By Nugesse Ghebrendrias and Jorge Rodriguez
Collegian sports reporters, Nugesse Ghebrendrias and Jorge Rodriguez list their 2018 FIFA World Cup rankings 32-21.
32. Saudi Arabia
World Rank: 69
Key Players: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi
The bottom team in the tournament Saudi Arabia is not predicted to make it passed the group stage, but it can surely be a tough opponent. Members of the Asian Football Conference(AFC) and currently ranked 69 by FIFA, this would be their fifth World Cup participation where they only have made it out of group stage once in 1994. They will be competing in group A alongside cup host Russia, Egypt and Uruguay.
The Falcons as they are known have no real star power with most of its team being comprise of players from their local league. They have little chances of advancing in a group that will most likely will have Russia and Uruguay as number one and number two in the group.
World Rank: 53
Key Players: Luis Tejada
The new kid on the block, Panama will be participating in their first World Cup which will be a tough competition for them to advance in.Reaching the World Cup as the third place in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association(Concacaf), Panama was close to reaching the World Cup in the last edition, but was ultimately eliminated by the United States in the last game of the qualifying matches. Ranked 53 in the world by FIFA they will be participating in group G alongside Belgium, Tunisia and England.
With players like goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, defender Roman Torres and forward Luis Tejada Panama will have great experience, but that will not be enough for them to get out of the group stage in their first World Cup.
World Rank: 37
Key Players: Mile Jedinak, Tim Cahill
A recurring guest in the World Cup since 2006, Australia managed to grab one of the last tickets to Russia by defeating Honduras in the Interconference-Qualification games.Currently ranked the number 37 team in the world by FIFA, Australia who qualified through the AFC will have a tough, but manageable group C which is formed by France, Peru and Denmark. With France being their toughest competition, Australia has a really good chance to make out of the group stage if they are able to get by Denmark who will most likely be their biggest competition for the second place in the group.
Veterans like forward Tim Cahill and team captain midfielder Mile Jedinak will bring a lot of World Cup experience to a team that wants to make it to a fifth game in the tournament, but most likely won’t get passed the group stage.
World Rank: 23
Key Players: Youssef Msakni
Back in the World Cup stage for the first time since 2006, Tunisia is going through a revival of their team which was a constant World Cup participant in the late 90s to mid 2000s. Participating in the Confederation of African Football(CAF), Tunisia which known as the first African team to win a World Cup match in 1978 is ranked 23rd in the world by FIFA will be participating in group G. The group which is comprised of Belgium, England and Panama will be a difficult one by Tunisia to advance from, but the Panama match will be interesting to see.
Tunisia will rely on a combination of veteran players such as the team captain goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi and young player like forward Youssef Msakni to try and get at least one win in a group that doesn’t seem to favor them at all.
World Rank: 27
Key Players: Sadio Mane
Another CAF team that will be returning to the World Cup, Senegal has a very good feeling from the last time they were in the tournament and they made it all the way to the quarter finals. In 2002 Senegal took the seventh place in the tournament, but ever since that tournament where they had a cinderella-like run to the quarter finals they failed to qualified for another tournament until now. Ranked 27th in the world by FIFA, Senegal will be in group H with the likes of Colombia, Poland, and Japan. Senegal has little chances of defeating a strong Colombian team that seems to be the one to take group H, but their chances for points are better against Poland and even better against a struggling Japan team.
Senegal has a lot of players with international experience, especially in the English Premier League. With the likes of forward Sadio Mane and team captain Cheikhou Kouyate Senegal should be ready to battle Poland for a second place in Group H.
World Rank: 33
Key Players: Sardar Azmoun
Having qualified for a second consecutive World Cup for the first time in their history Iran seems eager to make it a memorable one and finally make it out of the group stage. Taking part in group B with Spain, Portugal and Morocco, Iran has a small chance winning a game and even a smaller chance of making it to the next round. Ranked 33rd by FIFA, Iran has an uphill battle in Russia, but head coach Carlos Queiroz has world class experience and has manage the team since 2011.
