Some of these countries have the ability to take the tournament by storm.
“Football is the universal language that we speak in different accents”, this quote justifies how varied the game of football is. When it comes to the biggest event then it’s also a matter of respect and pride. So the FIFA World Cup 2018 is just knocking at the door and teams like Brazil, Germany, Spain and France are considered to be the heavyweights this year. But the others will also leave no stones unturned to get to the ultimate glory of being the World Champions. It is not always that the favourites have bagged the trophy, the dark horses have also proven their mettle and shown the world that with hard work and determination any feat is achievable.
Khel Now analyses such five top teams who will give the big boys a run for their money!
The Croats have always fallen under the Darkhorses tag for some time now and now it’s their time to prove the world that they are more than that. Croatia had a decent qualifying campaign where they finished second, behind leaders Iceland. Their recent performances are the reason a lot of eyes will be on the Vatreni this summer.
Croatia is at their all-time high in terms of quality players in the squad
Croatia will hopefully put up a show for their supporters as they are in a very difficult group alongside Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria. Luka Modric will lead the side and will be the heartbeat in midfield alongside of Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic. Added firepower like Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Marko Rog will also be there to step in whenever required. Experienced campaigners like Dejan Lovren, Sime Vrsaljko will add the necessary solidity to their rearguard. In attack, they have a lot of options, players like Mario Mandzukic who is a proven goalscorer will be their main man in attack alongside Nikola Kalinic. It also depends on their coach, Zlatko Dalic, on how he uses the players he has at his disposal to go through the group stage.
The Gold Cup winners have always been termed as a team likely to go far and pull off some upsets but somehow their performances in recent editions have not been great. But the El Tri had made a mark in the CONCACAF qualifiers losing only a single match.
Mexico had an impressive qualifier round
Their best result in World Cup history is reaching the quarterfinals in 1970 and 1986. The El Tri needs to prove a point this time around as they are no pushovers in the tournament. The North Americans are up against the likes of Germany, Sweden and the Korea Republic. So if things go as per plans, then coach Juan Carlos Osorio and his men should progress through without any hickup.
Led by midfielder Andres Guardado, the Mexican centre of the pitch will be partnered by the experienced FC Porto ace Hector Herrera. Rafael Marquez and Hector Moreno will render defensive duties, which is a set of positions that might come back to haunt them. Mexico’s strength is their attack, led by their main man Javier Hernandez and joining him will be the likes of Carlos Vela and Hirving Lozano with ample amount of pace to burn.
The La Celeste will look to redefine their early days back in 1930 and 1950. They are in desperate need to bring back the glory days as their performance in the previous edition was also not up to the mark.
Uruguay finished as the runners-up in the CONMEBOL qualifications
Uruguay performed really well in the qualifying round finishing in the second position just behind leaders Brazil. The Latinos are in a comparatively easier group in the World Cup as they will be joining Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the hosts Russia in the preliminary stages. Oscar Tabarez and his men will be aiming to top the group but teams like Egypt and Russia might prove to be hurdles in the way.
Captained by Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin, Uruguay have a leader in almost every department on the field. Godin will be partnered with his Atletico teammate Jose Maria Gimenez and veteran defender Maxi Perreira in the defence. In the midfield, experienced players like Cristian Rodriguez, Gaston Ramirez and Matias Vecino will be key for creating opportunities for the South Americans. In attack, Barcelona ace Luis Suarez and Paris Saint Germain striker Edinson Cavani will shoulder the responsibilities of scoring goals as Uruguay have shown a certain dependency on them. Players like Christian Stuani, Diego Rolan and Abel Hernandez are also set to be part of the fold who can step in whenever required.
Uruguay looks a decent side but they are over dependant on Suarez-Cavani duo which might be a problem for them. Their midfield is also a bit weak in comparison to other areas.
The European champions are often overlooked in grand events and they have proven themselves what they can do by surprising everyone. Cristiano Ronaldo will be even more eager to perform to add his career’s maiden FIFA World Cup trophy to his trophy cabinet. The Portuguese talisman and his team will try and bring their best string of performance to Russia.
Portugal was impressive in the UEFA qualifications
Fernando Santos’ men had a productive qualifying campaign as they finished as group leaders and lost only a single game to Switzerland. Portugal are in Group B alongside Spain, Morocco and Iran. Although a tricky group, but considering the firepower they have at their disposal, the Portuguese should easily progress to the knockouts.
Santos has been a revelation for Portugal and he has promoted youth with a proper blend of experience in his ranks. Portugal is not a one-man army now and they have a great team beyond Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo will be their talisman for sure but youngsters like Goncalo Guedes, Gelson Martins, Bernardo Silva and others have also proven their mettle. The experience of Joao Moutinho, Nani, Quaresma, Pepe will be vital for the Selecção das Quinas. Santos has several of talented midfielders under his sleeves like Joao Moutinho, William Carvalho, Adrien Silva, Andre Gomes and others who can add more variety to the midfield. Their defence will be led by Pepe and Jose Fonte with Luis Neto expected to be the third centre-back. With fulls backs like Cedric Soares, Raphael Guerreiro and Fabio Coentrao, the Europeans’ defence looks pretty solid.
All in all, Portugal looks like a great squad and certainly a team to beat on their day.
The team associated with the ‘dark horse’ tag most of the times recently is Belgium. Their best result in a World cup came back in 1986 when they finished in the fourth place. Since then the Red Devils’ performance was nothing exceptional to boast off.
The Western Europeans had a great qualification round where they finished as group toppers. Roberto Martinez and his men are placed in a more or less comfortable group alongside England, Tunisia and Panama. The group looks easy enough for Belgium and should easily go through to the knockouts.
The Belgian team is full of exciting and promising players
Belgium has a pretty balanced squad, with Thibaut Courtois under the sticks and Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen will give the opposition forwards a very tough time. Kevin De Bruyne is their main man in midfield, he will the creative nucleus of the side.He will be partnered by experienced players like Moussa Dembele, Radja Naingolan, Maraoune Fellaini and Axel Witsel which proves their strength in midfield.
Eden Hazard will be there main man going forward with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Michy Batsshuayi or Dries Mertens who will lead the attack up front. Roberto Martinez has an excellent side at his disposal and it will be interesting to see his tactics and how he uses his players.