With most of the pundits and bookies fancying one of Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and Germany to lift the World Cup this summer, the hopes of the other 28 competing nations would seem to have been written off. However, in a knock-out competition, anything can happen, and sometimes teams that weren’t looking especially promising before a tournament can take people by surprise when it gets underway. So, to get you thinking outside the box, here are a few dark horse football tips for this summer’s World Cup.
Having had a bit of a dodgy qualifying campaign, which meant they needed to win a play-off to qualify, little is expected of France at this year’s World Cup, and they are currently priced at 18/1 outsiders to lift the trophy. Yet, there are many reasons why Les Bleus might turn out to be one of the surprise packages in Brazil. For starters, they have been handed what can only be described as a very fortunate draw in the group stage, and they should have little trouble swatting away the likes of Honduras, Ecuador, and Switzerland.
And while they have been quite inconsistent in the lead-up to the World Cup, there is no denying that they have one of the most talented squads in the tournament, with quality all over the park. In goal, they have much-feted Tottenham Hotspur keeper Hugo Lloris, and any defence featuring EliaquimMangala and Raphael Varane is going to be difficult to get past. In midfield they can boast the talents of highly rated Juventus anchor-man Paul Pogba, PSG dynamo Blaise Matuidi, and former Newcastle star YohanCabaye, and if his rift with coach Didier Deschamps can be healed in time, Man City wide man Samir Nasri. Upfront, they are spoiled for choice, with the likes of Franck Ribery, Loic Remy, Karim Benzema, and Olivier Giroud to choose from.
At the moment, the team looks a little disjointed, with a lot of young players that haven’t played with each other that much, but an extended period spent together prior to and during the World Cup should help to address this issue. If Deschamps can get them playing cohesive, consistent football, then France could beat the odds and go all the way in Brazil.
Another team that have under-performed in recent years, especially given the wealth of talent at their disposal. With a combination of major international stars such as Didier Drogba and YayaToure, solid pros such as Gervinho and ChieckTiote, and younger talents making a breakthrough including Serge Aurier and Wilfried Bony, they could finally have the right balance to make a big impression on the world stage.
Certainly, their group draw doesn’t look too imposing, with Columbia lacking a fully-fit Falcao and Japan and Greece posing a seemingly surmountable challenge for the Elephants. As a result, the bookies are expecting them to qualify with ease, and they are priced at evens to do so.
While an African nation has never lifted the World Cup, there has been some remarkable progress in terms of youth development over the past decade or two, and Ivory Coast have arguably one of the strongest teams from the continent in recent memory. If they can string a few results together, expect confidence to soar, and this momentum could easily carry them to the later stages of the tournament. Although nobody is expecting them to win it – least of all the bookmakers, who have them priced as rank outsiders at 150/1 – they could be a decent bet to be the top African team at odds of 6/4.
Much is expected of Belgium’s uber-talented pool of gifted young players and top stars at the peak of their abilities at this year’s World Cup, and they are currently ranked as fifth favourites to lift the trophy at odds of 16/1.
The main reason for this optimism lies not in their qualifying performances, which were consistently effective rather than breathtaking, but in the sheer quality of the players at their disposal. It seems they have an embarrassment of riches in every department, from Mignolet and Courtois in goal to Hazard and Lukaku up front.
In defence, they have title-winning Man City colossus Vincent Kompany marshalling the troops alongside proven performers such as Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen. Their midfield is a potent combination of strength, in the form of Axel Witsel, Moussa Dembele, and MarouanneFellaini, and the silky skills of Adnan Janusaj, NacerChadli, Steven Defour, and Kevin de Bruyne. If Belgium can live up to their undoubted potential in Brazil, those 16/1 odds will start to look very good value indeed.