The world cup makes legends. The legends are not just the so-called bigger teams in Europe and South America but each year, there are sides that perform beyond their capabilities.
In this article we look at those teams that can become the Dark Horses of the World Cup:
#1 Costa Rica
Costa Rica won hearts in the last world cup. They topped their group, a group consisting of Italy, England and Uruguay. And they did it convincingly, remaining unbeaten and beating Italy and a 10 man Uruguay in the process.
The country known for its rainforests didn’t stop there even though they had already become legends in their own rights. They beat Greece on penalties in the round of 16 on Penalties and the fairy tale couldn’t be stopped.
An attacking duo of Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz coupled with defensive solidity with Keylor Navas as the last line of defence, they made it really hard for the opposition to beat them. Unfortunately, they lost to Netherlands in the round of 8 but they had done it, getting out of the group of death was in itself difficult, going the whole tournament unbeaten was remarkable.
A lot of players earned moves to European Clubs with Keylor Navas the biggest name who was bought just after the world cup and has been the mainstay. Christian Gamboa the RB also secured a move to the then Premier League team West Bromwich Albion.
Herve Renard. Amine Harit. Hakim Ziyech. Mehdi Benatia. These are the names you need to remember for a little while.
Herve Renard is the manager of the Morocco team. His approach of defensive solidity and playing on the counter with gifted players has been a key to his tournament football success. Renard has won the African Cup of Nations twice and is the only manager in the history of the tournament to win it with different countries, once with Zambia and once with Ivory Coast.
Amine Harit is the next big thing in World Football. The 20-year-old Midfielder from Schalke won the prestigious Bundesliga Rookie of the year, prestigious because of the talent that Bundesliga has been harbouring.
Hakim Ziyech comes from Ajax with a proven record of creativity and playmaking. Ziyech has ruled the Bundesliga for Ajax and topped the assist charts for the past two seasons. He even helped Ajax qualify for last year’s Europa League final only to, unfortunately, lose out to Manchester United. His set-piece delivery, his ability to find a goal and pass alike make him an important asset to the Atlas Lions.
Mehdi Benatia has been one of the most underrated defenders in the past decade or so. Having played his trade in both Serie A and Bundesliga, the tall CB found his best form at Roma after which a lot of clubs were after him but Pep Guardiola managed to lure him into the Bundesliga for Bayern. After a good stint and sometimes frustrating because of Injuries, he moved to the Serie A again this time for Juventus to replace the outgoing Bonucci. He is the key to Renard’s side as they didn’t concede even one goal in Qualifying.
Overall, this is the first time in 20 years that they have Qualified for the World Cup and the fifth time in all their history. But with the tactical set up perfect for tournaments they might be able to pull of multiple upsets starting from the Group itself having been drawn in the group of death, with Portugal and Spain.
Serbia have a very good team going to the world cup and it will not be a surprise to anyone if they make it to the semi finals even. An experienced backline, a solid midfield and a striker that set the Championship on fire for Fulham.
Serbia is probably the most complete team in terms of having every position covered adequately in the Dark Horse list. Having qualified for the world cup by topping their group, the Serbian team was hit by cannon when the Qualifying manager Slavoljub Muslin was sacked rather unceremoniously even after topping the group. The reason- his reluctance to play Milinkovic Savic, the Lazio star and Manchester United target. Mladen Krstajić is the new boss and frankly it’s very hard to tell what you can expect of the team now.
Mladen was a quality defender in his days and will certainly improve the already experienced defence but it needs to be seen how he attacks with the wealth of attacking talent he has at his disposal in Tadic and Ljajic and well, Milinkovic-Savic.
The Serbians are drawn in the same group as Costa Rica and have Brazil and Switzerland as the other teams. While Brazil looks like a sure Qualifier it remains to be seen who clinches the last spot. But one thing is for sure, it will be a very tough midfield battle for whoever faces them.
Belgium are the widely proclaimed Dark Horses. And rightly so. The Belgium team is full of world beaters. Hazard, Mertens, De Bruyne all in one team and Martinez has done very well to fit all the attacking players in one team. Martinez uses a 3-4-3 with inside forwards and the formation has worked so far. Belgium are drawn in a group with England, Panama and Tunisia and it doesn’t look like much of a problem if they are to Qualify.
Their defense will be called to question in the knock outs with Vincent Kompany struggling with continuous injuries but Vertonghen and Alderweireld have emerged as real winners after becoming seasoned campaigners in the Premier League.
Meunier and Carrasco have proven to be goalscoring wingbacks with the former having contributed 3 goals and 4 assists in one game against Gibraltar in Qualifying! Carrasco hasn’t lost the faith of manager Roberto Martinez and will be expected on the left flank.
Nainggolan has been a controversial omission from the squad but with Dembele being his replacement Belgium can expect good things. The team is completed Romelu Lukaku up front and Thibaut Courtois both top class players for their clubs.
The squad with the enviable midfield trio of Kovacic, Rakitic and Modric. Modric has been moved to a further forward role at Croatia under manager Zlatko Dalic and it has proved to be a masterstroke till now. The Rakitic-Modric double pivot in the midfield although full of creativity was lacking defensively and Dalic had to employ a 4-2-3-1 to bring in another midfielder.
In that midfield position, Croatia have 3 options, Badlej, Kovacic and Brozovic. While Badlej has been usually preferred, Kovacic under Zidane has taken up a more defensive role usually covering for their Defensive Midfielder Casemiro. Croatia’s team is full of star players, up top they have Mandzukic, on the flanks they have Hoffenheim star man, Kramaric and Inter wing player, Perisic both of goalscoring nature.
At the back they have Liverpool man, Dejan Lovren in the centre along with Vrsaljko of Atletico on the right side flanking the CB. Subasic has been the mainstay for Monaco for a number of years now and the Croats look more than prepared for the WC.