The final FIFA rankings before the 2022 World Cup were released Thursday, revealing a top five that's largely in line with what the odds makers have for the tournament in Qatar.
Brazil rightfully holds the top spot and is seen as the favorite after turning its qualifying campaign into a program on Joga TV, while the Seleção's eternal rivals, Argentina, sit third riding a 35-match unbeaten streak.
Defending world champion France is fourth, and England just barely keeps hold of fifth despite suffering relegation to UEFA Nations League B after failing to win any of its six group games.
A big difference between the rankings and odds makers is Belgium, which FIFA places second but the bookies have at 14/1 to win the World Cup (eight nations have better odds). The FIFA ranking is a culmination of consistently strong showings dating back to the 2014 World Cup, but many clearly believe the golden generation's time for a crowning glory has come and gone.
The latest rankings haven't been kind to the two powers of Concacaf. Mexico has slipped one spot from 12th to 13th — although there's no shame in being overtaken by Luka Modrić's Croatia — while the USMNT has gone from 14th to a just about right 16th.
Basically the FIFA rankings are saying that the USA's odds of reaching the Round of 16 are very much in the balance, and if they do manage to reach the knockout phase, they'll be the most overmatched side remaining.
That feels fair. Anyone who tells you that only aiming for the last-16 is some sort of cop out has their head stuck so far up American exceptionalism's ass that they're probably recording a podcast with Alexi Lalas up there. This will be the youngest squad in Qatar.
So much depends on the opener against Wales on Nov. 21, and while Gareth Bale's nation is three spots below the U.S. in the rankings, the Dragons won't enter Al-Rayyan Stadium feeling like underdogs. It's a classic battle between a naive but talented group that's still figuring itself out vs. grizzled veterans that know exactly how to play to their limited strengths.
Interestingly enough, while the majority of World Cup Group B teams (England, USA and Wales) lost points in the rankings, there's one nation trending up: Iran. The AFC representative went through a stunning bit of turmoil, installed Carlos Queiroz as manager for the second time and rattled off an impressive win over Uruguay before drawing with African champion Senegal in September friendlies.
Could an AFC team go on a magical run in Qatar? The host nation itself has fallen two spots to 50th, although while the rest of the world watches its players compete at club level, Qatar began its team camp on Oct. 1 and will play friendlies against the Concacaf trio of Guatemala, Panama and Nicaragua before the curtain raiser against Ecuador on Nov. 20. They'll be nothing if not ready.
FIFA Rankings 2022 World Cup
- South Korea
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- Ivory Coast