The 2022 World Cup will be very different from those that have gone before.
Traditionally, the World Cup takes place every four years in the summer when most countries’ football seasons finish. This year, it will be played in winter over in Qatar for the first time. The summer heat means it would be impossible to play at any other time, and FIFA controversially still awarded the tournament to a Middle Eastern country with no football tradition and no previous qualification for the event. Indeed, the New York Times has even reported that officials from the United States were bribed to give the competition to both Qatar and Russia in 2018.
Still, the decision has been made, the grounds have been built and come the middle of November, top-flight football around the world will go on hold, and eyes will be cast on Qatar. Almost all major teams have qualified, except for reigning European Champions Italy, which means a tough time for any underdogs to impress.
There are always underdogs who make a name for themselves at the World Cup. In 1982, it was Cameroon, in 1994 Bulgaria and Turkey in 2002. Who are the dark horses this time out? Which teams could surprise everyone and emerge as possible victors, or make the later stages and raise a few eyebrows? Here are our picks.
The United States were semi-finalists at the first World Cup but began to make a serious impact from 1990 onwards. They’ve only missed one tournament in 32 years, the 2018 event in Russia. They qualified from the CONCACAF group with a game to spare and head to Qatar in high spirits.
Football is becoming more popular in the States; their women’s team are the most successful on the planet, and their men’s team is littered with stars. Big European clubs such as Chelsea (Christina Pulisic), Barcelona (Sergino Dest) and Juventus (Weston McKennie) now have US players on their roster, and they’re producing good homegrown talent as well. With Iran, Wales and England in their group, they’ll be hoping to progress, and the winner of Group B could await in the next round. That’s one from Senegal, Qatar, Ecuador or the Netherlands, all of whom could be beatable. Who knows where the talented team could go.
The Danes came out of Euro 2020 with their heads held high; they lost their top star, Christian Eriksen, during a group game, and still progressed to the semifinals, only to lose against England at Wembley. They’re behind all the major European nations in the current Ladbrokes odds, but they are ahead of the likes of Croatia, finalists in 2018. They’re right on the cusp bridging outsiders and favourites, sandwiched between Portugal and Senegal, making them a dangerous team.
They may lack an out-and-out goal scorer, which could hold them back, but Eriksen is fit and firing again, and that bodes well. He pulls the strings from deep, whilst in goal, Kasper Schmeichel is as safe as his father was many years before. Keep an eye out for Kasper Dolberg; he is only 24 but could be a call up to the squad, and with ten goals from 35, he might be the missing piece of the jigsaw.
In 2010, Ghana were moments from making the semifinals and becoming the first African team to progress to the final four. They were cruelly robbed by Luis Suarez, described by Sporting News as a villain in Ghana for his deliberate handball that denied them a winning goal in their quarterfinal clash. They’ll get a chance for revenge this winter; the South American side are in their group.
Ghana qualified by beating Nigeria on away goals after topping a tough group that contained South Africa, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. They rely heavily on the Ayew brothers, Jordan and Andre, but the latter has 23 goals for his country and is used to the Qatar heat; he plays for Al-Sadd. Elsewhere, Mohammed Kudus (Ajax), Abdul Fatawu Issahaku (Sporting CP) and Felix Afena-Gyan (Roma) are all under 21 and play for top European clubs. Vengeance could be theirs in the group stages and beyond that; who knows?
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