World Cup warmup friendlies can be dangerous. How so? Before we get to an updated edition of World Cup Power Rankings, let’s take a brief journey back in time.
First to 2006. To Italy’s final two pre-World Cup friendlies, a 1-1 draw with Switzerland and a 0-0 stalemate with the Ukraine. Fast forward four years, and Spain, in its last two warmups, needed late winners to beat Saudi Arabia (3-2) and South Korea (1-0). Four years later, Germany was drawing Cameroon and Poland in two of its three dress rehearsals.
Hopefully you know the rest of the story in all three cases. And hopefully you recognize them as cautionary tales.
We tried to take them into account while watching a glut of international friendlies over the past several days, and while compiling the following rankings. We tried not to overreact. So there are no wild swings. There aren’t many significant adjustments from our first set of World Cup Power Rankings back in November.
[More FC Yahoo: 32 takeaways from March World Cup warmups]
But there are a few changes. A lot of soccer was played over the past week, and it wasn’t inconsequential. In fact, it was our first 2018 look at all 32 World Cup teams, and our last before pre-tournament camps open in May.
That’s why an update was necessary. So here it is – this time in tiers, and with a team’s November ranking in parentheses.
TIER 1: THE FAVORITES
1. Spain (3) — Is there a single negative attached to this Spanish team right now? Every striker they throw on the field is scoring. Isco, who’ll likely be the 10th-best player in the World Cup 11, is banging in hat tricks. Sergio Busquets will soon return to shore up the midfield. You could argue that each one of the back four and goalkeeper is top-five globally at his respective position. Spain hasn’t lost since Euro 2016, and doesn’t look like losing anytime soon.
2. Brazil (1) — The “where would Brazil rank without Neymar” question is a fascinating one. You could argue – and I might – that they’d still be third or fourth on this list. The Selecao certainly aren’t as dependent on their star as, say, Argentina is on Lionel Messi. But they’re certainly not better without him, either. And although his recovery from foot surgery appears to be going just fine, the slight uncertainty it provokes is enough to bump Brazil off top spot.
3. Germany (2) — Most international friendlies are uninspiring. Friday’s Spain-Germany showdown was just the opposite. That’s a testament to the quality and cohesiveness of both. And the fact that Germany slides one spot in these rankings is a testament to the Spaniards’ brilliance; it says nothing about Joachim Low’s side. These top three are almost inseparable.