Eurocopa Alemania - Portugal

Imágenes del partido entre Alemania y Portugal, segundo encuentro del grupo B de la Eurocopa

British football will be without a refereeing representative at the World Cup this summer for the first time in 80 years. Fifa has formally selected its 36 officials for the tournament in Russia but, with Mark Clattenburg having been the only Briton on the long list that was collated two years ago, there was no prospect of a representative from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Clattenburg, who refereed the Euro 2016 final between Portugal and France, left his job with the Premier League last year to become Saudi Arabia’s new head of referees and so forfeited his place. The Football Association had tried to replace him but the request was rejected and there are also no British officials among the assistant referees, with the new video assistant referees (VAR) to be chosen from the pool of officials at the tournament. There has been a British official at every World Cup since the Second World War, with Howard Webb refereeing the 2010 final and also refereeing matches in Brazil in 2014. Mark Clattenburg refereed at Euro 2016 Credit: GETTY IMAGES The quality of elite refereeing in England has been fiercely criticised this season, with Arsene Wenger adamant that there has been no improvement since they became professional. “We cannot say a word against it because they’re untouchable - that is the truth,” said Wenger. Keith Hackett, the former referees’ chief, told The Telegraph that the absence of a British World Cup referee was “symptomatic of an ageing group of referees and a drop in the overall level”. He said: “We have lost people like Howard Webb and Mark Clattenburg. They are difficult to replace. I also think the existing select group of referees are not challenged enough, even when they are struggling to maintain form. It is not that there is a shortage of referees but a road block and I would like to see more people who are doing well at the Select Group 2 level being given a chance.”
British football will be without a referee at World Cup in Russia for first time in 80 years
British football will be without a refereeing representative at the World Cup this summer for the first time in 80 years. Fifa has formally selected its 36 officials for the tournament in Russia but, with Mark Clattenburg having been the only Briton on the long list that was collated two years ago, there was no prospect of a representative from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Clattenburg, who refereed the Euro 2016 final between Portugal and France, left his job with the Premier League last year to become Saudi Arabia’s new head of referees and so forfeited his place. The Football Association had tried to replace him but the request was rejected and there are also no British officials among the assistant referees, with the new video assistant referees (VAR) to be chosen from the pool of officials at the tournament. There has been a British official at every World Cup since the Second World War, with Howard Webb refereeing the 2010 final and also refereeing matches in Brazil in 2014. Mark Clattenburg refereed at Euro 2016 Credit: GETTY IMAGES The quality of elite refereeing in England has been fiercely criticised this season, with Arsene Wenger adamant that there has been no improvement since they became professional. “We cannot say a word against it because they’re untouchable - that is the truth,” said Wenger. Keith Hackett, the former referees’ chief, told The Telegraph that the absence of a British World Cup referee was “symptomatic of an ageing group of referees and a drop in the overall level”. He said: “We have lost people like Howard Webb and Mark Clattenburg. They are difficult to replace. I also think the existing select group of referees are not challenged enough, even when they are struggling to maintain form. It is not that there is a shortage of referees but a road block and I would like to see more people who are doing well at the Select Group 2 level being given a chance.”
British football will be without a refereeing representative at the World Cup this summer for the first time in 80 years. Fifa has formally selected its 36 officials for the tournament in Russia but, with Mark Clattenburg having been the only Briton on the long list that was collated two years ago, there was no prospect of a representative from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Clattenburg, who refereed the Euro 2016 final between Portugal and France, left his job with the Premier League last year to become Saudi Arabia’s new head of referees and so forfeited his place. The Football Association had tried to replace him but the request was rejected and there are also no British officials among the assistant referees, with the new video assistant referees (VAR) to be chosen from the pool of officials at the tournament. There has been a British official at every World Cup since the Second World War, with Howard Webb refereeing the 2010 final and also refereeing matches in Brazil in 2014. Mark Clattenburg refereed at Euro 2016 Credit: GETTY IMAGES The quality of elite refereeing in England has been fiercely criticised this season, with Arsene Wenger adamant that there has been no improvement since they became professional. “We cannot say a word against it because they’re untouchable - that is the truth,” said Wenger. Keith Hackett, the former referees’ chief, told The Telegraph that the absence of a British World Cup referee was “symptomatic of an ageing group of referees and a drop in the overall level”. He said: “We have lost people like Howard Webb and Mark Clattenburg. They are difficult to replace. I also think the existing select group of referees are not challenged enough, even when they are struggling to maintain form. It is not that there is a shortage of referees but a road block and I would like to see more people who are doing well at the Select Group 2 level being given a chance.”
