Sport Editor James Beeson examines the credentials of five underrated sides that could upset the odds in Brazil this summer:
The World Cup is just around the corner and football fans are gearing themselves up for the most prestigious tournament in the world.
But which teams could spring a surprise this summer? Well, we’re here to take a look:
Chile – The South-Americans face an uphill task to qualify from their group, having been pitted against both the 2010 World Cup finalists in Spain and Holland, as well as Australia. However, if their recent performance at Wembley, when they embarrassed England 2-0 in their own back yard, is anything to go by, Alexis Sanchez and co. will be more than capable of upsetting the odds and escaping from their group.
As well as Barcelona winger Sanchez, La Roja also possess a strong midfield containing the likes of Arturo Vidal, a title winner at Juventus, and Gary Medel, Cardiff’s no-nonsense enforcer, who will need to be at his very best to break up the quick passing and possession of their Spanish and Dutch opponents.
Predicted finish: Despite their undeniable quality, Spain and Holland ought to have too much for the South Americans – Out at the group stage.
Colombia – Another South American side, and one that ought to face a slightly easier task qualifying from their group in Brazil. Colombia have been dealt a favorable draw in group C alongside Greece, Japan and The Ivory Coast. Furthermore, the fact that no previous World Cup held in South America has ever been one by a team outside of the continent ought to give the Colombians a major psychological boost.
Although their fate will undeniably be heavily dependant upon whether £50million striker Radamel Falcao recovers from a severe knee injury in time for the competition, Colombia are far from a one-man team. James Rodriguez, plying his trade alongside Falcao at Monaco, is a hugely talented young winger with pace in abundance, whilst striker Jackson Martinez, recently linked with Arsenal and Chelsea, is more than capable of filling the void if Falcao cannot make the squad.
Predicted finish: An easy group stage draw should be navigated without difficulties. A last 16 tie against Uruguay or Italy could prove more problematic – Round of 16.
Switzerland – Often ridiculed for their seemingly lenient FIFA world ranking, the Swiss have quietly been assembling a squad of surprising depth in the run up to Brazil. A blend of exciting youth prospects such as Bayern Munich winger Xherden Shaqiri and West Ham transfer target Josip Drmic, alongside experienced Napoli midfielders Valeron Behrami and Gokham Inler should see them navigate group E ahead of Equador and Honduras, although France will probably pip them to win the group.
Defensively, however, ex-Arsenal duo Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou are unlikely to strike fear into the world’s top attacking talent.
Predicted finish: They’ll qualify from their group, but a last 16 fixture against Argentina will probably halt their progress to the quarter finals – Round of 16.
Belgium – Perhaps calling Belgium World Cup underdogs is doing them a slight disservice, given that they finished their qualifying group unbeaten and a huge nine points clear of Croatia. Nevertheless, Belgium are only ranked 12th in the current FIFA World Rankings, which in my eyes makes them underdogs for this summers’ tournament.
However, manager Mark Wilmots is able to call upon a vast array of attacking talent, ranging from agile Premier League stars such as Kevin Mirallas and Eden Hazard, to the more direct Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke.
In midfield, Belgium are again almost spoilt for choice, with Moussa Dembele competing with the likes of Alex Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini for a starting berth. Oh, and for good measure they also have two world-class centre-backs in Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen, and one of the best up-and-coming Goalkeepers in the world in Thibaut Courtois. Make no mistake, Belgium are a force to be reckoned with in Brazil.
Predicted finish: Topping their group is more than achievable, which should see them through their last 16 tie and into to the Quarter-finals. I think they could cause an upset and reach the last 4 – Semi Finals.
Bosnia & Herzegovina – Having only been established as an independent team since 1992, and having never previously featured in a World Cup, it is all too easy to write Bosnia & Herzegovina off as no-hopers this summer.
However, an impressive qualifying record of eight wins, a draw and a defeat saw the ‘dragons’ top their group ahead of Greece to secure a place in Brazil. The draw was kind to the Edin Dzeko and his countrymen, and group stage games against Iran and Nigeria are definitely winnable, although they must also navigate a tricky tie against Lionel Messi and Argentina.
Bosnia & Herzegovina might not have a side packed with household names, but they do have a tremendous work ethic, and in Emir Spahic they have a captain who will accept nothing but 100% from his teammates.
Predicted finish: A second place in their group would most likely pit them against France in the last 16, a game I feel they could negotiate with a little luck on their side– Quarter-Finals.