At the end of the group stage we rank the 32 teams at the World Cup in Russia, with Brazil top, England in 10th and Panama last
It is hard to shake the feeling that Brazil are the best-balanced side at this World Cup.
Neymar has pranced and preened, particularly in the first two games, and they were slow to get going but there was an ominous feel to their win over Serbia and they look capable of raising things further. Philippe Coutinho has been a considerably bigger influence than their Ligue 1-based star turn so far; if Mexico are disposed of then a mouthwatering quarter-final with Belgium is likely. 2) Croatia
Given that manner in which they sailed through the most difficult group, Croatia are arguably the team of the tournament so far. They have rarely been spectacular but look composed, organised and unflustered, with their biggest stars stepping up in the
thumping win over Argentina. A meeting with Spain in the last eight looks likely and Zlatko Dalics side cannot be ruled out of doing something special. 3) Belgium
Whether or not they really wanted to,
Belgiums second string glided past England and of the pre-tournament favourites they have arguably had the best time of things in the group stage. Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard got their eyes in during the cakewalks against Panama and Tunisia; Japan should be obliging opponents in the round of 16 and this generation of players may never have a better chance to prove half a decade of hype correct. 4) Uruguay
So far, so straightforward for Uruguay, who would have expected little else from a weak Group A. They have not exactly sparkled although there were
suggestions against Russia that they are gathering a head of steam and it will have done Edinson Cavani no harm to join Luis Surez on the scoresheet. Now Oscar Tbarez needs to get more out of a midfield that is yet to gel satisfactorily.
Uruguays players celebrate after the win over Russia. Photograph: Michael Dalder/Reuters
second-half evisceration of Poland was one of the tournaments most exciting displays so far and there is no doubt that, at full throttle, Colombia can take anybody apart. Senegal showed that they can run into trouble when denied space, though, and there are doubts about their defences capability to cope with speed. Much may depend on James Rodrguezs injury, which left Jos Pekerman visibly concerned on Thursday. 6) Mexico
whirlwind of a showing against Germany now looks a little harder to judge in the light of subsequent events. Mexico are capable of playing sublime football at a lightning tempo and boast an enviable array of technicians; Sweden found it all too easy to batter them into submission though and Brazil are very unlikely to give them carte blanche to operate as they would prefer. 7) Spain
They are just about keeping it together but Spain are yet to find a blend that looks capable of going all the way. How much influence Fernando Hierro can actually wield on a team he
inherited at the last moment is questionable; attacking balance has largely been lacking, save for a scintillating half-hour spell against Portugal, while they have been rattled by lesser opponents with surprising ease. There is always the suspicion they will come good but Spain look rudderless. 8) France
It can sometimes feel hard to forgive Frances lack of fluency given the thrilling riches at their disposal and that was a feeling heightened after the
Anschluss-esque tie with Denmark. But they came through a relatively testing group unbeaten and, if nothing else, Kylian Mbapp has made an excellent start to his first World Cup. Can Didier Deschamps finally cajole something extra against another disjointed giant in the form of Argentina?
Kylian Mbapp 9) Sweden
By now everybody should know better than to underestimate Sweden, who were on nobodys radar at the outset but outlasted everyone to top Group F.
Their 3-0 win over Mexico was, even allowing for a no-show from their opponents, one of the best tactical displays of the tournament so far; they used their power and aggression to superb effect but have a dash of quality too and will feel quietly confident now. 10) England
Is it coming home? From a Russian vantage point a couple of wins against meagre opponents seem to have sparked inordinate optimism back home although we have to be fair: this is a pleasant, likeable England team with a manager who is more
tuned in to the various demands of wearing the shirt than any in memory. They will, it seems, have to do things the hard way now but perhaps it does no harm for Gareth Southgates side to be genuine unknown-quantity material.
Gareth Southgates side face Colombia in the last 16. Photograph: Alex Morton/Getty Images
Eagle celebrations contrived by Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri may have dominated the headlines but this is the slickest, most impressive Switzerland side in recent memory and the draw has opened up nicely for them. They will need to regain some of the momentum they lost in cruising to a draw with Costa Rica, but the intensity they mustered against Serbia and in drawing with Brazil suggested they could come through from nowhere. 12) Argentina
This is probably the worst Argentina team of the past two decades and that is more the pity given that, if they had the talent in midfield and defence to match their attacking riches, their possibilities would be limitless. They are mightily fortunate to have got this far but they do have Lionel Messi and, as he confirmed with that
luscious finish against Nigeria, that is enough to keep people watching and believing.
Lionel Messi 13) Portugal
Little has happened to dissuade anyone from the time-honoured notion that Portugal are overly reliant on Ronaldo although, judging by his performance in the first two games, that does not necessarily have to matter. They
were outplayed by Morocco, though, and came within inches of an astonishing exit against Iran; surely one of Uruguay, France, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil will have too much to block the European champions from reaching the business end. 14) Denmark
Their highlights reel from the last fortnight is hardly extensive but Denmark have been expertly drilled by ge Hareide and, while Peru won the popular vote in Group C, are in the last 16 on merit. Two flourishes from Christian Eriksen
a fine assist against the Peruvians and a super goal in the draw with Australia were a reminder that they have a world-class talent in their midst and Croatia will not fancy facing them.