British football will be without a referee at World Cup in Russia for first time in 80 years
British football will be without a refereeing representative at the World Cup this summer for the first time in 80 years. Fifa has formally selected its 36 officials for the tournament in Russia but, with Mark Clattenburg having been the only Briton on the long list that was collated two years ago, there was no prospect of a representative from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Clattenburg, who refereed the Euro 2016 final between Portugal and France, left his job with the Premier League last year to become Saudi Arabia’s new head of referees and so forfeited his place. The Football Association had tried to replace him but the request was rejected and there are also no British officials among the assistant referees, with the new video assistant referees (VAR) to be chosen from the pool of officials at the tournament. There has been a British official at every World Cup since the Second World War, with Howard Webb refereeing the 2010 final and also refereeing matches in Brazil in 2014. Mark Clattenburg refereed at Euro 2016 Credit: GETTY IMAGES The quality of elite refereeing in England has been fiercely criticised this season, with Arsene Wenger adamant that there has been no improvement since they became professional. “We cannot say a word against it because they’re untouchable - that is the truth,” said Wenger. Keith Hackett, the former referees’ chief, told The Telegraph that the absence of a British World Cup referee was “symptomatic of an ageing group of referees and a drop in the overall level”. He said: “We have lost people like Howard Webb and Mark Clattenburg. They are difficult to replace. I also think the existing select group of referees are not challenged enough, even when they are struggling to maintain form. It is not that there is a shortage of referees but a road block and I would like to see more people who are doing well at the Select Group 2 level being given a chance.”
Portugal national team coach Fernando Santos and Brazilian coach Luis Felipe Scolari, right, arrive for the Portuguese soccer federation awards ceremony Monday, March 19, 2018, in Lisbon. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Portugal sticks to winning formula from Euro 2016
Portugal national team coach Fernando Santos and Brazilian coach Luis Felipe Scolari, right, arrive for the Portuguese soccer federation awards ceremony Monday, March 19, 2018, in Lisbon. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
International rankings: Who looks good ahead of the World Cup?
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage
It's the international break, that magical time of the year where we get to imagine what it would be like if all the national teams currently playing football matches were battling against each other in some sort of tournament rather than meaningless friendlies. World Cups and nostalgia go hand-in-hand and to honour those memories of videogames and sticker books, we've dressed up the teams in an International Superstar Soccer style, ranking all 32 competing countries ahead of the Russia World Cup. Who looks good? Who's going to struggle? Can't everything be like the 90s? 32. Saudi Arabia Credit: GETTY IMAGES It's very hard to tell how good or bad Saudi Arabia might be but a recent 4-1 hiding to Iraq probably isn't a good sign. Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the stand-out player, having scored 28 goals in 34 matches but Saudi Arabia's usual competition comes from countries like Thailand, UAE and Oman. Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has experience of winning international tournaments, having lead Chile to success in the Copa America 2016 but upcoming friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium should expose the gulf in quality. Pun not intended. Saudi Arabia world cup 31. Panama Credit: AFP In qualification, Panama were gubbed 4-0 by the USA and defeated 1-0 by Mexico after having achieved draws with them early on. They aren't great and are in medium to poor form, but as we've seen in the past, sometimes the little guy finds a way to punch up in the big tournaments. Nobody really stands out as a central talent and a 1-1 draw with Wales in November suggests this will be a team who sets out to contain and frustrate. Friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland will be eagerly scouted by Gareth Southgate to make sure England's World Cup Panama game doesn't become an Iceland-like shocker. World Cup qualification stats 30. Costa Rica Credit: LATIN CONTENT Keylor Navas of Real Madrid is the celebrity goalkeeper but even he couldn't prevent Spain absolutely pumping Costa Rica 5-0 in a November friendly, and a 1-0 defeat to Hungary soon after. Costa Rica beat the USA home and away in qualification but lost to Mexico and Panama and go into this international break in seriously poor form. Next is Scotland, who should really help them work out their level. Costa Rica World Cup stats 29. Tunisia Credit: AFP Certainly the weakest of the African teams to play in Russia. If you don't believe that, please consider that Whabi Khazri, who looked pretty ropey playing for Sunderland, is by far their best player. Beat Egypt 1-0 in their last match. Tunisia World Cup qualification stats 28. Australia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Tim Cahill to perform heroics for Australia... wait what's that? He still plays?! Aaron Mooy is decent, Matthew Ryan a solid goalkeeper, Tom Rogic scored the winner in the Scottish Cup final last season... they're not entirely bad, the Aussies, and a qualification campaign that started in 2015 ended with a fourth successive World Cup place. But... Tim Cahill is 38 now. Australia play a friendly against Colombia on the 27th, a game which will tell us much about this team. Australia World Cup qualification stats | Round three 27. Japan Credit: AP Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are the brightest talents in this team but Japan are in bad form and don't seem to quite know what to do about it. They lost to Brazil and Belgium in November, which is acceptable, but took a 4-1 hiding from South Korea in their last match. Japan World Cup qualification stats 26. South Korea Credit: GETTY IMAGES South Korea are so dependent and enamoured by their superstar Son-Heung Min that local broadcasts of Spurs games use his face as a logo instead of the club's badge. