The 2022 FIFA World Cup is fast approaching and all 32 teams have now announced their squad ahead of the tournament in Qatar.
The usual suspects such as reigning champions France and five time champions Brazil have emerged as the bookmakers favourites to lift the World Cup alongside the likes of England and Argentina. However, the World Cup is synonymous with surprises and there has been a whole host of dark horses over the years.
A dark horse is a team that is massively underestimated until they come along and surprise everyone. Over the years the World Cup has produced a number of surprises and the likes of Croatia, Costa Rica and Uruguay have all defied the odds during the competition.
Many people love a dark horse and it is the unpredictable nature of football which makes the sport so enticing for fans around the world. With that in mind we have taken a look at some of the potential dark horses for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Who was the dark horse at the 2018 World Cup?
The most notable example of a dark horse in the last World Cup was runners-up Croatia. Croatia began the tournament with a perfect three wins from three games in the group stage, including a comprehensive 3-0 win over Argentina.
In the knockout stages Croatia beat Denmark and hosts Russia on penalties before seeing off favourites England with a 2-1 victory in the semi-final.
Croatia were eventually beaten 4-2 in the final by France but their heroics in the tournament will live long in the memory of the nation’s fans, and their star man Luka Modric was even awarded the Ballon d’Or for his heroics - ending a ten year reign of dominance for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Who are the potential dark horses for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar?
In the early years of the World Cup, Uruguay were hugely successful. They were the winners of the inaugural competition in 1930 and lifted their second World Cup title in 1950 - the first tournament to be held after World War II.
Since then, Uruguay have endured a fall from grace and it has been their South American rivals Brazil and Argentina who have dominated on the world stage. However, Uruguay could prove to be a surprise package heading into their 14th World Cup tournament.
Uruguay endured a difficult start to their qualification campaign and a four game losing streak led to the sacking of long-time manager Oscar Tabarez in November 2021. Diego Alonso has since taken the reins and has enjoyed a strong start to life as Uruguay boss winning seven of his opening nine games to comfortably secure World Cup qualification.
Uruguay have an abundance of striking options at their disposal with Darwin Nunez, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez all vying for a starting spot at this year’s tournament. Alonso’s side have a well rounded team with a mixture of youth and experience across the pitch. Uruguay’s midfield consists of Champions League winner Federico Valverde, former Arsenal man Lucas Torreira and Tottenham star Rodrigo Bentancur. Meanwhile their defence consists of elite La Liga centre backs in Ronald Araujo and Jose Giminez as well as veteran and captain Diego Godin.
Uruguay face a tough group with the likes of Portugal, Ghana and South Korea but will be a challenging prospect for any team if they progress to the knockout stage. They enter the tournament as 40/1 underdogs to lift the World Cup.
No African side has ever progressed past the quarter-final stage of the FIFA World Cup and Aliou Cisse’ side will be aiming to make history at the upcoming tournament in Qatar. Cisse enjoyed a successful playing career with Senegal and captained the side to a 1-0 victory over reigning champions France in the 2002 World Cup as Senegal went all the way to the quarter-final.
The 46-year-old has translated this leadership into his managerial career and has enjoyed a successful spell as Senegal boss since taking over in 2015. Cisse led Senegal to African Cup of Nations glory in 2021 - becoming the first ever manager to win the trophy for his country.
Senegal have a strong team across the pitch with Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and fellow teammate Kalidou Koulibaly in defence. The African champions also have an experienced partnership of Idrissa Gueye of Everton and Cheikhou Kouyate of Crystal Palace patrolling the midfield.
While the focal point in attack is Bayern Munich star Saido Mane who has proven himself as a clinical finisher on the world stage throughout his career. Most notably during his previous spells in the Premier League with Liverpool and Southampton. Senegal have a strong squad which is likely to progress through to the knockout stage of the competition. However, there hopes of going further in the tournament largely rest on the fitness of Mane who has been an injury doubt heading into the tournament.
The African champions are currently ranked by bookmakers as 126/1 to win the World Cup.
The Serbian national team will be aiming for redemption at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar and will come head to head with two of their group stage opponents from Russia 2018 in the form of Brazil and Serbia. In the last World Cup, Serbia narrowly missed out on the knockout stages and the all important goal proved to be Shaqiri’s last gasp winner during a 2-1 defeat in the second group stage.
Serbia were officially formed as a national team in 2006 and are the successors to both the Kingdom of Yugoslavia/SFR Yugoslavia and FR Yugoslavia, as well as the Serbia and Montenegro national football teams. Serbia failed to qualify for the 2020 European Championships and subsequently appointed Dragon Stajkovic as their new manager.
Since taking over, Stajkovic has enjoyed great success with the Serbian national team. The 57-year-old steered The Eagles to top spot in their qualification group, ahead of Euro 2016 champions Portugal. Stajkovic’s side finished their qualification campaign unbeaten and scored an impressive 18 goals from their eight qualification games.
Stajkovic’s side possess an abundance of firepower in attack with all time leading goalscorer Alexander Mitrovic leading the line. The 28-year-old has enjoyed an impressive season with Fulham so far and has enjoyed great success on the international stage scoring 50 goals from 76 appearances - including eight goals in the qualification campaign.
Mitrovic is far from the only threat for Serbia and he is likely to be partnered by in form Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic. The 22-year-old striker was amongst the leading goalscorers in Serie A last season and is viewed as one of the worlds best young players. Serbia are also blessed with creative quality in the midfield - they are captained by former Southampton star Dusan Tadic and are likely to start Serie A duo Milinkov-Savic and Filip Kostic.