Ranking the FIFA World Cup Nations Since 1998

The Russia 2018 World Cup will be the 6th tournament in the 32-team era, while FIFA are planning on expanding the tournament in 2026. Meanwhile, a year before Russia host the tournament, we rank the performances of the world’s football nations since 1998 based on their finish. Unlike our pre-2010 World Cup rankings, we didn’t hand out points for making the group stage. The points are rewarded as such: 

1 point for losing in round 2 of the world cup
2 points for losing in the Quarter Finals
3 points for losing in the Semi Finals
4 points for finishing runner up
6 points for being World Champion

And now, without further ado, here are the top 7 football nations in the last five World Cups: 

6-7. Italy – 9 points

Italy 2006

While the Italians have failed to make it out of the group stage in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, their run from 1998 through 2006 is enough to put them in our top 7. Mainly, it was their 2006 campaign, seeing the Gli Azzurri lift the World Cup for the 4th time, presenting an almost unbeatable defense. In 1998 they were knocked out in the quarter final; in 2002 by South Korea in the round of 16, a match infamous for its poor, possibly even corrupt officiating.

6-7. Spain – 9 points

Spain 2010

Spain have a similar record to Italy in these last 5 World Cups: One championship (2010), one quarter final (2002), one round of 16 exit (2006) and twice (1998, 2014) not making it out of the group stage. Their 2010 triumph in the World Cup final was sandwiched between La Roja’s two European championships, the pinnacle of Spanish football’s golden age. It was probably the tipping point between everyone being impressed by their style and everyone being bored by the Spanish tactics and ball movement. They beat the Netherlands 1-0 in South Africa to become the first European nation to win the World Cup outside of Europe.

5. Argentina – 10 points

Argentina 2014

Argentina’s haul in the World Cups since 1998 is 3 quarter final appearances, one time (2002) of not making out of the group stage despite heading into the tournament as favorites, and one run to the World Cup final (2014), where they lost 1-0 to Germany. They’ve had arguably the best player in the World in the last two tournaments, but building a team around Lionel Messi hasn’t been enough for La Albiceleste, still with “only” two World Cup titles, the last of them in 1986.

4. Netherlands – 11 points

Wesley Sneijder Crying

The Dutch missed the 2002 World Cup (and might miss the 2018 tournament too), but they’ve made the semi final three times since 1998, including going all the way to the final in 2010, there losing to Spain in one of the more violent matches in recent World Cup history. The Oranje lost to Brazil in the 1998 World cup (penalties), and the same happened to them in the 2014 World Cup, losing to Argentina in a penalty shootout after a goalless draw through 120 minutes.

3. France – 12 points

Zinedine Zidane

France’s golden generation won the 1998 World Cup with an incredible 3-0 win over Brazil in the final, which included two goals by Zinedine Zidane. Two years later they won the Euros, and headed into the 2002 World Cup as massive favorites, only to fail in the group stage. In 2006 it was another run to the final for France, losing to Italy in the final in what was also Zidane’s final professional match. In 2010 they failed to make it out of the group stage again, and in 2014 Les Bleus lost in the QF to eventual champions Germany.

2. Brazil – 17 points

Brazil 2002 World Cup

It’s hard to imagine Brazil not being favorites to win a World Cup, or at least it used to be, but the Selecao came into the 2002 tournament with the trauma of their 3-0 loss to France four years before still echoing. Ronaldo, the “original” one, was after almost two full years without football due to injuries. But he put in a magnificent month in Asia alongside Rivaldo and Ronaldinho to win Brazil’s 5th World Cup, beating Germany 2-0 in the final. In 2006 and 2010 Brazil lost in the quarter final. In 2014, hosting the tournament, they headed into the semifinal against Germany without Neymar (injury) and Thiago Silva, which resulted in a 7-1 loss to Germany.

1. Germany – 18 points

Germany 2014

Topping our list are Die Mannschaft, the winners of the 2014 World Cup, the nation’s (including West Germany’s titles) 4th World Cup triumph. Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the final (Mario Gotze), their first major trophy since the 1996 Euros and their first World Cup since 1990, coming after making either the final or semi final in each major tournament since 2006. Their 1998 quarter final exit is their worst finish over the last 5 World Cups, a run that includes the final in 2002 and semi final exits in 2006 and 2010.

The teams that didn’t make the cut

6 points – England

5 points – Mexico (5 round of 16 exits)

4 points – Paraguay, Portugal (2006 semifinal), South Korea (2002 semifinal), Uruguay (2010 semifinal), USA

3 points – Belgium, Chile, Croatia (1998 semifinal), Denmark, Ghana, Turkey (2002 semifinal)

2 points – Colombia, Costa Rica, Japan, Nigeria, Senegal, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine

1 point – Algeria, Australia, Ecuador, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Yugoslavia