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja Cheol are good players too and the team comes into the international break on decent form with narrow wins over Maldova and Latvia. Son can change a game and in big tournaments that matters. South Korea World Cup qualification stats | Round three 25. Peru Credit: AFP Scraped through to qualify after a nervy play-off against New Zealand, having drawn twice against Argentina on their way to that knock-out tie. Peru don't really have any star individuals but are technically gifted, like to pass the ball and are set up to defend and grind out results. Could easily take advantage of an unsuspecting team. Peru World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 24. Iceland Credit: AFP They beat England! Remember that? Iceland play as more than the sum of their parts, topping a qualification group containing Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to reach the World Cup. Gylfi Sigurdsson has to recover in time for the tournament or they'll really struggle. Mexico and Peru represent a decent test in their upcoming friendlies. Iceland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 23. Iran Credit: AFP Iran head into friendlies with Tunisia and Algeria in solid form having won their qualification group with relative ease. Carlos Queiroz has made them hard to beat and a 1-1 draw with Russia showed they can mix it with European sides, though a lack of star player(s) means a reliance on defensive work, set pieces and, essentially, good fortune is the way forward. Iran World Cup qualification stats | Round three 22. Egypt Credit: AP MO SALAH! Have you seen this? Did you hear about this? He is currently so good that a £40billion transfer bid from PSG feels around the corner, and with 32 goals in 56 games for his country, it's clear that Egypt depend on him heavily. They get a lot of 1-0 wins... and against opposition stronger than Uganda, who they lost to in August, those will be tough to find. Egypt World Cup qualification stats | Round three 21. Russia Credit: GETTY IMAGES Will have home advantage at the World Cup, which has boosted lesser teams in the past, but are distinctly average. Russia did manage a 3-3 draw with Spain and tough 1-0 defeat to Argentina in previous friendlies but need to find some form. Russia international friendlies stats | Last five matches 20. Senegal Credit: REUTERS Senegal have some excellent players - Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye the stars - and qualified for the World Cup without too much fuss. As likely as Iceland to cause an upset Senegal World Cup qualification stats | Round three 19. Serbia Credit: GETTY IMAGES There are a large number of highly rated youngsters coming through in Serbia but the highest, Andrija Živković and Predrag Rajkovic, are yet to really break into the first team. There's a bright future and even without a clear standout, Serbia are a solid side. Serbia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 18. Sweden Credit: GETTY IMAGES You'd have thought that without The World's Greatest (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) Sweden might be a spent force, but mysteriously, almost as if one man doesn't make a team, they've been pretty good lately. More than that actually. Beat Denmark in a friendly and knocked Italy out of the World Cup, shocking the world of football, and particularly Italy. Sweden World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 17. Nigeria Credit: TASS Have some well known players - Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho to name a few from the Premier League - and are generally pretty quick off and on the ball. Pace is always an advantage in nervy tournaments and it was on display in an impressive World Cup qualification campaign. Nigeria lost their heads a wee bit in the final of the African Nations Championship in February, losing 4-0 to Morocco, but did well to reach that in the first place. Not to be underestimated. The friendly with England in June will reveal much. Nigeria World Cup qualification stats | Round three 16. Denmark Credit: AFP Denmark's first XI is absolutely fine but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, a little bit better. He has a solid base to work from and a free role in the 10 position from which to weave his magic - if he hasn't knackered at the end of the season thanks to exploits in the Premier League, Denmark could do alright. Denmark World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 15. Switzerland Credit: REUTERS Switzerland have a good midfield and some quality defenders but lack creativity and firepower, other than through Xherdan Shaqiri, who blows hot and cold. Portugal beat them to top the group and Northern Ireland very nearly put them out over two legs in the qualification play-offs. Switzerland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 14. Morocco Credit: AP Very average but qualified without conceding a goal. Have technically gifted players and in Mhedi Banatia, an outstanding central defender. Only have friendlies with Serbia and Uzbekistan before the World Cup but proved their tournament credentials earlier in the year with that 4-0 win over Nigeria in the African Nations Championship final. Morocco World Cup qualification