World Cup Playoffs Power Ranking: Who Are the Strongest Contenders?

With the group stage delivering stunning upsets and thrilling action beyond all expectations, just imagine what it will be like in knockout stages. With only a few hours separating us from the first kickoff in the Round of 16, let’s try to rank the remaining national teams in the 2022 World Cup in a Power Ranking based on what we’ve seen thus far in the competition.

16. South Korea

Key Player: Son Heung-min

Sometimes all that it takes is a little bit of courage and some blessing from Lady Luck. Thankfully for South Korea, the schedule set them against an already-qualified Portugal on the last matchday.

To the Asians’ credit, they didn’t let the golden opportunity escape them, earning a dramatic late win over Portugal much to the dismay of Uruguay.

Yet, Son Heung-min and company are unlikely to go too far in the competition.

15. Australia

Key Player: Aaron Mooy

Overachieving AFC sides has been a common theme in this edition. Following their opening defeat at the hands of France, the Aussies picked up the pieces to register two solid if unspectacular wins over Tunisia and Denmark.

Despite earning an impressive six-point tally, Australia are still lagging behind other nations on a technical level. While their heart and determination is to be admired, it can only take you so far in a World Cup.

14. Poland

Key Player: Wojciech Szczesny

Thanks to Wojciech Szczesny’s heroics, Poland did just enough to squeeze past Mexico. Nonetheless, Robert Lewandowski and company have hardly won themselves additional fans in their cagey and defensive-minded approach.

This side can do a lot better than what the first round suggested, but it’s unlikely that they find enough time for a swift makeover.

13. Senegal

Key Player: Kalidou Koulibaly

Even during their initial defeat to the Netherlands, Senegal had showcased positive signs. They then managed to confirm their good form in a comfortable win over their host Qatar and a decisive victory in the do-or-die battle against Ecuador.

Unfortunately for the Africans, they’re forced to contend the whole World Cup without the services of their ultimate hero Sadio Mané, otherwise, they would have landed slightly higher in the power ranking.

12. USA

Key Player: Christian Pulisic

The United States are among the five nations that are yet to taste defeat in this edition. Christian Pulisic and company are gradually growing with every outing, and they will be looking to stun the Netherlands on Saturday.

Although they will be far from favorites, the young Americans can cause scares for any opponent.

11. Japan

Key Player: Ristu Doan

Perhaps this position doesn’t do them enough justice. After all, we’re talking about the team that produced two major upsets and topped a group that featured both Spain and Germany.

However, the Samurai Blue do have their limitations as portrayed in their defeat to Costa Rica, so it’s difficult to place them ahead of the traditional superpowers just yet.

10. Switzerland

Key Player: Granit Xhaka

Despite producing a hollow display against Brazil, the pragmatic Switzerland knew that victory is significantly more attainable in their other two outings.

So thanks to a labored win over Cameroon and a back-and-forth battle against Serbia that eventually went in their favor, the Swiss earned a well-deserved qualification and will try to extend their stay even further at Portugal’s expense.

9. Morocco

Key Player: Hakim Ziyech

While most observers would place Morocco’s win over Belgium as one of the main upsets of this World Cup, the Atlas Lions had in fact the upper hand over the Red Devils from start to finish.

The North Africans didn’t snatch their wins or take advantage of circumstances. They finished on top of their group because they were unquestionably the best side.

8. Croatia

Key Player: Luka Modric

Admittedly, Croatia finished in second place behind deserving leaders Morocco. Nevertheless, the Europeans’ vast experience and abundance of talent should serve them well at this crucial stage of the competition.

After all, the players and their manager Zlatko Dalic have already run the gauntlet once before.

7. Portugal

Key Player: Bruno Fernandes

For one reason or another, Portugal fare comprehensively better in European Championships compared to their forgettable World Cup outings.

Now surely Fernando Santos has all the tools at his disposal to make a memorable run, and perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo’s (expected) last-hurrah will lit a certain fire in the player’s soul, but it just feels that the Iberians remain a step behind some of the other contenders on the list.

6. Netherlands

Key Player: Cody Gakpo

Despite their relatively-comfortable qualification, the Dutch are yet to impress, in the exception of a few players – with Cody Gakpo chief amongst them.

Nonetheless, Louis van Gaal will certainly put his massive experience at the Oranje’s disposal in the hopes of reaching a fourth final for the competition’s “Uncrowned Champions”.

5. Argentina

Key Player: Lionel Messi

During their first match and half of their second, the Albiceleste looked like the shadows of those who won the Copa America last year. Slowly but surely, Lionel Scaloni began to discover his ideal starting lineup.

But despite the wins over Mexico and Poland, we still need one more reassuring display from Lionel Messi and company so we can put behind the horrific performance against Saudi Arabia once and for all.

4. Spain

Key Player: Pedri

For a team that only gathered four points in the World Cup group stage, Spain are admittedly in a higher spot than expected on our Power Ranking. But it just felt that Luis Enrique’s men had put their foot of the pedal against Japan.

Now that we reached the more serious part of the tournament, it’s time for La Roja to finally reveal themselves as genuine contenders for the throne.

3. England

Key Player: Harry Kane

Although they have been unable to secure an international trophy since their great triumph at home back in 1966, the English have been closing in on glory in recent tournaments, with the Euro 2020 final being their latest heartbreak.

Whether 2022 will see “football returning home” remains to be seen, but the days of the Three Lions acting as afterthoughts are well behind us.

2. France

Key Player: Kylian Mbappé

Truth to be told, the defending champions haven’t excelled just yet in Qatar, maybe aside from 4-1 victory over Australia.

But then again, France never truly adopted an entertaining brand of football under the guidance of Didier Deschamps, and their tedious outings didn’t prevent them from winning the last one.

With a plethora of stars under their banner, Les Bleus remain one of the biggest favorites, even if they have to shatter the curse of  the defending champions.

1. Brazil

Key Player: Casemiro

With or without Neymar, Tite has a formidable group of players under his disposal, cementing Brazil’s spot as the ultimate perennial contenders.

Forget about the last half-hearted attempt against Cameroon, the Selecao produced two solid if unspectacular displays against Serbia and Switzerland, preventing their opponents from testing Alisson Becker, not even with a single shot on goal.

It’s this combination between defensive solidity at the back and mercurial talent in the final third that often leads towards great achievements.

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