With the World Cup just around the corner, the anticipation and excitement is starting to grow. The talk is all about the bigger nations – the likes of France, Brazil and Argentina but could there be a few nations slipping under the radar?
We’ve already taken a look at the outright favourites. So, let’s take a look at some of the sides I believe may surprise a lot of people!
Starting with the African powerhouses, Senegal. They’re Africa’s biggest chance of success at this World Cup. No nation from Africa has ever passed the quarter-final stage and it could be the best opportunity yet with Senegal’s golden crop of players.
Captained by Bayern Munich winger Sadio Mane, this Senegal side look to be massively underestimated ahead of the World Cup. Mane is joined by star names such as Eduoard Mendy, Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye, Cheikou Kouyate and Ismael Sarr.
Although this will only be their third World Cup, the current African champions arrive full of confidence. Senegal arrived on the back of an AFCON (African Cup of Nations) success and a tough playoff victory against close rivals Egypt.
This team is scattered with quality all over the place. Chelsea’s Eduoard Mendy, the hero of the AFCON final starts in net. Chelsea team mate Koulibaly will line up in the heart of the Senegalese defence, with the likes of Idrissa Gueye and Kouyate taking up the midfield. All Premier League stars. The attack revolves around captain Mane, alongside Ismael Sarr who has been targeted by premier league clubs all summer.
Senegal won’t have it straight forwards in a competitive Group A. The Netherlands will rightly be the favourites to top the group. It will be very competitive between Ecuador and Senegal, with Qatar not being discounted in front of a home crowd. Ecuador, like Senegal, possibly have their most exciting crop of players in the nation’s history. The pair meet on matchday 3, November 29th.
Ecuador has a bright bunch of young players that could surprise a few at Qatar. Brazil and Argentina have always been the stand out South American continents. But, could this young Ecuador side be the next biggest side from South America? Chile and Colombia have had a poor 2021, whilst this young side has only grown in strength.
Some of the talented young stars in the squad include Moises Caicedo, Pervis Estupinan, and Piero Hincapie. Moises Caicedo has been the centre of big transfer talk all summer. The midfielder has been linked to the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool with a big move looking very likely for next summer. This tournament could take take his stock up another level if he was to impress on the world stage
Ecuador didn’t feature at a World Cup until 2002. Since then, they’ve featured in three World Cups and made it to the Round of 16 in 2006. Since their 2002 debut, there’s been an impressive rise in the quality of Ecuador’s national side. Will 2022 be a history breaking year for this up and coming squad?
We will be able to witness Ecuador early on. We’ll be able to judge the side’s potential when they play hosts Qatar in the opening game of the World Cup. They’ll be desperate for a solid win, making a strong statement and getting off to the best possible start.
Uruguay’s biggest names are likely playing at their last World Cup. Although the likes of Cavani, Suarez and Diego Godin are in the latter stages of their career, this team should not be fully discounted.
Uruguay couldn’t match the heights of Brazil and Argentina in the World Cup qualifiers. Uruguay didn’t have a great 2021. They were underwhelming at the Copa America after only making it to the quarter final stage. But, they remained consistent in qualifying and had enough quality to take third spot.
There’s no doubting the side’s quality. There’s star quality all over the pitch. The defence is made up of veteran Diego Godin, Atletico Madrid’s Gimenez and Barcelona’s Araujo. Araujo can play either centre back or right back, so it’ll be interesting to see how he uses the Barcelona defender.
Uruguay have more star names in midfield, highlighted by Fade Valverde, one of the world’s best midfielders last season. Valverde broke into the Real Madrid side but has only been a regular starter since last season. In the latter stages of last season Feda was playing mainly as a right winger.
Joining the versatile Madrid midfielder includes the likes of Rodrigo Bentancur. Bentancur has shown he’s an elite midfielder since joining Juventus where he played 133 for the Italian giants. Since joining Tottenham Hotspur in 2022 he’s already shown what an effective midfielder he is. The Uruguayan has received high praise in recent weeks, most notably by Tottenham’s Eric Dier. Dier stated that ‘we play well when he plays well’, showing how vital he is in Tottenham’s midfield. He’s a very busy, physical midfielder always breaking up attacks and powerfully driving the ball forwards. He’s currently got an 83% tackle success rate this season, key for the stability of the Spurs midfield.
The strikers, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani speak for themselves. They’ve both proved themselves as elite strikers for the past 10 years. Both strikers are likely at their last World Cups with 260 international caps between them. They’ll both bow out as Uruguay legends but also still have a massive part to play still – with their class and international experience.
Uruguay’s hopes of making it far into the tournament may depend on whether they meet Brazil in the last 16 or not. If Brazil top their group with Uruguay second in theirs, the pair will meet in a South American Round of 16 showdown. If both sides won the group, Uruguay would meet either Serbia, Switzerland or Cameroon. Much preferred tie for the Round of 16 and would give Uruguay a massive chance of a quarter final showing.
Serbia have to be worth a shout after their impressive qualifying display. They topped a group containing Portugal while not losing a game and only conceding 9 goals (1.125 avg. per game). Serbia and Portugal finished the group with similar statistics. The only difference was Serbia’s 2-1 victory over Portugal back in November. This proved to be the difference resulting in Serbia’s automatic qualification.
It poses the question, how are Portugal in the top 10 favourites while Serbia sit at 126.00 to take home the trophy? They definitely look overpriced, but Portugal do have some world class names on their side that no one would choose to face.
Serbia’s midfield and attack hold some impressive talent. World class players such as Dusan Vlahovic, Dusan Tadic, Aleksandr Mitrovic, and Luka Jovic will be a threat to any side. Fiorentina regular Nikola Milenkovic will feature at the heart of defence.
Serbia have potentially the toughest task of them all in their opening fixture. They face Brazil in gameweek 1, on November 24th which will show us how close Serbia are to these top nations. With a positive result here, expect that 126.00 to be slashed down to double digits.
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