Eriksen 15) Russia
Excitement around the host nations chances peaked
after resounding wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt but was quickly dampened by Uruguay. Russia are clearly a better side than many people had supposed but it would take some audacity to predict they have anything to trouble Spain. They have probably hit their ceiling but several careers have been enhanced and their relative success has added a welcome extra dimension to the tournament, too. 16) Japan
Good, lucky or a little bit of both? Japan looked the weakest of Group Hs contenders at the outset but here they are and fortune has favoured them ever since
Carlos Snchezs early dismissal in their opener with Colombia. Their own manager disgusted himself by shutting up shop towards the end of then defeat to Poland; they squeaked through but it is hard to see what this team has in its armoury to take it further.
Japan celebrate their group-stage progression with their fans. Photograph: Toru Hanai/Reuters
Mehdi Taremi may never forget the injury-time miss that, moments after Iran had been given a
VAR-aided lifeline against Portugal, would have improbably won them both the match and Group G. He had also fluffed an opportunity to equalise against Spain; Iran looked extremely useful in most departments and would have been a fascinating prospect in the round of 16. 18) Senegal
Aliou Cisss team could hardly have been unluckier not to get through the group stage and will, in the end, reflect on a lack of discipline late on against Japan. They were punished by a
soft Keisuke Honda equaliser and, just as tellingly, the two late yellow cards that ultimately tipped Group H against them. It was a shame, as they are a rounded and entertaining side that deserved better. 19) Peru
Partly through the free-flowing nature of their football and partly through the remarkable support they received from their travelling fans, Peru felt like the greatest loss to the tournament at this juncture. It would probably have all been different if
Christian Cueva had scored a spot kick against Denmark in the first game; in the end wastefulness scuppered them and by the time they discovered a clinical edge against Australia it was too late. 20) Nigeria
A curates egg of a group stage from Nigeria, who came away
feeling aggrieved to have lost against Argentina but might not have had anything to mourn if they had turned up for their opening tie with Croatia. They played some scintillating counterattacking football in spells, notably during the second half of the win over Iceland, but it was not enough and Gernot Rohr will hope this was valuable experience for what he says is his real target: Qatar 2022.
Nigerias Ahmed Musa impressed against Iceland. Photograph: Sergei Bobylev/TASS
Herv Renards team played with a verve and invention that caused many to swoon but, similarly to Peru, fell short where it mattered. The manner of their
defeat to Iran was devastating and they deserved far more against Portugal, too. That made the draw with Spain even more of a frustration; they should have been in a position where it counted for more. 22) South Korea
Before the match with Germany it seemed fair to assume South Koreas tournament would fizzle out without a single moment to commit to memory. They proved everyone wrong and could have scored more than twice
in an exciting counterattacking display; the shame was that they could not quite get it together in close contests with Sweden and Mexico.
Son Heung-min 23) Serbia
Serbias campaign brought a familiar mix of brilliance and frustration, garnished with the kind of political controversy that tends to overshadow so much of their football. In fairness it was hardly their players fault that
Xhaka and Shaqiri caused such a storm; they could have done more, though, to see out a draw instead of throwing it away at the death. After that the die was cast. 24) Iceland
This was a bridge too far for Iceland in the end although they were hardly outclassed in Group D and took the fight to added time in the final game.
The early draw with Argentina was their high point; what really undid them was a sloppy second half against Nigeria and now, with Heimir Hallgrmsson taking time to consider his future, the job to replicate their recent success may not be easy. 25) Germany
Where to begin? By the latter stages of
the defeat to South Korea and in fact well before everything completely unravelled Germanys performance bore more than a passing resemblance to the fare offered up by England against Iceland at Euro 2016. There were attacks and shots on goal but no obvious structure, plan or, uncharacteristically, confidence. What an ignominious way to relinquish their grip on the trophy. 26) Poland
They salvaged some pride
against a Japan side that was totally unfussed by the end, but Poland were supposed to be much better than this. Instead they were deservedly beaten by Senegal and dismantled comprehensively by Colombia; Robert Lewandowski was invisible, not aided by an inadequate supporting cast, and a world-class strikers chance to make an impact on this stage while near his peak has passed.
Robert Lewandowski 27) Tunisia
If they had held out for a
tiny bit longer against England then, as it happened, Nabil Maalouls team would have added some genuine interest to the denouement of Group G. It ended up being a sterile final day although they did at least pick up a win against Panama; their cause had already been lost through a porous display in the defeat to Belgium. 28) Australia
In some ways this World Cup arrived at exactly the wrong time for Australia, who were caught between permanent managers and needed a near-miracle from Bert van Marwijk if anything was to come of their campaign.
They played well against both France and Denmark but, when everything came down to a meeting with already-eliminated Peru, ended up falling well short. Quality was particularly lacking in a shot-shy attack.
Australias Joshua Risdon looks dejected after the defeat against Peru. Photograph: Ronald Wittek/EPA