With the FIFA World Cup only around the corner, many are anticipating the top teams battle it out for the chance to win the coveted crown.
Teams like Brazil, Spain, France and defending champions Germany are expected to go far in the competition and eventually face-off in the knockout stages to see who the best national team is.
Outside of the national teams, individual stars are also set to make their mark in front of millions of viewers as Lionel Messi will look to carry Argentina back to the final, while Cristiano Ronaldo is hoping for another international title after helping Portugal win the European Championships two years earlier.
However, there are some teams who seem to be outsiders and that many are overlooking. With that in mind, here are the five lowest ranked teams competing in the FIFA World Cup.
PANAMA (FIFA Ranking: 55)
Starting things off is a team ranked 55th in the world, Panama.
Making their debut in the competition, many are expecting Panama to have a difficult time in the competition. Being grouped with strong squads like Belgium and England, it appears that the nation will have an uphill battle ahead.
They qualified for the competition in dramatic fashion as they defeated Costa Rica in their final qualifying match with a winner less than 10 minutes from the final whistle that put them through and knocked out the United States.
While they may not have as much quality as others in their group have, their grit and determination may land them at least a few points in the group stages – and that is a success in itself.
As for their key player, 37-year-old Blas Perez will hope that their inaugural feature in the competition will turn some heads and result in a few surprises.
Being the most senior member of the squad, Perez should lead the inspired Panama team against the European heavyweights and his experience for the team should come in handy. Already with 43 goals for the country, capping things off with a World Cup goal should be the icing on the cake for his long tenure as a professional football player.
SOUTH KOREA (FIFA Ranking: 57)
The first Asian team on the list, South Korea find themselves 57th in the ranking.
It may come as a surprise to most, with South Korea oftentimes being mentioned as one of the top teams in the continent, but the South Koreans’ last Asian Cup triumph came back in 1960. The closest they’ve come since then was as runners-up in 2015.
During the qualifiers things started off smoothly for the Taegeuk Warriors, winning their eight matches in the first round. However, things went downhill from then as they only qualified by outlasting Syria.
In the World Cup, South Korea are matched against defending champions Germany, Mexico and Sweden. It should be a tough contest for them and they should have incredible performances to at least merit a chance of going through.
Undoubtedly, Son Heung-Min will be the team’s catalyst as he is the best player from the national squad.
Plying his trade with Tottenham Hotspur, he has had the chance to face top talent and it should come in handy when they have their tough assignments in the group.
JAPAN (FIFA Ranking: 61)
Coming in third on the list are Japan who are ranked 61st in the world standings.
When competing amongst their Asian counterparts, Japan have always been one of the top teams. This has resulted in them regularly representing the continent in the World Cup.
Unfortunately, they have had difficulty in matching up against non-Asian countries. The last two wins against non-Asian countries have been in 2015 against Tunisia and recently against Paraguay.
Heading into Russia, the Samurai Blue are looking to get past their preview World Cup campaign which saw them crash out in the group stages and only scoring two goals in the process.
They will definitely have a tough time as they are grouped against Portugal, Senegal and an inspired Colombia team so for Japan to move on in the knockout stages would require worldly performances from their stars.
Speaking of which, Japan have capable players such as Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa, but the player to watch out for is Keisuke Honda as he has been in excellent form in Mexico’s Liga MX.
He has also been excellent in the qualifiers, scoring seven goals and he surely hopes to add to his tally in Russia.
SAUDI ARABIA (FIFA Ranking: 67)
The lowest ranked among the Asian countries on the list are Saudi Arabia who are 67th in the world.
Making a return for the first time since 2006, the nation find their qualification as a success on its own given the challenges they had along the way.
Their path through World Cup qualification was less than stellar as they only moved on thanks to a better goal difference against their opponents.
If those performances are any indication, they would need a lot of luck to overthrow their opponents in the group as they are up against hosts Russia, Egypt and Uruguay in the group stages.
Mohammad Al-Sahlawi may be their best hope for anything moving forward in the competition after resurgence in his international career where he scored 24 of his 28 international goals from January 2015 onwards.
If Saudi manage to surprise their opponents in the group stages, that would definitely come as a bonus in their World Cup campaign.
RUSSIA (FIFA Ranking: 70)
Last on the list are the lowest ranking team in the group and they’re hosts Russia.
Many are not too optimistic about Russia’s chances in the competition, especially when most are pegging Uruguay and Egypt to make it to the next round in their group.
If last year’s Confederations Cup was any indication, the hosts are in for a bumpy ride and it might end up in disappointment for the home fans.
With most of the spotlight at them, Igor Akinfeev will likely be under the most pressure to perform as he will head into the competition as the team’s captain.
At 32 years old, this is Akinfeev’s second World Cup appearance and is hoping to carry over his impressive performances at club level with CSKA Moscow as he kept 18 clean sheets in 28 league appearances. Furthermore, the shot-stopper has an impressive 30% completion in stopping penalties.
This should come in handy when he’s facing opponents like Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Mohamed Salah.