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World Cup power rankings: Underdogs now the top dogs in tournament of surprises

Now that we're out of that pesky pool stage, and into the knockout stage of the Football World Cup, it's time to take a look at who's standing tallest amidst the remaining sides in Russia.

With heavyweight sides Germany, Spain, Argentina and Portugal among those to have made an early exit, several others are suddenly shock contenders to take the Jules Rimet trophy home with them.

5. Russia

How on earth are the hosts still alive in this tournament? Logic pointed to Spain walking all over Russia in this morning's round of 16 clash, with the 2010 champions - on paper - a much superior side. However, football isn't played on paper, and a staunch two hour defensive vigil saw the hosts take the contest to a penalty shootout.

From there, it was all one way traffic - as Russia hammered home all of their spot kicks, while captain Igor Akinfeev in goal denied both Koke and Iago Aspas to send his side into the next round.

Although they lack the out-and-out star power of some of the other sides left at this tournament, there is a solidarity about Russia - and the fact that they're playing in front of their own fans will make them a dangerous opponent heading into the quarter-finals.

We saw South Korea prove that home advantage can count for a lot at the World Cup back in 2002, and don't be shocked if this Russian side follow suit this time around.

4. Brazil

Yet to really click in Russia, Brazil sneak into fourth spot on this countdown due to sheer attacking potential.

While Neymar's so far been quiet, midfield maestro Phillipe Coutinho has been right up there as one of the better players at this tournament.

Another squad that on paper doesn't appear to have any weaknesses, Brazil will find themselves up against staunch opposition in their round of 16 clash with Mexico tomorrow, yet also find themselves as the bookies' favourites to win the trophy.

Their midfield could be a cause for concern, with no real tough tackling mongrel to support their vast attacking depth up top.

An injury to Douglas Costa leaves them a little light heading down the right flank, while they're also heavily reliant on Thiago Silva in defence.

Ultimately though, it's the weight of expectation upon them that could see Brazil's downfall, with over 200 million fans expecting them to return home as world champions.

Yet, if Brazil can play anywhere near their ability going forward in this tournament, don't expect any other sides to even come near them once we get into squeaky bum time.

3. Belgium

How many tournaments in recent times have Belgium been considered the "dark horses"? Three by my count.

Without a doubt, Belgium find themselves with the best first eleven left in Russia, boasting a berth of Premier League names such as Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku up top, while the likes of Vincent Kompany and Toby Alderweireld at the back should leave opponents strike forces a little pessimistic about their chances.

Their only real weakness comes in the form of manager Roberto Martinez, who showed during his time in the Premier League with the likes of Wigan Athletic and Everton that once things go bad for his sides, the wheels fall off in spectacular fashion.

Finding themselves on the difficult side of the draw, Belgium have their work cut out to win the World Cup for the first time. But with their golden generation now realistically in their last chance saloon to bring home glory, the Red Devils could in fact be the ones to stun the world in a tournament that hasn't gone to script for the big boys.

2. France

If the World Cup was awarded to the side with the best squad, then no doubt France would have already pocketed the trophy. Having eliminated Argentina, and most likely ensuring that Lionel Messi goes his whole career without lifting the World Cup, France have cemented themselves as one of the best sides still in the tournament.

With the likes of Karim Benzema, Alexandre Lacazette, Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial all left at home, France's strike force is lead by the mercurial Antoine Griezmann, and the heir to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo in Kylian Mbappe.

Realistically speaking, France have little to no weaknesses looking from the outside in, however, as we see so often in rugby, the only thing that'll stop them is themselves, with mutiny and in-fighting having ruined past tournaments for Les Bleus.

If this group of players can stay united for long enough, then expect France to go far at this tournament.

1. Uruguay

For years, Uruguay sides have all followed a similar formula: Great defence, lethal attack, no midfield. Not anymore.

While names like Suarez, Cavani and Godin have all been integral to Uruguay's success in recent times, the young midfield trio of Rodrigo Bentancur, Matias Vecino and Lucas Torriera have completely changed the way that the side play, making them even more dangerous than before.

With such a solid midfield unit in between the rock-solid defence, marshalled by the uncompromising Diego Godin, and the devastating strike force of Cavani and Suarez, Uruguay are probably one of the more complete sides still at the torunament. 

Defensively, Uruguay have only conceded one goal in 2018 - coming in their 2-1 round of 16 win over Portugal - and arguably have the meanest looking defensive unit in international football.

However, despite all their on field brilliance, it's for reasons off the pitch that truly make Uruguay dangerous, with inspitational long time manager Oscar Tabarez battling a condition that affects his nervous system, the side are all playing for each other, and their coach.

Honourable mentions: Mexico, England, Croatia.

Eliminated: Argentina, Portugal, Spain.

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 filer, Brazil's Neymar controls the ball during the international friendly soccer match between Brazil and Japan at the Pierre Mauroy stadium in Lille, northern France. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)
Neymar. Source: Associated Press


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