stats | Round three 13. Mexico Credit: TASS Beat both Poland and Bosnia 1-0 in their most recent friendlies, suggesting European opponents shouldn't prove hugely problematic in the World Cup. Comfortably the best team in their qualification region with a high standard of average player. Mexico World Cup qualification stats | Round five 12. Poland Credit: AFP Poland are excellent defensively and have the Robert Lewandowski X-factor. Were high-scoring and impressive in qualification but struggled in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay - very non-European sides. Next in their friendly fixtures is Nigeria and South Korea, which suggests they are preparing well for the task ahead in Russia. Poland World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 11. Colombia Credit: AFP James Rodriguez is the main man but Colombia have quality everywhere - Juan Cuadrado, Falcao, Davinson Sanchez - and did well to reach the tournament from their ridiculously difficult qualification group. Friday's friendly with France will be especially interesting. Colombia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 10. Uruguay Credit: GETTY IMAGES Extremely strong in defence and overloaded in attack, Uruguay's weakness is their soft middle, something which can prove their undoing when losing the midfield battle. The object of the game is to score goals though and with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing that often, it's difficult to keep them quiet. Uruguay World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 9. Croatia Credit: REUTERS Croatia have a brilliant midfield in Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, while Danijel Subasic is one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament. Have friendlies with Mexico, Peru and Senegal before the World Cup starts, and should be well prepared. Croatia World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 8. England Credit: GETTY IMAGES No matter what is written about England here, we can be certain of a few things. A star player will be carrying an annoying injury, the team will underperform, qualify from their group and then lose heroically to an underdog or be defeated by penalties and sent home in tears. It happens every time and anyone who thinks otherwise is a damn fool. But maybe this time... England World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 7. Argentina Credit: AP Just made it to the World Cup - JUST - on the back of another incredible Lionel Messi performance. He is the greatest footballer of all time and one heavily focused on getting the most out of his team instead of making it all happen himself. That said, without Messi this Argentina side is slightly above average with some excellent individuals like Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero. Messi makes them great. Argentina World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 6. Portugal Credit: GETTY IMAGES You may have heard about Cristiano Ronaldo and how he likes to score goals. This is something he'll probably want to do more of in Russia in what could possibly be his last World Cup, following the defence-first strategical success of Euro 2016. Portugal have five friendlies lined up before the tournament starts and go into them with Ronaldo on a ridiculous run of form and a happy looking supporting cast. Portugal World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 5. Belgium Credit: GETTY IMAGES Anyone who says Belgium are their dark horses for the World Cup should have to hand in their pundit's badge and gun at the door. This is an extraordinary group of players but Roberto Martinez has a real job trying to forge a team out of them without upsetting the balance or losing the individual talents of some. Have the potential to outscore anyone but equally are vulnerable to conceding against anyone. Belgium World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 4. France Credit: GETTY IMAGES France have one of the very best squads in the world but one heavily weighted towards attack. That's not necessarily a bad thing and Didier Deschamps' tactical setups tend to be focused on scoring many more than the opponent and they come into the international break to face Colombia and Russia, with a further three games before the World Cup starts. The thing with those pesky tournaments and where France might run into trouble is that it's usually the team who concedes the fewest goals that wins the big prize. France World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 3. Brazil Credit: GETTY IMAGES Without Neymar, Brazil will be one of the best teams in the tournament. With him, they look like a legitimate World Cup winning side. Skill, flair, defensive strength, speed, determination... Brazil have absolutely everything. But they did draw with England in a recent friendly so might not be all that. Brazil World Cup qualification stats | Group stage 2. Spain Credit: GETTY IMAGES On paper Spain have the best individual players and on the pitch they also have the best individual players. There's experience, skill, vision and creativity in every single position but a lack of real blistering - pace upfront other than Alvaro Morata - and they need a bit more grit defensively; the kind of aggression you get from Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos. So, actually, they've got everything covered. Spain World Cup qualification stats | Group stage World Cup predictor 1. Germany Joachim Low could be the first manager to win back-to-back World Cups and has all the tools to make that happen. Some of the most important members of 2014 winning group are gone but there are leaders everywhere in the team, incredible young talent in reserve and judging by the way they steamrolled their qualification group, few teams capable of stopping them. Germany World Cup qualification stats | Group stage