Pundits and fans across the world are making their predictions about potential winners. Groups of friends are pooling money and taking part in sweepstakes. While most are focussed on the usual favourites, it feels as if there are more dark horses than ever in this year’s tournament. Here are previews of four teams who are the World Cup dark horses this winter and the players to look out for.
World Cup Dark Horses That Could Cause a Shock in Qatar
Denmark come into the World Cup on the back of a Euros Semi Final and beating Word Champions France twice in the Nations League.
They lost on penalties in 2018 to eventual finalists Croatia in the R16. They’ve only made the QFs once, can they match or better that in Qatar? 🇩🇰 pic.twitter.com/e7Wy2wAV9a
— The European Football Express (@TheEuroFE) November 19, 2022
Denmark – The Popular Dark Horse
Denmark have been picked by many as the dark horse for this World Cup, with good reason too. The Euro 2020 semi-finalists topped their qualifying group, losing just one game out of ten and winning the other nine, all while scoring 30 goals and conceding just three.
Many would expect the Danes to beat Australia and Tunisia in Group D, but ultimately finish behind current World Champions France, but there is every chance that they might win the group.
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The Danes already have two victories over France this year in the UEFA Nations League. The French squad have been hit by injuries for this World Cup, and have been unable to call on stars such as Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, and now Christopher Nkunku has now been ruled out of the tournament. They were also dealt a hammer blow with the news that Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema has also been ruled out of the World Cup through injury.
This is still a French team that includes the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Aurélien Tchouameni, and other incredible talents. But this Danish squad will back themselves to beat France for the third time this year.
One To Watch: Andreas Skov Olsen. The twenty-two-year-old winger was part of a Club Brugge side that qualified for the Champions League last 16 ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid. He registered five goals and three assists for Denmark in qualifying, and he has seven goals and four assists in 20 appearances for Brugge this season.
Senegal’s captain Kalidou Koulibaly received the participation plaque from the FIFA representative at the teams arrival meeting. 🚨🇸🇳#WorldCupwithMicky I #WorldCup2022 pic.twitter.com/niTHgrba5o
— #Qatar2022 ✪ (@MickyJnr__) November 17, 2022
Senegal – Difficult to Predict
There would not be any doubts about Senegal being a World Cup dark horse ordinarily. This is the team that won the African Cup of Nations this year and they are the highest-ranked African team according to FIFA. While their Group A fixture against the Netherlands might be a tough opening fixture, you would expect them to beat hosts Qatar and an Ecuador side that has won just twice in 2022.
But the focus this last week has been on the injury to star player Sadio Mane. Despite being included in the squad, coach Aliou Cisse admitted there is no guarantee he will be available. Speaking to reporters, and quoted on BBC Sport, he said: “On Thursday, Sadio spent the whole day in Munich before travelling to Austria for further tests, where he received some positive news that he does not need an operation.
“It is important to continue to monitor his injury and hope that in two or three weeks there is a change. We will give everything to have Sadio back.”
Read More: French Star Ruled Out of World Cup Through Injury
However, this is a Senegal team that includes the likes of Chelsea centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, Everton midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye, and Watford forward Ismaïla Sarr. Having a fit Mane available certainly helps, but this is a strong squad that can still cope without him.
Should Senegal progress, they may potentially be England’s opponents in the round of 16, and a fully fit Mane could go on to terrorise the English defence.
One to watch: Ismaïla Sarr. The Watford forward has scored six goals and set up three others for his club this season. Moreover, his 2022 goal record for Senegal is bettered only by Mane and Alanyaspor’s Famara Diedhiou. With the former currently, a doubt, expect Sarr to step up in his place.
Official Serbia list for 2022 World Cup. 🚨🇷🇸 #WorldCup #WorldCup2022 pic.twitter.com/7qoybSHHGb
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) November 12, 2022
Serbia – Low Ranking but Full of Talent
Serbia are the lowest-ranked team in this article (21st in FIFA’s world rankings). But that will not dent their confidence going into the tournament. Serbia beat Portugal to automatic qualification last year, thanks to a 90th-minute winner from Fulham striker Aleksander Mitrovic.
They have carried that form into 2022, only losing twice this year – 3-0 to Denmark in March, and 1-0 to Norway in June. They also earned a much-deserved promotion to the top Nations League group along the way.
The Serbian squad is full of attacking talent, with Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic, and Mitrovic leading the attack. These two strikers are supported on the wings, and in midfield by Filip Kostic, Ajax’s Dusan Tadic, and Lazio’s midfielder Sergej-Milinkovic Savic.
Read More: The Dazzling Dutch Looks Set to Top Group A
Confidence will be high going into this World Cup, and they will be looking to qualify from Group G with Brazil, and progress to the knockout stages for the first time in their history.
One to watch: Dusan Vlahovic. Despite Juventus’ poor start to the season, the striker has scored 7 goals and has two assists in 15 games at just 22 years old. With Mitrovic not guaranteed to start after missing Fulham’s last two Premier League games before the World Cup with an injury, Vlahovic will be responsible for leading the line.
Only three countries have won more World Cups than Uruguay:
Can La Celeste pull off a third triumph in Qatar and a first since 1950? @wilsoncs97 on Uruguay’s chances: https://t.co/5W44WHb0OQ pic.twitter.com/JgW1R6Erfk
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) November 19, 2022
Uruguay – The Strongest Underdog?
It feels strange to label Uruguay as a World Cup dark horse, as they have a stellar record at recent tournaments. But with all expectation on Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay are the South American team who have slipped under the radar.
Their qualifying process was not straightforward, with four consecutive losses leading to coach Oscar Tabarez being replaced by Diego Alonso. Despite those damaging defeats, they went on to recover and qualify anyway.
Uruguay have built up form ahead of the tournament without too much attention, having lost just once in 2022 to Iran in September. They have formidable squad depth, with Alonso having options such as Luis Suarez, Darwin Nunez, Federico Valverde and many others to choose from.
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A re-run of the 2010 quarter-finals against Ghana awaits, along with games against Portugal and South Korea. Portugal would ordinarily be the favourites to go through, but after Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent interview, relationships between him and his Manchester United teammates Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot could be strained and affect the chances of Portugal.
Should Uruguay top the group, they may face fellow dark horses Serbia in the round of 16. If they win that game, then they could potentially face Senegal or England in the quarter-finals. With the talent at its disposal, Uruguay could make it to the latter stages of the Qatar World Cup.
One to watch: Giorgian De Arrascaeta. Only Suarez has scored more goals for Uruguay than Arrascaeta in 2022. And the midfielder has been impressive in the Brazilian Serie A for Flamengo in 2022, with three goals and ten assists in 24 games.
Last Word on Football recognises and opposes the human rights and governance issues surrounding Qatar and the organisation of the World Cup. See information about the concerns surrounding the competition here.