If you’ve followed the International football scene for the past few months leading up to the World Cup, you would have learned how certain experts & pundits have touted Belgium as the real dark horses of the tournament; many have stated how this current crop of players is the golden generation of Belgian football, and we agree. As the months went on, many caught on to the Belgium dark-horses bandwagon, so much so that nearly every football enthusiast now thinks Belgium are the dark-horses for the tournament. Let’s go back a little.
“(Individual Sports, other than specified) a competitor in a race or contest about whom little is known; an unknown”
That is the most apt definition provided by The Free Dictionary of a dark horse related to the sporting sector. A competitor in a race or contest of whom little is known. But if nearly everyone is touting Belgium as the dark horses, so much so that it defeats the purpose of the term completely, in turn adding pressure of expectation to the side with many awaiting a really strong run from Marc Wilmot’s men. With this added expectation, and the fairly wide knowledge people have of the side, Belgium can’t be touted as dark-horses anymore. They aren’t favourites, but they certainly aren’t dark-horses anymore. Due to the attention that the Belgium team has been receiving for being the dark horse of the tournament, it’s won’t be all that surprising when sports betting companies and websites like Sportsbooks.ag or others see an increase in placed bets on Belgium.
Pretty much the same goes for Colombia. Given the group they’ve been placed in, alongwith the quality of their side especially in attack. Expectations have grown for Colombia to do significantly well at the World Cup elsewhere. Thought, despite what some may tell you, little is known about the Colombian side but that hasn’t stopped expectations. Semi-final, runners-up finishes have all be predicting, thus once again defeating the purpose of the term dark-horse.
Now taking that definition above at face value, it’s hard to now know much about any side, given the growth of the internet and social media (that definition emerged many years back, before the internet, Twitter and Wikipedia). But we can attribute expectations as a factor to categorise a dark-horse. Keeping that in mind, we’ve prepared a list of the Top 5 dark horses this World Cup, based on those factors above. Note, this merely reflects Outside of the Boot’s opinion and while you can hold us responsible based on the outcome of our predictions, it isn’t meant to be taken factually.
FIFA Ranking: 22
Why? Not much is known of the African side, and not much is expected either, but the latest FIFA Rankings that came out placed Algeria as the the highest ranked African country. Not much of a surprise considering the level of football they have been playing. Valid Halihodzic’s side have a good pool of attacking players with the Bosnian coach taking advantage of Algeria’s vast diaspora. Place in Group H, Algeria find themselves in one of the most open groups at the World Cup with only supposed dark-horses, Belgium expected to progress. So before you place your bets on the tournament, keep in mind the opposition that Algeria have, and the players in the squad. It’s all to play for.
What to expect? In terms of the football on display, one can expect Algeria to play a good brand of football. Players like Sophiane Feghouli, Nabil Ghilas and Saphir Taider are certainly exciting. Chances of their progress are certainly high, but given the unpredictability of the group, it’s hard to call it. Telegraph & ESPN journalist, Maher Mezahi, told us how expectations of progress are high among supporters. While progression is possible, nothing more should be expected.
FIFA Ranking: 21
Why? The only debutants of the this tournament, though inexperienced, Bosnia have been placed in a fairly easy group with progression more than just a possibility. Argentina will almost certainly finish on top, but neither Iran nor Nigeria inspire confidence. Inferiority of the opposition is not the only reason for success, coach Susic possesses a quality set of players with the likes of Pjanic & Dzeko playing important roles for their side.
What to expect? While debutants in the past have stumped up against Argentina, Bosnia look like a side more than capable of getting results. Encouraged to win for the troubled people back home, Susic is known for attacking approach to games. Personally I would be very disappointed if they fail to progress past the group stage, and Bosnian supporters will be disappointed too, and that itself in it is a success. Further progress is dependent on opposition, but you wouldn’t want to face a debut team hungry for success.
FIFA Ranking: 46
Why? The most successful Asian side and current defending champions of Asia are being over-looked as a potential success story. Many have called their group, with Colombia, Ivory Coast & Greece as the real group of death with all teams having a fair shot at progress. All teams also have a point to prove making this an extremely open group. With good creative players in Honda & Kagawa, coach Zaccheroni takes full advantage of it, playing with three attacking midfielders behind the striker.
What to expect? That formation being adopted by Zaccheroni and the personnel in his side, Japan will be an extremely fun side to watch. Progress from the group is anything but guaranteed, and neither is it for Colombia as well, but we believe Japan are finally coming of age and are set to leave their mark on the tournament. There is a lot of quality and experience in that side which is possibly being over-looked as Asians tend to disappoint at the big stage. They can’t repeat what South Korea did in 2002, but Japan are certainly going to spring a few surprises.
FIFA Ranking: 17
Why? It may seem strange to label traditional powerhouse France as a dark-horse, but the side who have two final appearances and two group stage exits in the last four editions have certainly fallen of the pace and struggled to even get to this stage. Not many are mentioning France or speaking of them in the same breath as they favourites. But after being blessed with an easy group which they can certainly navigate, France can certainly beat a few teams in the latter rounds despite the injuries. Their midfield especially, is stronger than what most sides have, and that could be a telling factor in the tournament.
What to expect? Despite all the injuries, despite all the qualifying struggles, despite the disappointment of South Africa, France will have a comfortable ride into the second round. 6 points is the bare minimum and one that they will certainly achieve. But going back to that midfield, the co-ordination among them is crucial, with the likes of Pogba & Matuidi, they have creativity, work-horses and raw power in the centre. The likes of Brazil, Argentina, Spain & Germany are possibly stronger but on their day they can get a result. A possible game with Germany is likely at the quarter-final stage, and they will certainly fancy their chances.
FIFA Ranking: 6
Why? Some may think the FIFA Rankings are deceiving, with the Swiss as high as 6th in the list. But with an impressive run, it’s no surprise that they find themselves high up. They were unbeaten in their 10 qualifying games, winning 7 of them and conceding just 6 goals. In Ottmar Hitzfeld they have an experienced boss, important for this level of the sport, but more importantly they have a very young squad with quality players that certainly pleases Talent Radar a great deal.
What to expect? Ottmar Hitzfeld is a tactical master, he will set his team out not to impress onlookers, but to get the win. The emphasis is on the youth with Drmic, Rodriguez, Shaqiri, Xhaka & Schar all playing crucial roles. Placed in the same group as France, winning both games against Ecuador & Honduras should be the bare minimum, with a fight for first place between the Europeans. France might just get a result against the Swiss meaning that Hitzfeld’s men face Argentina in the next round. If they can navigate that, a semi-final spot is on the cards. But both the sides in Group E will spring some surprises, and it will some story if this youthful Swiss side manage to do so.