The World Cup is truly one of the greatest events in all of sports. Every four years, teams from around the globe compete for the right to hoist the most coveted international trophy in sports.
While many teams and fans dream of their country winning the tournament, only eight countries ever have won the World Cup (Spain, Argentina, Italy, Uruguay, Brazil, England, France and Germany). With the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez and other stars playing, and with complete squads like Spain, France and Germany, it seems as if this trend will continue for another year.
However, there is hope that this World Cup will see a different winner. Perennial contenders, such as Portugal, Belgium, Colombia, and Mexico have never won before but are some of the dark horses. Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo and they did win the Euro 16.
Yet, a newly crowned champion may not come from one of the aforementioned heavy-hitters. There are other teams, some which haven’t made the tournament in years, that should start to get consideration. Here are five teams that have a legitimate chance to shock the world and win the World Cup:
Playing in a fairly competitive Group H, with Senegal, Japan and Colombia, Poland may not be favored to win their group. However, this shouldn’t be the case as the Polish national team can make some serious waves in this tournament.
Fielding one of the most experienced teams, Poland is relying on players like goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski, and world-class forward Robert Lewandowski to carry them after missing the last tournament in 2014. All of those guys 30 years old and have given Poland their greatest run of international football in its’ history. Two years ago, Poland reached the quarterfinals of the European Championship for the first time. Behind the young boot of Arkadiusz Milik, Poland has turned into a formidable offensive threat.
For Poland to advance past the group stage, they will have to heavily rely on the play of Lewandowski and Milik. Arguably the best striker in the world, Lewandowski is a major threat in any game. With Milik at his side, Poland will certainly create plenty of offensive chances. Couple their attacking prowess with a solid defense and midfield, Poland may provide a balanced spark to their World Cup campaign.
After some lobbying from the other captains in Peru’s group, FIFA reversed their doping ban on Peru striker and captain, Paolo Guerrero. This decision essentially saved Peru from being a lame-duck team in the tournament while also reviving Peru’s hope of making noise in their first World Cup appearance since 1982.
With Guerrero, Peru have the chance to be the favorite underdogs of the tournament. Not fielding a side with many top-flight players, Peru rely on their aggressive team play to win games. Alongside his striking partner Jefferson Farfan, Guerrero may be in the Golden Shoe race, considering how heavily they lean on the two for goalscoring.
Although this Peruvian side doesn’t have the flashy names, they do have the spirit and intensity to cause some upsets. Perhaps using Guerrero’s saga as inspiration, Peru will be playing with extra motivation and can compete in their group.
Of all the teams in the World Cup, Croatia may stake claim to the most talented duo in the midfield. Midfielders that play against one another in the Real Madrid and Barcelona rivalry, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are a fearsome tandem when combined as high-level chance-creators. They will have the responsibility of carrying Croatia past Argentina, Nigeria, and Iceland.
Mario Mandzukic still maintains an impressive form as a striker for Juventus. This experienced trio of Croatian stars will be the determining factors in whether or not Croatia can compete in a tough group. After failing to make it past the group stage in 2014, they will be looking for redemption this summer.
Croatia will have to rely on defensive veterans Dejan Lovren and Vedran Corluka with goalkeeper Danijel Subasic to back them. If this core group of veteran players can maintain their shape, they are legitimate finals contenders.
4. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is coming off a 2014 World Cup venture that saw them make the quarterfinals before being knocked out in penalties. No one expected that team to advance as far as they did and they have a shot at doing so again this time around.
Led by the amazing goalkeeping of Kelyor Navas, Costa Rica is one of the most sound defensive teams in the world. Their staunch defense keeps them close in every game and has resulted in the best spell of Costa Rican football. With a dynamic attacking threesome of Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz, and Marco Ureña, they are capable of scoring on counter-attacks and set pieces.
If Navas can continue his outstanding play alongside his teammates, expect to see Costa Rica come out of Group E along with Brazil. This team has enough of a pedigree to warrant the expectation that they will advance far. They have quality players on both sides of the ball that can create some havoc.
The hopes of the underdogs of the tournament (literally) rests on the shoulders of their star, Mohamed Salah. After injuring his shoulder during a tangle with Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final, Salah is slated to recover just in time for Egypt’s first World Cup game. If Salah does end up playing all three group-stage games, then expect some magic out of the man who scored 44 goals for Liverpool and Egypt this year.
Egypt hopes that their 45-year old goalkeeper and captain Essam El Hadary can continue to astound the soccer universe. The oldest player ever to qualify for a World Cup squad, Hadary is an Egyptian legend. He will be seeking help from vice-captain and defenseman Ahmed Fathy to form a defensive wall.
In their first World Cup since 1990, Egypt will be playing with “house money” in the opening match against Uruguay. Furthermore, they play the host-nation Russia, which should prove to be a hard game. Nonetheless, if Salah can play and is healthy for all three games, Egypt is capable of advancing past the group stage.
Of these five teams, Costa Rica has the best chance of reaching the World Cup final. As previously mentioned, they were a couple made penalties away from reaching the semifinals in 2014. Their squad is nearly identical to the one that nearly shocked the world and may even be better. With Navas, Costa Rica may have the best goalkeeper in form in the whole tournament.
Although the World Cup may seem more predictable than it seems, there is still hope for some new blood in the winner’s circle. There are teams that made it for the first time in decades and others that come up short when making it. Either way, there are plenty of contenders in what should be a riveting World Cup from start to finish.