As the World Cup is nearly on us, many are touting the traditional powerhouses as favorites and rightly so. Brazil is a strong contender to win the Cup on home soil in front of passionate fans. Spain is the defending World Cup and European Championship champion. Germany and Italy are always candidates to go deep into the tourney. An interesting question for this World Cup is: are there any dark horse teams that are worth investigating? Let’s begin by looking at the first half of the groups (Groups A, B, C, and D).
Group A (Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon) has Brazil. Most soccer pundits are asking who will come in second to Brazil? Croatia is a team not to be overlooked if only for watching Croatia’s own Brazilian, Eduardo. Eduardo was born in Brazil and moved to Croatia at 16. Croatia is going to be without Josip Simunic, the third most capped player in Croatian football history. Simnuic was banned for political gesturing after qualification. With Mexico struggling in recent matches and Cameroon spotlighting an aging Samuel Eto’o, can Croatia replicate their 1998 run as they advanced to third place?
Group B (Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia) is viewed as another group with a strong front runner and some strong contenders as well. The question regarding Spain is age. Are they becoming too old to maintain their hold on championships? A more intriguing question: Who can advance from this group besides Spain? The Dutch have not looked strong recently and questions regarding Robin Van Persie’s health will not help the Orange maintain their status as one of the tournament’s elites. Despite the Dutch finishing second to Spain in the last World Cup, Chile may surpass the Dutch on the strength of Alexis Sanchez, scorer of 27 goals for Barcelona.
Group C is not considered an especially strong group (Columbia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece). Most authorities have Columbia as a strong favorite to win the group. However, Ivory Coast has Yaya Toure from Manchester United and Didier Drogba most recently from Galatasaray (although many remember Drogba from his Chelsea experience). These two may rise to the occasion and lift Ivory Coast into the second round. Once entered into a knockout tourney, anything can happen. Chelsea supporters will vividly recall Drogba’s heroics with an 88th minute goal and the Chamipion’s League winning penalty kick. This occurred against a heavily favored Bayern Munich team. Thus, the Ivory Coast may surprise people if these two have a good tourney.
Group D has well known teams in England and Italy with some relatively less well known teams in Uruguay and Costa Rica. Football historians are well aware of Uruguay, two time winners of the World Cup albeit in 1930 and 1950. Uruguay has experienced recent success including the 2011 Copa America and a fourth place finish in the 2010 world Cup. Diego Forlan, the most capped player for Uruguay, is 35 and Luis Suarez, arguably one of the world’s best players, underwent surgery at the end of the club season in England. Edison Cavani, of Paris Saint-Germain, is a strong forward. Depending on the availability of these three, Uruguay can cause defenses plenty of problems. Look for Uruguay to come out of the group in either first or second place with Italy.
I’ve commented and committed on the dark horses to come out of Groups A-D. I’ll look at Groups E-H in a later post.
Dr. William Steffen is the Chair is Sports Coaching at the United States Sports Academy.