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2022 FIFA World Cup Strength Ranking: Argentine Rise; England slides down the list of contenders; knockouts awaiting USMNT?

The 32 countries that will compete in the 2022 FIFA World Cup have finally been identified. Wales, Costa Rica and Australia were the latest three teams to book seats in Qatar earlier this month, setting the stage for the sport’s greatest competition. Here’s how the teams are formed less than five months before the start:

Level 1: Favorites

It may be fair to say that at the moment it is not easy to make a clear assessment of how the two South American rivals stand in relation to their European counterparts. But the signs we have suggest that Brazil and Argentina deserve a place at the very top of our rankings. An open discussion about whether The Finalissima should go a long way, but crushing Italy to win more silver medals is never a bad sign for any team; Argentina looks solid defensively and in Lautaro Martinez there seems to be a striker who is growing alongside Lionel Messi.

Of course, Argentina was not the only one to deal a heavy blow to the European champions, who, had they managed to qualify, would have risen to the middle of this ranking. Germany ended an impressive quartet of Nations League games in an outstanding fashion, defeating Italy 5-2 in Mönchengladbach. Hansi Flick may be on the hunt for the true leader of the centre-forward line, but their resourcefulness makes it a similar force for Qatar, especially if Florian Wirtz can play the competition this summer.

Giving way to Germany, England is in fourth place. While calls for Gareth Southgate to be sacked seem disastrous in extreme cases, given that the manager took the Three Lions to the World Cup semi-finals and the Euro final, there is a clear problem that threatens to hold them back. England are simply not in a position to dictate the course of games and cannot make full use of their talented collection of strikers and playmakers. It can be blamed on the lack of a pace-setting midfielder or Southgate’s caution, and it can even be noted that the most defensively determined side they tended to be excluding their deviation from Hungary – win tournaments. But the unity that has propelled England forward in the past two tournaments looks to be in danger of disappearing before they get to Qatar.

1. Brazil (–)

2. Argentina (+2)

3. France (-1)

4. Germany (+4)

5. England (-2)

6. Spain (+1)

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Level 2: Possible Contenders

Since Diego Rossi took over from longtime head coach Oscar Tabares in December, Uruguay’s seven-game record stands as follows: six wins, no losses, 16 goals, one conceded. Having broken into the final spot at the World Championship for South America, the two-time champions are gearing up to be dark horses once again. Edinson Cavani rolled back years during the June international break; With Darwin Nunes heading to Liverpool, he and Luis Suarez can’t be sure of their place. The same depth in defense when Barcelona’s Ronald Araujo complements Jose Maria Jimenez and Diego Godin.

Uruguay are not the only veterans to assemble a group for one last job. The problem for Belgium, which lost heavily at home to the Netherlands this month, may be how few of them will take part in the World Cup at their peak. Perhaps only Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois will be at this level in Qatar, while uncertainty hangs over Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and many others. There’s a good squad for 2026 – Lois Openda scored in a tough win against Poland, while Youri Tielemans looks poised for a bigger role – but it could be an awkward midterm for the Belgians.

7. Uruguay (+3)

8. Netherlands (-1)

9. Senegal (–)

10. Belgium (-4)

Level 3: Knockouts are waiting

When the final whistle blew at the Luzhniki stadium four years ago, it was by all accounts the last breath of this great Croatian team. Their historical form since independence was enough to suggest they would return, but perhaps not for long. Maybe they haven’t left yet. The loss to Austria was a difficult start to their League of Nations campaign, but they responded with impressive victories in Denmark and France to show they would be a force in Qatar.

As for the United States, the recent round of internationals may not have told Gregg Berhalter much that he didn’t already know. A top-tier striker won’t show up until December, and while Jesus Ferreira has done his best to qualify for the job, four goals against Grenada is no indication of what he could achieve in Qatar. However, the right group of defenders might be able to hold the defense on one side, allowing Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronsohn and Tim Weah to attack on the other.

11. Denmark (–)

12. Croatia (+2)

13. Portugal (–)

14. USA (-2)

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Level 4: In the mix

Ghana has risen quickly in our rankings not because of what they do on the pitch – they lost 4-1 to Japan in the Kirin Cup – but because of recruitment. This squad doesn’t look fantastic at the moment, but add in the Premier League talents of Eddie Nketiah, Tariq Lamptey and Callum Hudson-Odoi and they could be real contenders if they can come together in time.

However, they are not the highest risers. At the same Kirin Cup, Tunisia beat Chile and Japan to win the trophy, continuing a successful streak for the Eagles of Carthage. Last year they reached the Arab Cup final, the African Cup of Nations quarter-finals (where they may have thought they deserved better against Burkina Faso) and won in Mali on their way to the World Cup. It may not be a team full of big names, but it gets results.

As well as Wales, at least in the most important games. They may have faltered in the Nations League, but these results come with the caveat that Rob Page’s team has already achieved their main goal for the summer: beat Ukraine and qualify for the World Cup. They will certainly be difficult; Gareth Bale flashes back when he puts on a Welsh red shirt that appears to imbue Aaron Ramsey’s wounded body with miraculous healing powers. There may not be other players of this class in the roster, but everyone else is good, very good, and this team knows exactly what they are doing. The US should beware.

Meanwhile, Switzerland is slipping in our rankings, although it’s hard to call them a team playing in a group when any of the three can claim second place behind Brazil. A 1-0 victory over Portugal in Zurich was an encouraging end to a tough Nations League campaign for Murat Yakin’s team, which has been marred by the same problem that has kept them from succeeding in major tournaments. When the aging Haris Seferovic is your best option as a centre-forward, you’ll need your defense to do most of the hard work.

15. Serbia (+3)

16. Ghana (+5)

17. Ecuador (-1)

18. Mexico (-3)

19. South Korea (+1)

20. Wales (new entry)

21. Tunisia (+8)

22. Switzerland (-5)

23. Morocco (-3)

24. Cameroon (–)

25. Japan (-2)

26. Poland (-4)

Level 5: Unlikely to avoid groups

It is at this stage – before we make enemies in countries where we may want to vacation in the future – that we emphasize that there are no bad teams in the World Cup, otherwise they would not be there. There are just maybe some that are a little less good. The new players from Costa Rica fall into this category, with their seats booked in the usual manner as they scored an early goal against New Zealand before riding a wave of shot-stopping dominance from Keylor Navas. If he maintains his great form after qualifying, they might be able to pick up some points.

In the meantime, Canada may not have given up hope of escaping their group just yet, but their preparations have been rather tainted by salary disputes and the apparent political tensions that are brewing over the friendly match against Iran.

27. Australia (new entry)

28. Qatar (-2)

29. Canada (-4)

30. Costa Rica (new entry)

31. Iran (-4)

32. Saudi Arabia (-4)

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