Important things tend to come around once every four years: the leap year’s a global event enforced by the cosmos, and then there’s Olympics – an international event encompassing of almost every sport.
But neither of those matter in the face of the most anticipated sporting event (that people actually care about): the FIFA World Cup!
At this point, almost every team has cleared the group stage matches, and some countries have emerged as the underdogs of the World Cup. We take a look at three teams that could exceed expectations in this global tournament!
[divider]Underdog #1: Croatia[/divider] If you’ve been watching football since the early ’90s, you might be familiar with this term: The Brazil of Europe. Yes Croatia, we’ve been watching, and we like what we see. With a line-up boasting the likes of Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric – this team is a force to be reckoned with.
They had more possession against Nigeria in their first match, albeit the finishing, which could have been better. An own goal and a penalty from Modric ensured that they earned a comfortable 2-0 win against the African side. It’s fairly normal for teams to stutter during the first match of a major event, but they ensured that the job was done.
However it was in their second match against Argentina where they really found their stride. Although only enjoying 42% of possession the entire match, Croatia made full use of their time on the ball. With five shots on goal, of which three went into the back of the net, they defended well and ensured that Messi did not see much of the ball. Argentina only had three shots on target.
As long as Luka Modric continues to pull the strings at the heart of the team, this Croatian team has a real chance of going far in this World Cup. They have already comfortably beaten one of the tournament favorites, and may continue to do so with their brand of football.
[divider]Underdog #2: Belgium[/divider] The Red Devils of the International stage, Belgium has put in two confident displays in the group stage and show no signs of slowing down. Despite being ranked third in FIFA, the Belgium team are still considered outsiders to lift the trophy. The team is stacked in every department of the field.
They have Thibaut Courtois towering in goal, Toby Alderweireld commanding the defense, Kevin De Bruyne supplying from the middle, Eden Hazard being himself and Romelu Lukaku leading the front line! Those are just five key players selected from a squad littered with World Class talent.
Belgium cruised past Panama in their first match and put Tunisia to the sword in their second match. Goals aren’t hard to come by with eight scored within just the first two matches. If the core talent of the team is able to stay clear of injuries and keep themselves fresh for each game, Belgium should be able to reach at least the Semi-Finals.
[divider]Underdog #3: England[/divider] “It’s coming home!” is what any England fan will tell you if you ask them about this year’s World Cup. But then again, that’s what they’d say in every major international tournament. However, the English might just be on to something this year.
England teams of yore boasted a plethora of superstars. They almost always fielded the best team; on paper, at least. Opposition that saw the lineup would probably have quivered in fear, only to later find out that having brilliant individuals as players did not necessarily make for a great team.
The biggest name you’ll find in the current squad is that 24-year-old Captain, Harry Kane. The team is formed of talented squad players, all of whom ply their trade in the English Premier League, most of them having been promoted together from the youth team. There’s a sense of teamwork and game-play in their first two matches.
This group of players has no expectations weighing them down like what their predecessors had. There isn’t a sense of elitism within the team, and everyone is hungry to prove themselves– including the manager Gareth Southgate. If the Three Lions can continue to function as a unit, their work-rate, dedication, willingness and sparks of individual brilliance should see them travelling far this World Cup.