Iran will have veteran players like defender Jalal Hosseini and forward Sardar Azmoun who will try and compete with other top level players in their group.
26. South Korea
World Rank: 59
Key Players: Son Heung-min
A staple of the competition since 1986, South Korea has just qualified for their ninth consecutive World Cup, and are looking to do as well as the fourth place finished in 2002. In Russia they will be part of Group F with Germany, Mexico and Sweden which some are calling the toughest group in the World Cup. Ranked number 59 by FIFA, South Korea seems to be the weakest team in the group. With Sweden and Mexico looking to battle for the second place in the group it seems like South Korea won’t have a good chance to get out of the group stage.
South Korea will be relying on players like team captain, midfielder Ki Sung-yueng and forward Son Heung-min to take them out of a tough group stage.
World Rank: 42
Key Players: Mehdi Benatia, Hakim Ziyech, Achraf Hakimi
When the draw was cast, many gave Morocco little chance. Lined up against Portugal and Spain, surely they can’t overcome some of the greatest European powers. However, the Moroccans have a combination of youth and experience on their side. With young talent in Hakim Ziyech, who plays for Ajax in the Netherlands and Achraf Hakimi who is a coveted youngster at Real Madrid, Morocco offer a considerable threat in Group B. The biggest key for the Moroccans is central defender Mehdi Benatia. The Juventus man is a cultured defender who has defended some of the best players in the world including Messi and Ronaldo.
Expect them to make a run in the group, but the sheer dominance of Spain and Portugal will be too much.
World Rank: 63
Key Players: Igor Akinfeev
The hosts of the tournament won’t find themselves as comfortable at home as they might think. Coming off a semi-final run in the 2008 European Championships, the Russians have not seemed to improve. In fact, they seemed to have regressed. Talk of off-the-pitch disturbances have surrounded the team, not to mention their possible expulsion from international competition for their fan violence in the Euro 2016 tournament. Why the event is in Russia, I don’t know, but I think the team has potential to stay in games. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is a top-class player, so, they have that going for them.
They have the worst group in the tournament, however they are inferior to Egypt and Uruguay. Best case scenario, they beat Saudi Arabia and draw Egypt.
World Rank: 52
Key Players: Kelechi Ihenacho, Alex Iwobi, John Obi Mikel
Nigeria, or the “Super Eagles” as they are called have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Led by former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel and exciting winger Alex Owbi who resides in London with Arsenal, the Super Eagles have the talent to advance deep into the tournament. Their talent coming to fruition in a 4-2 come-from-behind win over Argentina in Russia back in November.
They face a tough group with Argentina and Croatia, however, the Super Eagles have a blueprint to Argentina. I predict them missing out on the group stage. Croatia is very strong and Messi isn’t going out in the group stage, c’mon.
World Rank: 18
Key Players: Gylfi Sigurðsson
Iceland is the smallest country ever to be at the World Cup, with a population of 330,000 people. They were nicknamed “giant-killers” after upsetting England in the 2016 European Championship. Their infamous “thunderclap” will surely bring attention In Russia. You’ll be surprised how many fans these underdogs have.
They are a great story and are a wonder to watch, however, they face two teams led by two of the best players in the world in Messi (Argentina) and Luka Modric (Croatia). They win one game, maybe.
World Rank: 11
Key Players: Jefferson Farfán
Peru are the new boys on the scene. The Peruvian side slipped past Chile, Paraguay and Ecuador to secure a spot in the WOrld Cup. The team conceded only seven times in eight matches, and winger Jefferson Farfán has a motor that doesn’t quit. Overall, a solid, well-balanced team.
They could be the cinderella team that we fall in love with. However, they face France and Denmark. Unless Denmark slips up, Peru will be going home early. The European teams this summer are stacked, France especially.