Ghana. The first game ended 6-1, all but ensuring Ghana’s World Cup spot. If Ghana is at their best, they can score a lot of goals. However, they’re in a tough group with a spotty defense, which I think will lead to a fourth place finish. They should still score their fair share of goals, though.

#23 South Korea: In case you don’t remember, South Korea did pretty well in the 2010 World Cup. In a group with Argentina, Greece, and Nigeria, the East Asians weren’t supposed to progress out of their group. Despite a 4-1 loss against the Argentines, they did progress with an impressive win over Greece and a 2-2 tie against Nigeria. They ended up losing 2-1 to eventual semifinalist Uruguay in the round of 16, but it was definitely a good result. I don’t think they’ll be able to make it out of a group that is frankly not very scary. Belgium look like they are the clear favorites, but beyond that, this group is full of question marks. That’s why I think South Korea has a solid chance of progressing. In the end, though, Russia should prove to be the stronger team. This is probably the youngest team in the World Cup, as this team could probably start an all 25 or under team. They are also very fast and fluid, although they lack much individual talent. Ki Sung-Yeung, who has been impressive for Sunderland, and Bayer Leverkusen’s Son Heung Min are the key players, but this is another team that relies more on organization and cohesion than on individual talent. In the end, that might prove costly. South Korea has had trouble defending at times, and are again very inexperienced. They weren’t very impressive in qualifying, either. It’s generally a cakewalk for the South Koreans, but this go-around, it wasn’t. Despite generally solid results, they lost twice to Iran, the only other team from their qualifying group in the World Cup, and once to Lebanon. They have, however, kind of redeemed themselves in six friendlies- all against World Cup teams- since November. Wins over Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Greece were impressive, although the 4-0 loss to Mexico and 2-0 defeat at the hands of the United States weren’t. Interestingly, one of those friendlies were against Russia, South Korea’s main competition for a spot in the last 16. In the end, Russia won that game 2-1, and I think that’s a preview of what will happen in the World Cup. They won’t be embarrassed, but I think South Korea will have trouble getting out of their group.

#22 Bosnia & Herzegovina: I think it would be a really cool story if Bosnia were to progress past the first round in their first ever World Cup, but I think Nigeria will edge through over them. This is a team with a few stars, but unfortunately also a lot of holes. First, the stars. The star player is Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko. The 28 year old scored 28 goals in 51 appearances for the English champions, and was especially vital in the final stretch. Dzeko is joined by Vedad Ibisevic, who scored 10 goals in the Bundesliga for Stuttgart, Roma’s Miralem Planc, who makes everything happen in the midfield, and Lazio’s Senad Lulic. But that’s about it. Oh, besides their terrific goalie, Asmir Begovic, who led Stoke City to an impressive season in the Premier League. Begovic is a good goalie. Unfortunately, there are a lot of questions defensively, and this isn’t a team that heaps on defensive pressure. When they lose possession, they might not get it back for a while, which is a problem in a group with, uh, Lionel Messi. In a way, after their tremendous play in qualification, the last two games have been wakeup calls. The 2-0 loss to Argentina probably proves that Bosnia doesn’t have much of a chance against the Argentinians, and the 2-0 loss to Egypt was much worse. We’ll learn a lot more in their final friendly against the Ivory Coast, a team I really like (Yaya Toure), but for now I don’t think they have the defensive tenacity or balance to get through the group stage. They should finish third in the group and cause Nigeria problems, but in the end I see Nigeria, and not Edin Dzeko’s Bosnia, as the second best team in Group F.

#21 Mexico: Yeah, they’ll probably end up progressing to the second round again. They always seem to find a way to get that far. But this is a team that was a mess in qualifying, and one that looked like it should be a bottom-four team rather than a one that is favored to progress. That’s why I’ve decided to put Mexico in a fairly safe position: third in their group, ahead of Cameroon but behind Brazil and Croatia. Yes, they have the talent to progress, and yes, they’ve been better recently, but let’s just look at the disaster that was their qualifying, culminating in a 9-3 two game playoff victory over New Zealand. With this type of talent, they shouldn’t have had to qualify via playoff in such a weak qualifying group. In their last 10 games of qualifying, they were a disaster, scoring just seven goals. In that time, they went 2-5-3, with the win that granted them a chance at playing New Zealand coming over Panama, who had another shot to knock them out but blew it against a USA team that wasn’t playing for anything. So Mexico shouldn’t even be here. With that being said, there have been signs that this team is turning it around. Since they hit rock bottom on October 16th with a 2-1 loss to Costa Rica, Mexico is 3-2-0, with those two aforementioned blowout wins over New Zealand and a more impressive 4-0 blowout of South Korea (which is the reason I have Mexico over South Korea). After that, they tied Nigeria and United States, who are both ranked better by me, so while those weren’t great results, they weren’t terrible. Now enough of the “Mexico is a disaster” talk and on to their actual players. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez should be Mexico’s best player. He is definitely the most talented. But he has struggled at Manchester United and internationally alike. He remains a mystery. Juan Carlos Medina, Villarreal striker Giovani dos Santos, and striker Oribe Peralta, who is one of the most underrated strikers in the world simply because he doesn’t play in Europe, should key the attack. The defense was good in qualifying, but the attack wasn’t. In the end, this is a team with pedigree and talent, but they have too many question marks for me to put them in the next round.

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