Most World Cup teams played two games over the recent international break and here we assess how all of them fared
1) Spain (up 2)
An exhilarating week’s football from Spain has set down a marker. They could have won what was, for an hour, an excellent match in Germany and then obliterated a shoddy Argentina with a cocktail of intense pressing and clinical finishing. These were full-throttle performances of the kind Spain have not always managed in recent years; Andrés Iniesta was on sublime form but the sheer depth Julen Lopetegui can call upon was ominously evident in both games.
2) Brazil (=)
Two friendlies, two wins, two identical starting lineups. Tite would rather bed his first-choice team in – minus the injured Neymar – and Brazil are purring, although there was the suspicion during their 3-0 win in Moscow that better sides than Russia would have caused problems. They shut a makeshift Germany down expertly, slaying or ghost or two along the way, and if there were doubts about their ability to win without their talisman then they have been banished too.
3) Germany (down 2)
Nobody will worry too much that a much-changed team fell short against Brazil, although it did challenge the notion that Germany might sweep aside all comers with any iteration of their resources. Some of the less experienced players, including Leroy Sané found it tough; Friday’s ding-dong with Spain had the feel of a World Cup knockout game for long periods, though, and Joachim Löw’s title defence still looks broadly on course.
4) Belgium (up 1)
Belgium only played one friendly in this break and, if the extra training time allowed Roberto Martínez to cement a few ideas, it may prove wise. When they did take to the pitch, they found Saudi Arabia to be ideal opponents and promptly made hay; nobody doubts their capacity in that department but their defence could do with a test while there are selection issues at left wing-back and central midfield.
5) France (down 1)
There remain two distinct sides to France: the enthralling proposition with speed and flair to burn, and the infuriatingly sloppy, shapeless unit that at times resemble strangers. The former was evident in wonderful flourishes by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé against Russia, although the overall performance was patchy; the latter reared its head in a capitulation against an average Colombia and Didier Deschamps has plenty to ponder.
6) Uruguay (up 4)
Edinson Cavani’s overhead kick adorned a 2-0 win over Czech Republic and he also scored the winner against Wales. It meant they won the China Cup; a similar feat in Russia is probably beyond them but they are favourites to win their group and both of their strikers – Luis Suárez scored a penalty against the Czechs – are enjoying superb domestic seasons. The last eight should be well within their reach.
7) Mexico (up 4)
Mexico’s attacking quality came out on top against Iceland but a more experimental side struggled in losing 1-0 to Croatia, Juan Carlos Osorio’s switch to a 3-4-3 failing to pay off. There are not too many doubts about their ability to reach the World Cup knockout stages although, while Hirving Lozano looks superb for PSV, they could do with a run of form from Javier Hernández before this summer.
8) Nigeria (down 1)
Some Super Eagles watchers felt a reality check would be welcome and Nigeria received one in losing against Serbia. Excitement had been high after a win in Poland, even if that came from a dubious Victor Moses penalty, and the run that preceded it, but the jolt may prove instructive and Gernot Rohr will not be sounding the alarm. England at Wembley will be a useful barometer for his exciting young side on 2 June.
9) Portugal (down 3)
Fernando Santos was left with huge questions after two sub-par friendly performances that would have looked even worse if Cristiano Ronaldo had not come good once again. His pair of headers in a wild injury-time period against Egypt secured a 2-1 win and papered over some cracks – but those faults were then brutally laid bare in a horrible 3-0 home defeat to Holland.
10) England (up 4)
Gareth Southgate’s reign is starting to show visible progress and there was encouragement in the speed and intent shown against the Netherlands and Italy. Neither of those countries are the powers of old, though, and perspective is required: there are questions to resolve in most areas, especially midfield, and while England are shaking off their stodgy image this looks a tournament too soon for a genuine challenge.
11) Argentina (down 2)
Friendly or not, Argentina’s performance in Spain was a disaster and time is against Jorge Sampaoli if he is to create a side with any hope of challenging in Russia. He took the blame and might also field questions about the logic of ignoring Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi. Even allowing for a Lionel Messi-led absentee list they have to be better than this, and the manner in which Spain won possession in their half was at times embarrassing.
12) Poland (down 4)
Poland did not deserve to lose to Nigeria (but did, 1-0) and attacked with some fluency against South Korea (a 3-2 win) but Adam Nawalka will be troubled by their form since October. Piotr Zielinski spared their blushes against the Koreans and it was, at least, evidence that a player other than Robert Lewandowski can make the difference. They should make the last 16 but, beyond that, a lack of depth is an issue.
13) Croatia (=)
A contradiction of a week for Croatia, who were turned over by Peru with their stars present but overcame Mexico when many of them had returned home. The tools are present for a good World Cup run but it never quite seems to come together; this is the last chance for Luka Modric’s generation of players and doubts about their consistency persist.
14) Colombia (up 6)
Such a thrilling turnaround in Paris raised hopes that Colombia can recapture the fun of 2014. The goalless draw with Australia was a more accurate reflection of their previous form although if Miguel Borja had his shooting boots on – he hit the woodwork twice, had a penalty saved and missed another clear chance – their progress would have been underlined.
15) Morocco (up 3)
There is a sense of confidence around Moroccan football – on the pitch and away from it – and that was reinforced by victories over Serbia and Uzbekistan. Hervé Renard knows Spain and Portugal will provide a sterner test in Group B but Morocco have a top-quality playmaker in Hakim Ziyech and look a decent left-field bet to surprise somebody.
16) Serbia (up 3)
Serbia looked authoritative against Nigeria and won through two sharp finishes from Aleksandar Mitrovic. It was a big improvement on the performance in Morocco and Mladen Krstic’s side is heading the right way. There was no sign of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, though, and time is running out if his considerable talent is to be accommodated.
