With everyone talking about who is going to win the World Cup this year, it’s not uncommon to witness a true fairy-tale story of an underdog taking the world by storm.
We’ve seen it before in past competitions with the likes of Greece and Denmark winning the European Championships. We also were blessed with some show-stopping performances from North Korea, Costa Rica and everyone’s favourite Ghana (cheers Luis Suarez!) at past World Cup finals.
Here are the top 5 nations who we expect to pose the biggest threats and potentially cause some major upsets at the World Cup this time around.
It is crazy to think that this is only Iceland’s second appearance at a major international tournament, and their first time competing at the World Cup. The small nation of less than 350,000 people has surprised a fair few with their ability to put together a pretty decent 23-man squad, which is certainly capable of causing a few upsets.
Looking back at their Euro 2016 embarrassment they dished out to England, in conjunction with a few show-stopping performances in Group I of the World Cup Qualifiers – beating Croatia and topping the group on the way to their first World Cup Finals – it seems relatively clear that this small nation could be ready to cause a few surprises this summer.
Nine different players scored for Iceland during qualification, which silences any critics calling them a one-man team. And of course, one can’t overlook the sheer class that Gylfi Sigurdsson offers from set-pieces.
Placed in Group D alongside Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria, this Iceland team will relish at the possibility of progressing into the knockout rounds of this tournament – having already beaten Croatia in qualifying, facing a slightly disorganised Nigeria team, and never being afraid of causing an upset against Messi’s Argentina which have lacked in form recently.
Although Group H may not appear to have the most star-studded line-up of nations, it certainly offers its fair share of excitement due to the difficulty in determining which teams will progress to the knockout stages of the World Cup. It’s probably one of the toughest groups at the World Cup due to the fact every team has the ability to beat one another when on top form.
Senegal will face Colombia, Poland and Japan during their World Cup campaign, and although most fans would assume Colombia and Poland to be the most likely candidates for progression, it’s difficult to totally rule out this Senegal side.
With players like Sadio Mane, Keita Balde Diao, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye, it’s not so easy to overlook such a strong, quick and skilful side like Senegal, which certainly has the potential to cause problems for the other teams in their group.
Although Senegal have only been to one World Cup finals before, in 2002, they did reach the quarter finals. Furthermore, having only lost one match (in 90 minutes) since March 2016, it would be unfair to ignore the possibility of Senegal’s progression in this summer’s competition.
Denmark have had a short-lived history of performing in major competitions, having won the 1992 European Championships without even qualifying! (they replaced Yugoslavia just before the competition got underway)
This year, however, this Danish squad is looking rather strong and is filled with a list of talented players who perhaps go under the radar in European football. They also have Christian Eriksen, who fans of the Premier League and Tottenham know a thing or two about.
The Danish national side also haven’t lost a match since 2016, thrashing Poland 4-0 and Ireland 5-1 on their way to 2nd place in Group E of the World Cup qualifiers. Placed in Group C alongside France, Australia and Peru, there is every possibility that this young Danish side, possessing a few up-and-coming youthful talents like Kasper Dolberg, Andreas Christensen and Kasper Schmeichal, could overcome the odds and continue their fantastic form going into a relatively appetising Group C draw.
When a national team has a player in such great form as Mo Salah, in addition to being placed in Group A alongside Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia, it’s difficult to rule them out. Of course, they would then have to face (most probably) Spain or Portugal in the 1st knockout round, but one can never truly rule out an underdog in an international tournament … or any tournament for that matter.
Mo Salah’s 44 goals in all competitions for Liverpool is certainly eye-catching for all fans of the beautiful game, and he just keeps getting better by scoring the goal that sent Egypt to their first World Cup finals in almost 30 years.
However, it’s hard for a club or nation to often do well just by relying on one player throughout an entire tournament, but Egypt do possess a few well-known players amongst Premier League fans, such as Mohamed Elneny, Ahmed Hegazi and Ramadan Sobhi, all of which have had some form of top-level experience.
Although Uruguay are favourites to win Group A, if Egypt can beat both Saudi Arabia and the hosts, Russia, they will almost certainly progress to the knockout rounds. Having only scored 3 goals in the 2 World Cup’s they’ve attended, it’s easy to assume they may not hang around too long in this year’s competition. But football is full of surprises and as all football fans have seen this season, if anybody can make something happen and overcome the odds, it’s Mo Salah.
Finishing top of Group D in the World Cup qualifiers, losing only 1 game, and beating an Austria team which contains the likes of Marko Arnautovic and David Alaba, it’s difficult to overlook the possibility of Serbia putting on a show this summer.
Being placed in Group E alongside one of the tournament favourite’s Brazil, they’ll also come up against Costa Rica and Switzerland. This Serbian side can feel slightly calmer knowing Switzerland’s failure to impress at major tournaments, despite the quality they possess.
Serbia is considered one of this World Cup’s dark horses, and have a squad comprised of a mixture of youth and experience. Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, 23, who has been linked heavily with a move to Old Trafford this summer is one to keep an eye on, having notched 14 goals and 6 assists with Lazio this season. The squad also includes some more local faces, such as Dusan Tadic, Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Nemanja Matic.