10. Russia: After Russia narrowly failed to qualify for their 2nd straight World Cup, the future couldn’t have looked worse for them. The talented generation of Arshavin and Pavluchenko was past it’s prime, with only Alan Dzagoev emerging as a possible replacement. Getting the 2018 World Cup helped, they has been a loss to Iran, and a draw with Armenia recently.
Narrowly beats out Romania for number 10.
9. Scotland: As always, the British Isles have a number of players who have made it to the very top level of football, in terms of respect, success, and talent. Things always seem to go wrong on the international stage, and with England narrowly avoiding a spot in this list, and Wales still to come, things aren’t likely to change any time soon. Maybe Northern Ireland can win the 2012 Euros…
8. Bosnia-Herzegovina: Just a few months ago, Bosnia was seen as the next team that could break into the top echelon of world football. While they have a world class striker (Dzeko), the defense has never delivered.
7. Morocco: Slowly but surely, Morocco has been climbing back up the African power hierarchy. Can they break into the top 5, the teams that qualify for the World Cup? It would be a huge step for Moroccan soccer, and with the talent I found yesterday (Chamahkh, Kharja, Benatia) they should be able to. Very, very soon. Until then, though, they get stuck on this list.
6. China: The latest in a number of false dawns in Chinese football came in this year’s Asian Cup. How is a nation with so many people, and so good at other sports, this bad at the world’s most popular one?
5. Colombia: CONMEBOL is the most competitive of the six confederations, as evidenced by this Copa America. Teams like Bolivia and Venezuela would be one of the stronger sides in any other confederation. But there is still plenty of underachievement. Peru has a good side, as we saw against Uruguay, but they were totally outclassed in World Cup qualifying. Argentina are struggling; they may have the most talent of any international team in the world, yet they are 10th in FIFA’s controversial rankings. Uruguay and Paraguay are known for the inconsistency, so nobody can tell if they are underachieving or overacheiving.
But Colombia is the worst of all. Pablo Armero, Ivan Cordoba, Juan Cadrado, Nelson Rivas, Mario Yepes, Cristian Zapata, and Juan Zuniga are all defenders who play in Serie A. And in the attack, they somehow can’t score any goals, despite boasting, Falcao, soon to be a Chelsea player. If Falcao doesn’t play well in a slow approach, play faster!
4. Serbia: Dark horses in the last two World Cups, as a defensive team they may be the best in the world. If they can find a forward, the sky is the limit.
3. Belgium: Look at the talent, then look at the results, and it is plain that Belgium are one of the world’s biggest underachievers.
Their Euro 2012 group is very tough, with Germany clear favorites, and rising teams Austria and Turkey battling Belgium for second place. Neither team has looked great, however, especially Guus Hiddink’s Turkish side.
Belgium are a young team, though, so there is still plenty of time.
2. Saudi Arabia: With the exception of China, Eastern Asia is pulling farther and farther ahead of Western Asia.
Saudi Arabia is the worst culprit, and their disaster of an Asian Cup, and failure to qualify for the World Cup, was unthinkable just two years ago.
Togo and Poland were also favorites to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa when the draw was released, only to have fallen to 113th and 67th in the FIFA rankings.
While on the topic of underachievement, I should also mention France‘s scandal-filled year.
1. Wales: How are they ranked 58 spaces behind Georgia in the FIFA world rankings?
New coach Gary Speed has to answer this question as Wales undergo the transition from a team based around Ryan Giggs to a team built upon Gareth Bale.
As Kenny Dalglish attempts to put his mark on the Liverpool squad, nobody really knows what the starting XI will look like. After making big signings at forward and center midfield, winger and defense remain weaknesses. Still, the squad looks good enough to get 4th place in England:
F- The signing of Luis Suarez changed the fate of Liverpool’s season in 2010-11, and he is the key man again this year. Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt are great options as well, but if any of these three get injured, Liverpool’s season would basically end. Jovanovic, N’gog, and Pacheco aren’t suited for the top of the Premier League.
CM- Kenny Dalglish continues to stack up on options in the center, pulling in Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson this summer. All the players are slightly different, and with Steven Gerrard no longer the best of the bunch, he can form a nice rotation based on the upcoming opponent. Meanwhile, the excellent youth system is producing tons of midfielders and defenders- Jonjo Shelvey, Jay Spearing, Martin Kelly, Tom Ince, Raheem Sterling, John Flanagan, Jack Robinson, etc. Even putting them ahead of unwanted players Aquilani and Poulsen, they will only be 8th or 9th on the depth chart, if every center midfielder is healthy. To get more playing time, they will probably be loaned out. Many teams would relish getting this type of talent for free.
W- Despite all the complaints about a lack of wingers, they won’t be needed in the 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-2-1-2 formations that would make sense given the quality in central midfield. Luis Suarez’, and Dirk Kuyt’s style of play would make them effective on the wing, as well as up top, in emergencies.
FB- The narrow formations that Liverpool are likely to use mean attacking fullbacks are very important. Unfortunately, the reason for the long rotation here is because all the players are too young, too old, or not good enough to fill this role. Getting two fullbacks would be optimal, especially if Liverpool do not pursue wingers.
CB- Rickety, but not the crisis some make out. If Dalglish knows what he’s doing, he’ll put Kyrgiakos and Carragher on the bench, turning to Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel. The signing of Christopher Samba would be good- as well as getting a quality player who can take charge of the back line, they will be robbing their key opponents, Arsenal, of a quality player.
GK- Pepe Reina is one of the best goalies in the world, but can make silly errors. And at backup, they could improve on Brad Jones. Another position where a signing would be useful.
Kenny Dalglish knows what he wants to build, and it looks like he’ll get the money. The order in which Liverpool should upgrade:
1. Fullback: URGENT- It’s time to decide what to do with the back line.
2. Center Back: IMPORTANT
3. Winger: IMPORTANT- With both Winger and Fullback high on the needs list, width is Liverpool’s biggest problem.
4.Forward: LOW- Despite the big signings, depth isn’t there.
5. Center Midfield: LOW- Many of Kenny Dalglish’s targets continue to be center midfielders.
6. Goalkeeper: LOW- Pepe Reina is a strength.
I’ll continue to look at the Premier League’s “big six” in the coming weeks. Manchester City and Arsenal are next.