A total of 32 teams will battle it out amongst themselves at FIFA World Cup 2018 to ascertain who emerges as the greatest footballing nation on the earth. Much like each edition, this year’s showpiece tournament is expected to throw up its own share of surprises and more often than not the ones doing so are the dark horses of the event. So who will those teams be in 2018? Let’s take a look.
Belgium: If there is one team which is on everyone’s books as a dark horse then it has to be Roberto Martinez and his men. Since the past three years, Belgium has assembled a side which looks formidable on paper but has failed to deliver on the ground. 2016 Euro Cup being a prime example of that.
From goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to the feared attacking combination of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, and Romelu Lukaku, this team is lethal when it comes to attacking. However, at times they do seem over-reliant on them. The fullbacks are also another area which opponents will look to exploit. Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier lack the experience of performing on such a big stage.
In 2014, Belgium reached the quarterfinals, hence, four years later they will aim at a higher finish.
Belgium World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois, Koen Casteels, Simon Mignolet
Defenders: Vincent Kompany, Thomas Meunier, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata, Thomas Vermaelen
Midfielders: Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, Yannick Carrasco, Mousa Dembele, Thorgan Hazard, Leander Dendoncker, Adnan Januzaj, Youri Tielemans, Axel Witsel
Forwards: Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Michy Batshuayi, Romelu Lukaku, Nacer Chadli
Croatia: Semi-finalists of the 1998 World cup, Croatia have been the underachievers in this tournament. In 2006 and 2014 they failed to cross the group stage despite having a cohesive unit.
Once again, in 2018 Croatia can boast of a formidable midfield composition including the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic and 2018 Uefa Champions League winner Luka Modric. With strikers Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic, on their day this Croatian team can be the giant killers and become the dark horses of the tournament.
However, to do so they must overcome a tricky group which consists of Argentina, Iceland, and Nigeria.
Croatia World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic, Lovre Kalinic, Dominik Livakovic
Defenders: Vedran Corluka, Ivan Strinic, Dejan Lovren, Sime Vrsaljko, Domagoj Vida, Josip Pivaric, Tin Jedvaj, Duje Caleta-Car
Midfielders: Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic, Milan Badelj, Filip Bradaric
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic, Marko Pjaca, Andrej Kramaric, Nikola Kalinic, Ante Rebic
Uruguay: Two-time world cup winners, Uruguay are in good form with an equally impressive qualifying campaign where they were placed second, only behind Brazil. Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani, who will form one of the deadliest strike partnerships in the tournament, scored more than two dozen goals between themselves as Uruguay sailed through the previous stages.
However, coach Oscar Tabarez will know the past record of the Uruguayans’- group stage in 2002, fourth place in 2010 and the round of 16 in 2014. In 2018, the team does have some areas of concern with defenders Diego Godin, Martin Caceres, Maximiliano Pereira, all on the wrong side of 30. Midfield also lacks depth as Nahitan Nandez, Matias Vecino haven’t been in good form with their respective clubs.
Hence, in this edition, the La Celeste will remain as the dark horses of the tournament. At the group stage, Uruguay should comfortably sail through Group A which has Russia, Egypt, Saudia Arabia as the other teams.
Uruguay World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera, Martin Silva, Martin Campana
Defenders: Diego Godin, Guillermo Varela, Jose Maria Gimenez, Martin Caceres, Maximiliano Pereira, Sebastian Coates, Gaston Silva
Midfielders: Nahitan Nandez, Matias Vecino, Lucas Torreira, Rodrigo Bentancur, Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Carlos Sanchez, Diego Laxalt, Jonathan Urretaviscaya, Cristian Rodriguez
Forwards: Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Maximiliano Gomez, Cristhian Stuani