The field has been halved and it is time to assess the 16 teams left at the 2022 World Cup.
All are ranked in order of their likelihood to win the tournament. Some previous rankings are higher than 16, as the last edition included 32 teams.
16. Poland (previous ranking 14th)
Absolutely no-one’s second favourite team. They offered little against Argentina, were similarly put-upon in their first game against a less clinical Mexico and are in the knockout round by dint of goal difference and playing Saudi Arabia when they were physically and emotionally spent after their Argentina win. Robert Lewandowski has scraps to feed on and it is tough to see them finding a way past France.
15. Australia (previously 24th)
Violently libelled in the last edition of these rankings, in which it was suggested they looked happy enough with their win against Tunisia and would have little motivation to improve on that. They put such notions to bed with another committed and battling performance against Denmark to clinch only the second group-stage progression in their history. Harry Souttar continues to shine at centre-back, Matthew Leckie is an effective outlet on the wing. Write them off at your peril, although you would be brave to back them against Argentina.
14. South Korea (previously 26th)
Visibly one of the most united teams at this tournament. You can see it in the way they counter-attack, their organisation and the very fact they put the disappointments of their first two games behind them to take a major scalp in Portugal. Still lack much in the way of top-level gamechangers beyond a so-far middling Son Heung-min and look occasionally shaky at the back, despite the impressive Kim Min-jae.
13. Senegal (previously 20th)
No complacency available for England, given the way Senegal are growing in this tournament. A disappointing defeat to the Netherlands was followed by a credible win against Qatar who had somewhat improved from their desperate opener. They rose to the occasion in their final group game against Ecuador and will give any side a stern test with the organisation and determination they bring to defending and closing down opponents. A lack of Sadio Mane through injury and Idrissa Gueye through suspension makes the England test far harder, though.
12. USA (previously 10th)
Organised, full of promise and more than capable of seeing off a frequently lacklustre Netherlands team in their next game. An entirely A-list quarter-finals is what most will expect, looking at the David vs Goliath nature of most of the round-of-16 games. That is very rarely how a World Cup pans out. One well-organised team with a bit of momentum will surely upset the odds. Why not America?
11. Japan (previously 18th)
Seemingly survived their big wobble with defeat to Costa Rica to see off Spain. Few would have imagined six points taken from the games against the Spanish and Germans, from what looked a difficult group. Plenty of gutsy effort in their team, but increasingly a sense of calmness too. Their Croatia game looks one of the most evenly-matched in the first knockout round.
10. Netherlands (previously 15th)
Cody Gapko is heating up, they are one of just four teams yet to lose and Louis van Gaal has reached the always-dangerous point of not seeming to care all that much what you think. You would love to see some of his loose attitude with public statements infusing the football, which has been painfully dour for long periods. May sneak past USA but at some point we need to see more from them creatively.
9. Morocco (previously 13th)
Unbeaten and quietly one of the most clinical teams at this World Cup. It has become routine to see them take their chances, some of which have not been straightforward. Only one goal conceded too, and it was via an unfortunate deflection. A side full of players we have all been guilty of underestimating in the Premier League: Romain Saiss, Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal the most obvious. Spain will underestimate them at their peril.
8. Switzerland (previously 21st)
Potentially coming to the boil at the right time. Impressively shut out the emotion of their predictably ill-tempered game against Serbia, and methodically took apart their suspect defence. Holding on to their lead and neutering the game as a contest was even more impressive. Front three of Breel Embolo, Ruben Vargas and an interested-looking Xherdan Shaqiri are a dangerous combination. You would make them underdogs in the round of 16 against Portugal, but not by much.
7. Croatia (previously 5th)
Impressive in their first two games, but were one inept Romelu Lukaku performance away from losing to Belgium, so somewhat fortunate to hang on to their unbeaten record. Belgium gave round-of-16 opponents Japan a handy guide on how to attack them and if they can find a striker not having the worst night of his life they should have opportunities to score. Equally, they might have had a penalty themselves and Luka Modric is a golden god.
6. Portugal (previously 2nd)
Took step up from dark horse category to actual contenders with the efficient way they saw off Uruguay. Defeat to South Korea was a cold shower. Cristiano Ronaldo’s status as an automatic starter is seriously open to debate, although it is difficult to imagine that status changing. They must shake off their flatness quickly against Switzerland.
5. Argentina (previously 7th)
Perhaps it is best to get your shock defeat out of the way early at this World Cup? Their second half against Poland was very promising indeed, with Lionel Messi rolling back the years to dictate the game. Two goals were well-taken and they had several chances for more. They did not look overly threatened at the other end, either, but Poland did not offer much and it always helps to be roared on by at least twice the number of fans of any other team.
4. Brazil (previously 4th)
Second XI’s defeat to Cameroon might rouse them. They have exemplified the tournament-wide trend for slow starts, all three of their games being 0-0 at the break. You sense that could be punished in games of tighter margins and fewer chances as the quality of the field improves. A reliance on Richarlison and Vinicius Jnr was exposed by lack of cutting edge against a team they really should have beaten. Still, that first-choice XI remains completely terrifying.
3. Spain (previously 3rd)
If other teams are elevated by their star players, Spain have perhaps the most impressive manager. Luis Enrique’s team play with a sophistication and alacrity at times which is unmatched elsewhere. Still, question marks about who will do the scoring bit. Also lost to Japan, who themselves lost to Costa Rica. It is tough to figure this tournament out. Do champions lose such games?
2. France (previously 1st)
Same question for France, who were much-changed against Tunisia but beaten, and by a far worse team than Spain’s opponents. The recent memories of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Greizmann’s brilliance remain strong and the dreaded divided camp stories have yet to emerge. Poland the kindest possible opponents for them to get back on track.
1. England (previously 6th)
You cannot with a straight face claim the squad has the technical ability of Spain, the strength in depth of France or a talisman as powerful as Messi. You cannot claim that they would be favourites in a one-off game against Brazil. Perhaps if that game was played four times you would expect England to win it once in 90 minutes. But it must be recognised that England are trending positively in this tournament. They drew rather than lost in their worst game so far, unlike all of the other contenders. No team has scored more than their nine goals, they have two clean sheets in a row and only the good sort of headaches in attack. It is time to start believing.