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World Cup Expectation Rankings: Who Over- and Under-Performed in Russia?

With one of the most exciting and unpredictable World Cups in years now over, we've ranked all 32 teams on how they performed in Russia according to their expectations at the beginning of the tournament.

Only one team at the 2018 World Cup hit its desired target, and that was France. But not every nation enters the tournament expecting to win. For some, it's about getting out of the group and seeing what happens. For others, there's joy in just reaching the World Cup stage. And for an elite few, there's the notion that anything short of a medal is a complete failure.

So with one of the most exciting and unpredictable World Cups in years now over, we've ranked all 32 teams on how they performed–both in terms of results and on-field product–in Russia according to their expectations at the beginning of the tournament.



Result: Runner-up; Lost to France

Croatia needed a playoff to qualify and came to Russia with its federation in crisis and its captain facing perjury charges, having also been drawn in a tough group. Getting to the knockout stage would have been an achievement in itself. To reach the final bordered on the miraculous.

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Result: Round of 16; Lost to Belgium

This was supposed to be the weakest Japan side since 1998, but it produced probably Japan’s best performance in a World Cup. It was fortunate, perhaps, that Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez was sent off three minutes into its opening game, but it took full advantage and, playing neat and enterprising football and was 2-0 up on Belgium with 21 minutes remaining in their last-16 matchup before a heartbreaking collapse.



Result: Quarterfinals; Lost to Croatia on penalties

There was a real fear before the tournament that Russia would be the worst hosts in World Cup history, but Stanislav Cherchesov’s side, playing hard-running, enterprising football, began with a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia, and then eliminated Spain before going out on penalties to Croatia in the quarterfinal.

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Result: Quarterfinals; Lost to England

Perhaps, having eliminated the Netherlands and Italy, and beaten France, in qualifying, Sweden should have been afforded more respect, but even its fans seemed to think a group-stage exit was likely. But, after proving it's moved on from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it beat South Korea, Mexico and Switzerland to make the quarterfinals.

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Result: Semifinals; Lost to Croatia

In terms in results, beating Tunisia, Panama and Sweden doesn’t look like much, but World Cups are also about feel. England fans had forgotten how to hope, had given up on ever winning a penalty shootout. In turbulent political times amid a lengthy heat wave, Gareth Southgate’s side, at least temporarily, brought the nation together by reaching a first semifinal since 1990.

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Result: Round of 16; Lost to Brazil

To an outsider, the hostility of Mexican fans to Juan Carlos Osorio always seemed a little baffling, and it looks even more so after a World Cup in which Mexico beat Germany and troubled Brazil before, for a seventh straight time, going out in the last 16. Sometime, the draw will be kinder, and the quinto partido curse will end.

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Result: Quarterfinals; Lost to France

The group was straightforward, but the way Oscar Tabarez’s side negotiated it was still impressive, and his young team then deservedly beat Portugal in the last 16 before running into France and misfortune in the quarters, having lost Edinson Cavani to injury.



Result: Semifinals; Lost to France

There will always be enormous expectation on a golden generation, but this Belgium had reached a point at which many had given up hope. Roberto Martinez, though, with clever tactical tweaks, oversaw a memorable victory over Brazil before a semifinal exit.

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Result: Champion

Didier Deschamps’s side may have won the tournament, but there was something a little unsatisfactory in the way it did so, playing always within itself and never quite seeming to hit top gear. The 4-3 win over Argentina and the 4-2 triumph against Croatia give a misleading impression.

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Result: Round of 16; Lost to England on penalties

Colombia just about lived up to expectations. Undone by an early red card against Japan, Los Cafeteros battled back with a hugely impressive 3-0 win over Poland, before letting itself down with a weirdly tetchy defeat to England–minus the injured James Rodriguez–in penalties in the last 16.



Result: Round of 16; Lost to Croatia on penalties

Denmark arrived in Russia almost without trace–unless you happened to be Irish–and it left without much of one as well. It held off Peru for a win that took it through the group, but then fell to Croatia on penalties in the last 16.

12. IRAN


Result: Group stage (1-1-1)

Carlos Queiroz has always been a master at setting up a side to defend, but Iran showed more than that. It beat Morocco, tested Spain and, with a little more luck, could have beaten Portugal in the one game in the tournament rendered farcical by VAR. Four points was a very respectable return.

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Result: Group stage (1-1-1)

Senegal probably still can’t quite work out how it did not make the knockout stage. It had been impressive in beating Poland and, while it was perhaps a little sloppy in drawing with Japan, it was undone by losing a tight game against Colombia to go out on the never-before-used fair-play points tiebreaker to Japan.

14. PERU


Result: Group stage (1-2-0)

Peru won hearts but not games. Ricardo Gareca’s side, backed by thousands of fans, played bright, exciting football, and, had Christian Cueva not missed a penalty against Denmark, it might all have been very different. But he did fail from the spot, Peru lost that game, and was then eliminated by defeat to France before a consolation win over Australia.



Result: Round of 16; Lost to Sweden

This could have been the tournament at which Switzerland really asserted itself as an emerging power after a very impressive qualifying campaign. There were flickers in the draw against Brazil and the win over Serbia, but Vladimir Petkovic’s side faded badly against Sweden in the last 16.



