The World Cup is incomplete without two things – 1. Few favorites to win the trophy with the perfectly balanced squad and 2. Dark horses ruining their plans by shocking the world.
Just like every edition of the World Cup, we have a few teams which are being ignored by the media and opponents, but they know how to turn the heat on the pitch.
South Korea and Turkey did it in 2002 by reaching the last four. Portugal also shocked the world in 2006 when they beat Netherlands and England to reach the semi-finals. The uncertainty around the matches due to the presence of such dark horses makes the World Cup more entertaining than ever.
This year as well, we have a few teams which have the ability to repeat the feat achived by Portugal, Rurkey and South Korea in the recent past:
Only Christian Eriksen comes to our mind when you think of Denmark. And of course, he single-handedly booked Denmark’s ticket to Russia with a hat-trick in playoffs. But Denmark is much more than just Eriksen.
Leicester City’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel will be between the sticks for Denmark. Sevilla’s center-back Simon Kjær will lead the team from the center of the defense. Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen will provide various options for the manager with his ability to play as both defender and defensive midfielder.
Christian Eriksen will be crucial for Denmark without any doubts. The Spurs midfielder will be vital in both creating and scoring the goals and his ability from the dead-ball situation. He will be expecting some help from Celta’s Daniel Wass who had a great season in La Liga.
Åge Hareide’s men do not have a renowned name in the attack, but the manager will be expecting goals from the likes of Bendtner, Jørgensen, and Poulsen.
Denmark’s fight will start from the very beginning as they face France, Peru, and Australia in the group stages. And they do have a difficult group to finish second, but why would we put them in the list of dark horses if it was all easy?
Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani immediately pop-up to the mind when you hear Uruguay. And rightly so, the South American country possesses one of the deadliest attacks in the World Cup. But it’s not just because of Suarez and Cavani but also due to La Liga’s Cristhian Stuani and Maxi Gomez. Together, these four have scored 91 goals in the league football this season. NINETY-ONE!
And when you have such an attack, it is possible to sneak into the latter stages of the tournament despite lacking in the midfield. The midfield will heavily rely on veteran Cristian Rodríguez who has also scored 3 goals in 6 appearances in Copa Libertadores.
But the two-time Champions can make up for the weak midfield with their strong and reliable defense. Experience of Maxi Pereira and Diego Godin will be crucial in the defensive line. And another Atletico Madrid defender, Jose Giminez has the ability to support both Pereira and Godin.
Uruguay is expected to walk out of the group stage on top and might face Portugal in Round of 16. But it looks difficult for Portugal’s defense to handle Uruguay’s hot and steaming attack.
They have done it before and they can do it again. In 2014, the Columbians won all three games in the group stage, beat Uruguay in the Round of 16 and came agonizingly close to taking Brazil in extra-time in the quarter-finals.
James Rodriguez will be key to Columbia’s chances once again. 2014 Golden Boot winner has been in a terrific form for Bayern this season. Rodriguez will provide support to Radamel Falcao and Carlos Bacca in the attack. Both the strikers have recently finished their respective league campaigns with a flurry of goals and will look to take the same form to Russia.
Columbia does not have to worry about the group stage as well. The South Americans are pitted against Poland, Senegal, and Japan in group H and should seal the top spot.
Los Cafeteros’s real test will start in the knock-out stages where they are likely to face England/Belgium in Round of 16. If they pass that test, they will mostly have the World Champions, Germany waiting for them in the quarter-finals. Looks impossible? Believe in Columbia and their very own James to do the impossible.
World-class midfield, proven attackers, and experienced defense – Croatia boast one of the most balanced squads for the World Cup. Then why are they still just dark horses? Due to the lack of a poster boy like Messi or Neymar in their squad and the fact that their players have not clicked together to perfection yet.
Croatia had to go through play-offs to qualify for the World Cup and that can be the worrying sign for the squad full of talented players. If Croats can get their act together, they are destined to go far in the tournament.
El Clasico rivals, Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic form the formidable midfield for the team. Serie A rivals Mario Madzukic and Ivan Perisic will be in the attack as Croatia hopes to avoid the repetition of 2014.
Veteran Vedran Ćorluka will be supported by Dejan Lovren of Liverpool and Šime Vrsaljko of Atletico Madrid in the defense. Croatians do have a difficult group to deal with as they face Argentina, Iceland, and Nigeria.
But with the kind of squad they have assembled, Croatia should believe in themselves to shock quite a few teams. Modric’s men will face France in the round of 16 if they finish second in the group and anything after that will be written in the history books of the team which reached the semi-final in 1998.
It is almost criminal to put England in the list of dark horses after the kind of team they have got. And they don’t even fit in the definition of the dark horses. Do they have a balanced squad? Yes. Poster Boy? Yes, Harry Kane.
Then why are the Three Lions on this list? Simply due to the history in the major FIFA tournaments. England failed to clear the group stage in 2014 and were knocked out by Iceland in Round of 16 in Euro 2016. This time, England needs to use their players efficiently to get the best out of them.
England is likely to start with Gary Cahill and John Stones in the center of the defense. But it is the wing backs which can provide wings (No pun intended) to England’s attack on both the flanks. Fabian Delph, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young will create a sweet headache for Gareth Southgate to pick the playing XI.
Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson have proven their worth in the defensive midfield, while there a very few better young players than Dele Alli right now. Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard will also be eager to continue his hot form.
And England’s attack? They have got the current best striker in the world in the form of Harry Kane. The Tottenham forward will be supported by Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck.
How does that attack not scare you?
England is not on this list to shock a few teams and then go out at the quarter-finals stage. They are the dark horses to win the World Cup or at least reach the finals stages of the competition. (Call me crazy!)
These teams are more than capable of beating the favorites. All they need is proper tactics and self-belief to finish the difficult task. After all, what is World Cup without surprises and shocks?