17) Peru (up 7)
Anyone seeking evidence of how Peru can hurt teams should take a look at their second goal against Croatia, a sweeping move finished off by Edison Flores. They came out 2-0 winners although that game and the defeat of Iceland, both in the US, were effectively played in front of home crowds. Ricardo Gareca’s side are now 12 games unbeaten and well worth watching.
18) Iceland (down 6)
Not too much sleep will be lost over defeats to Mexico (3-0) and Peru (3-1) although some of the goals conceded were uncharacteristically soft. Iceland put up a decent fight in both games but the class and wider influence of Gylfi Sigurdsson were sorely missed. He should be fine for Russia; plan B might prove a challenge too far should he suffer any setbacks.
19) Switzerland (up 3)
Switzerland are hardly known for running riot, and the fact they did so against Panama must come with the caveat of the paucity of their opposition. It was a good showcase for some of their attacking talents though, Breel Embolo among those to impress, while their victory in Greece – thanks to Blerim Dzemaili’s acrobatic volley – suggested they can handle grittier assignments too.
20) Tunisia (up 8)
Single-goal wins against Iran and Costa Rica suggested Tunisia are on track to be competitive and this is certainly not a stodgy, destructive side in the manner of recent predecessors. Nabil Maaloul has created a team with plenty of speed and invention, although whether they have enough goals in them to seriously trouble England and Belgium – and whether their defence can handle tests of that level – is another matter.
21) Senegal (down 6)
It was largely dour fare from Aliou Cissé’s team in draws with Uzbekistan and Bosnia, although those matches were contested amid low-key conditions in Morocco and France. It is fair to assume they have another gear or two but some old issues resurfaced: while Sadio Mané is the star turn in attack and their defence is uncompromising, they lack a fluid link between the two.
22) Sweden (down 6)
Will Zlatan Ibrahimovic come out of international retirement for Russia 2018? Should he? Perhaps he might do the decent thing and draw a line under the speculation he has courted, because Sweden have plenty else to bother them and nobody drew many positives from defeats to Chile and Romania. They could certainly use a clinical striker but Ibrahimovic’s day has gone and such an exhausting sideshow would be counterproductive.
23) Denmark (down 6)
Goals will be a problem if the misses by centre-forwards Nicolai Jørgensen and Andreas Cornelius – against Panama and Chile – are any measure. Christian Eriksen was subdued and there are doubts over whether those further back can move the ball forward quickly. Pione Sisto did, though, produce a fine strike to down Panama and suggested Denmark have another matchwinner.
24) Egypt (down 3)
Back-to-back defeats against Portugal and, particularly, Greece do not look good although Mohamed Salah was among a number of players rested in the latter. Egypt looked strong before Ronaldo’s late show in the first game and that performance was probably a more accurate reflection of their status: capable of giving anyone a hard time but reliant on the Liverpool man’s genius.
25) Iran (up 1)
Carlos Queiroz was happy with his team’s performance against Tunisia despite a 1-0 defeat and there was also some encouragement in a 2-1 victory over Algeria. But Queiroz sounded a warning note after the latter, saying they are “not near the level of the World Cup” and expressing doubt over his domestic-based players’ ability to cope. Much will rest on Sadar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
26) Costa Rica (down 1)
Victory in Scotland through Marco Ureña’s slick finish recaptured the spirit of Italia 90, although it was largely absent against Tunisia in Nice despite some opportunities to equalise. The team that played at Hampden was closer to Óscar Ramírez’s first choice and showed enough to suggest Costa Rica may again punch above their weight.
27) Japan (=)
Expectations were already low and have sunk further after flat showings against Mali (1-1) and Ukraine (1-2). Japan had plenty of the ball in both games but lacked cutting edge and made errors at the back; Vahid Halilhodzic’s stated ambition of emulating his run to the last 16 with Algeria four years ago looks some way off.
28) South Korea (up 1)
Two late goals against Poland should have salvaged South Korea a draw on Tuesday; instead they threw it away and, coupled with the 2-1 defeat to Northern Ireland, it provided little fresh optimism that they can pass through the group stage. Hwang Hee-chan’s equaliser in Chorzow arose from some slick football but Shin Tae-yong cannot inspire similar competence from his defence.
29) Australia (up 3)
How Australia needed Tuesday night’s draw with Colombia. Four days previously they had been hammered 4-1 by Norway in Bert van Marwijk’s first game; this was some improvement although Colombia did miss a penalty and it is difficult to see how Van Marwijk can create a successful World Cup side in the next three months.
30) Russia (down 6)
At least Fyodor Smolov scored against France and, if we are being fair, Russia selected top-quality opponents for all of their last four friendlies. They showed some enterprise on Tuesday and missed a couple of golden chances against Brazil. The scoreboard did not lie either time though: Russia are well short and, eviscerated by a crippling injury list, look the weakest host team in memory.
31) Saudi Arabia (=)
A draw against Ukraine was creditable but the 4-0 loss in Belgium was an accurate reflection of how Juan Antonio Pizzi’s team stands in comparison to most contenders. Pizzi only took charge in November and has overseen a gruelling regimen of friendlies with mixed results. They do not look good enough to turn heads but with Russia first up in Group A, who knows?
32) Panama (down 2)
After their narrow, vigorously-fought defeat in Denmark the suggestion was that Panama might bloody a few noses – literally and otherwise – in Russia. But Tuesday’s 6-0 hammering by Switzerland, on a pitch far more conducive to international football, exposed their limitations on the ball and a crippling lack of mobility in defence, lending the fear that they may simply be out of their depth.