The time of the year has come again when many of the greatest soccer players in the world meet up in one nation in pursuit of international glory by helping their home country win a World Cup. This summer, 32 teams will meet up in Russia to compete to see who is the best international team in the world. Reigning champion, Germany, comes in as the co-favorite with Brazil to lift the trophy in the end. However, there are always a few teams who take the world by storm and make a surprise run during the competition. Who will be this year’s team to capture the heart’s of fans and make a run in Russia? Let’s take a look at some of the dark horse contenders?
If you looked at the FIFA world rankings, Egypt is only ranked #45 in the world making them a sneaky pick to make a run in the World Cup. This run is reliant on the health of star striker, Mohamed Salah, who injured his shoulder in the Champions League Final against Real Madrid a few weeks ago. Salah is expected to play in the teams opening game against Uruguay on Friday, but may not be 100%. With Salah on the field, opponents will have to watch out for Egypt on the counter-attack as they could light up defensive back lines if they are not careful.
Another reason for optimism for Egypt to get through the group stages is that the competition within the group is the weakest amongst all of the groups assembled for the World Cup. Their group consists of the favorites to win the group, Uruguay, the host nation, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. It will be a battle between Egypt and Russia most likely for the second spot out of Group A. However if Egypt fails to make it out of this group it should be considered a disappointment for a side that has to makings to take the world by storm and make a run to the knockout stages.
Another African nation that could make a surprise run in the World cup is Morocco. Morocco comes into the World Cup ranked #41 in the world, but faces a tall task of getting out of the group stages. They are in Group B, which also contains the likes of soccer superpowers, Portugal and Spain. Iran is also in the group who the Moroccans will face first this Friday to start off their World Cup campaign. Morocco’s high press run-and-gun style of play will force Portugal and Spain to be on top of their game when facing the Moroccans.
Morocco will also need stellar performances from their best player, Hakim Ziyech if they want any chance of advancing to the knockout stages. The 25-year old scored nine goals and had 17 assists for his club team, Ajax, this past season. Ziyech needs to make sure he puts his shots in the back of the nets as his 202 shot attempts over the past two seasons are 50 more shots than anyone else has taken in the top five European leagues. If Ziyech can’t put the ball on target it could be a quick exit from the World Cup for the Moroccans.
Peru comes into the World Cup ranked #11 in the world. Peru is happy to have their captain and main striker, Paolo Guerrero back in the lineup after his one year ban for cocaine was overturned. The 34-year old is crucial to his team’s success at the World Cup and he adds a serious boost up front in the goal-scoring department. With the talented youngster, Edinson Flores making plays for his strikers in the attacking half of the field, Guerrero will be looking to add to his all-time record goal tally for his country.
Peru resides in Group C where they will be in a battle for the second spot in the group with Denmark and Australia. France is heavily favorited to come out of Group C on top. If Peru were to come out of the group it would set up an interesting potential round of 16 matchup with fellow South American country Argentina. During World Cup qualifying, these two teams met twice with both games ending in a draw. Peru’s chances of making the World Cup will most likely come down to if their veteran backline will be able to play some stingy defense and keep opposing offenses from possessing the ball deep in their defensive half.
Iceland comes into this World Cup ranked #22 in the world. They captured the hearts of many soccer fans all over the world during the Euro 2016 Championship when they shocked the world and made it all the way to the quarterfinals. On their path there they even defeated England in the Round of 16. They followed up that surprise run by winning their qualifying group, winning seven of their 10 matches. However, since the turn of the calendar year, Iceland has only won one game against Indonesia back in January. They have lost three of the last four after the Indonesia win. They most recently drew with Ghana 2-2 after holding a 2-0 lead at halftime.
Iceland will have a chance to advance because they are playing in a group with competition on their level. Argentina is the favorite to win Group D, while Croatia and Nigeria will battle it out with Iceland for the second spot in the group. They will need their star player, Gylfi Sigurdsson, to get back into good form after having a disappointing season with his club team, Everton. Sigurdsson only had four goals and three assists before missing the last six weeks of the season with a knee injury. Iceland has the grit and mental toughness to advance out of this group stage, but is the magic running out for this side after overachieving in the Euros 2016 and World Cup qualifying?
Like the other teams mentioned, England is a darkhorse in this tournament to make a deep run. Unlike the other teams, England is a darkhorse to win the whole tournament. England comes into the World Cup ranked #12 in the world. England has been on an impressive run of form recently having not lost a match since late 2017 when they were in very poor form. They have not lost a competitive match since their shocking defeat to Iceland in the Round of 16 at the Euros 2016. In recent friendlies, they have beaten World Cup-bound Nigeria and Costa Rica, while also defeating a strong Netherlands side.
The key to the success of this side will be if goalie Jordan Pickford is ready for the spotlight as England’s top keeper and can effectively replace Joe Hart. They also have a few young guys up top that had tremendous seasons and are looking to break out on the biggest stage of them all. Raheem Sterling lit up the Premier League this season scoring 18 goals for the champions, Manchester City. England also has Harry Kane up top who is one of the most in-form strikers in the world scoring 30 goals during the Premier League season for his club, Tottenham. If England can block out the noise of the recent disappointing World Cup campaigns, then this team could be destined to make a very deep run or even win the whole thing.