The World Cup will be here in a matter of days, and at this point excitement is reaching a fever pitch. By now, if you’re a fan or even someone taking a casual interest, you’ve probably read about the popular favourites, the most competitive groups, the players to watch for the Golden Boot, etc. Instead of looking at all these popular topics however, we’re using this piece to examine some of the less heralded teams capable of making surprising runs at this World Cup.
A few weeks ago, it wouldn’t have been a huge surprise to say Egypt could make a run. It might well be the second best team in Group A on paper, and star striker Mohamed Salah is coming off a transcendent season with Liverpool and in the running for the Balon d’Or. However, after Salah injured his shoulder in the Champions League final, the hype about Egypt largely fell off.
For that reason, the Egyptians could still surprise people. Salah is reportedly feeling good and may make it back for at least part of the group stage, and even without him this team should still be able to compete with Russia and Saudi Arabia, if perhaps not group favorite Uruguay.
Iceland is fast becoming something of a fan favourite side as we head into the World Cup. The smallest nation to qualify by a fairly significant margin, Iceland will have its work cut out for it in a group that also features Argentina, Nigeria, and Croatia.
But this is a deeply unified and surprisingly talented side that excels on the defensive end and makes the most of its opportunities counterattacking. It’s just the sort of team that can surprise an opponent with superior talent, and that makes it a threat to advance against the odds.
Morocco is a very easy nation to count out at this World Cup. It’s not a known football power, and it’s not a very large country. Furthermore, looking at the fixtures for the Cup, you quickly see some big names on the other side. Morocco will have to play both Spain and Portugal in the group stage, as well as the more manageable tie against minnows Iran. That said, Morocco has become a somewhat popular sleeper pick among experts.
This is a talented side that doesn’t concede many goals but actually plays more of an aggressive, attacking style of football. When you consider that Iran is very beatable and Portugal beyond Cristiano Ronaldo leaves a lot to be desired, Morocco has a chance to sneak through alongside Spain.
England still carries the name of a football powerhouse, but much of the world would chuckle at the notion that the English are a real threat at the World Cup. Indeed, it’s been written time and again that expectations are low for the English this time around, and Belgium – not England – is the class of Group G. But all this really means is that England can’t do much of anything aside from meet expectations or overachieve. Thus, any success will surprise people, and England actually has the talent to advance to the knockout stages. Team identity and cohesion might be another story…
Peru isn’t being talked about very much because it’s in a group with France. The French figure to be an incredibly entertaining side this time around and could be among the contenders if they really start to click. But don’t overlook Peru. This team doesn’t have much in the way of internationally famous stars, but it’s a very strong unit that was awfully impressive throughout most of qualifying. It’s the sort of team you really can’t figure out from previews or roster studying though. When you see them take the field, you’ll realize they’re no joke.