Result: Group stage (1-2-0)

The opportunity was there for Serbia to progress after beating Costa Rica in its opening game. But having gone ahead against Switzerland, it faltered in the second half of a minor classic, losing 2-1, meaning it had to beat Brazil to make it through. Mladen Krstajic’s side did have opportunities, but the chance really had gone against the Swiss.

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Result: Group stage (0-2-1)

Very few sides in World Cup history have played as well as Morocco and taken only one point. The draw against Spain was at least some reward for a tournament in which Herve Renard’s side had repeatedly created chances–and then failed to take them.



Result: Group stage (1-2-0)

Nigeria qualified with some authority from a difficult group, but a series of friendly defeats had undermined faith in Gernot Rohr’s system even before the tournament began. Poor against Croatia, it recovered to beat Iceland before being undone in the final group game, against Argentina, by an unlikely late winner from Marcos Rojo.



Result: Group stage (1-2-0)

A victory over Germany, having already gone out, at least redeemed South Korea’s tournament to an extent, but the performances against Sweden, when manager Shin Tae-yong seemed weirdly obsessed by the height of his opponents, and Mexico were disappointing.



Result: Group stage (1-2-0)

Tunisia at least won its final game, scored twice against Belgium and showed some resilience having gone behind early on against England, but it never remotely looked like getting out of the group.

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Result: Group stage (1-2-0)

Whatever slim hopes being drawn in the weakest group in the tournament may have given Saudi Arabia, they were swiftly extinguished by a 5-0 defeat to Russia in the opening game. Some measure of respectability could at least be drawn form a solid performance in defeat to Uruguay before victory over Egypt in a dead-rubber final game.



Result: Group stage (0-2-1)

Costa Rica may have come to Russia with few expectations, but after its performance four years ago, when it reached the quarterfinal, this was a disappointing World Cup. It picked up one point and barely got out of first gear.



Result: Quarterfinals; Lost to Belgium

There were positives for Brazil in Russia. Tite’s side did look, after a decade of Jurassic tactics, like a modern side. It pressed, it was fluent in parts and defended coherently. But yet against it found itself in thrall to the psycho drama of Neymar and his desperation to be a star and ultimately couldn't complete a comeback on Belgium.

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Result: Group stage (0-2-1)

Nobody expected much from this Australia side, and it delivered precisely on those expectations, registering on the consciousness of the tournament largely because of its involvement in two moments of VAR controversy, one that was costly against France, and one that was beneficial against Denmark.



Result: Group stage (0-3-0)

Just being at the World Cup was a great achievement for Panama, but it was the one side that looked completely out of its depth, hammered by both Belgium and England. Its joy at scoring first World Cup goal was touching. Its rigged approach and attempts to intimidate were not. If this really is the third-best side in the confederation, then Concacaf has major problems.



Result: Group stage (0-3-0)

The draw seemed kind and, with a genuinely world-class forward in Mohamed Salah, there was every reason to believe Egypt could reach the last 16. But Salah wasn’t fit, and Egypt, having lost to Uruguay and Russia, compounded a poor tournament with a limp defeat at the death to Saudi Arabia in its third game.



Result: Group stage (0-2-1)

Fairy tales can go on for only so long. Iceland nearly qualified for the World Cup four years ago, got to the quarters of the Euros and then did make it here. That was a fine achievement, but, given the quality it has shown in the past four years, it underperformed badly here, picking up a single point and that against a compliant Argentina.



Result: Round of 16; Lost to Uruguay

The European champion had a grim tournament. A Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick salvaged a draw from a game in which it was outplayed by Spain, and a Ronaldo header won a vital game against Morocco, but this was a tournament in which reliance on one player was punished. Iran showed Portugal's vulnerabilities and Uruguay exploited them.

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Result: Round of 16; Lost to France

No international side, perhaps, is quite so unmanageable as Argentina, whose Messi-dependence has become a possibly irresolvable burden. A dramatic win over Nigeria at least got it out of the group, but there was probably only one half in the four games in which Argentina actually looked a coherent side. As a result, manager Jorge Samapoli was ousted the day of the final.



Result: Round of 16; Lost to Russia on penalties

Sacking manager Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament may or may not have been the right decision, but it fatally undermined Spain’s World Cup. Fernando Hierro never looked comfortable after being parachuted into the role, his use of substitutes being particularly questionable. The lack of planning for penalties against Russia, though, was perhaps his greatest fault.



Result: Group stage (1-2-0)

Poland qualified hugely impressively and had, in Robert Lewandowski, the highest scorer in UEFA qualifying. The sense even before the tournament, though, was that this side had peaked a year ago, and that was how it proved, even with a face-saving win in the final group game after elimination had already been secured.

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Result: Group stage (1-2-0)

Complacency and cliques in the squad. A reliance on aging out-of-form stars. Jogi Low’s tactical shortcomings finally being exposed. Whatever the reason for Germany’s failure, to go out on the first round for the first time in 80 years was a spectacular collapse for the reigning champion.