The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is just around the corner as defending champions France go into the tournament to become the first nation since Brazil to win back-to-back titles.
Unfortunately for head coach Didier Deschamps, Les Bleus’ performances in 2022 have been far from inspiring, derailing their hopes of retaining the crown. According to these odds from bestbettingsites.com, France are still the betting favourites for the tournament alongside Brazil and Argentina, but current evidence is not in their favour.
Deschamps has just over a month left at his disposal to reignite his underperforming squad or the world may greet a new champion later this year.
Argentina and Brazil have emerged as the top candidates to dethrone France, but we will take a look at the five potential dark horses that may search for chances from the shadow.
Croatia’s underwhelming last-16 exit at Euro 2020 was partially due to a generational change in Zlatko Dalic’s squad, but don’t think for a second that their stellar run to the 2018 World Cup final was a fluke.
In addition to topping their World Cup qualifying group after only losing one of their ten matches (W7, D2), the Blazers have roared into the UEFA Nations League semi-finals from a highly-competitive Group A1.
To leave the likes of Austria, Denmark and France in their wake after going winless in their opening two group stage outings (D1, L1) proves why the Croats deserve the benefit of the doubt.
How can you put it past one of the greatest midfielders of all time, Luka Modric, to guide his nation to another standout achievement?
Croatia’s strength in depth goes far beyond the Real Madrid playmaker.
Josko Gvardiol, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic are some of the names that form part of this competitive-looking Blazers squad.
Would you be surprised to see Croatia make it to the World Cup final again?
In the wake of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest in their Euro 2020 curtain-raiser against Finland, Denmark showed impressive mental fortitude and team spirit to reach the competition’s semi-finals.
Despite exiting the tournament to England in heartbreaking circumstances, Kasper Hjulmand’s men have gone from strength to strength since conquering the hearts of neutrals last summer.
With Eriksen back in the line-up and Hjulmand relying on the omnipresent figures in the shape of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Simon Kjaer, the Danes boast a wealth of experience in every area of the squad.
A core of talented up-and-comers, including Kasper Dolberg and Mikkel Damsgaard, adds flair and energy to the experienced group of senior first-team stars.
Denmark were on the cusp of reaching the UEFA Nations League semi-finals before Croatia leapfrogged them to the top of Group A1 on the final two matchdays.
But they, nonetheless, showcased their potential by beating reigning world champions France in both legs, proving their foray into the Euro 2020 top four was no fluke.
Seeking a historic milestone, Senegal head into the winter’s showpiece inspired by their maiden Africa Cup of Nations triumph in February, looking to become the first-ever African team to win the World Cup.
Fresh from breaking their ‘Africa Cup of Nations hoodoo,’ the Lions of Teranga would be forgiven for believing in their bid to achieve the unthinkable against odds.
Priced at 80/1 to lift the crown, Aliou Cisse’s men are among the tournament outsiders.
One of the main reasons behind Senegal’s poor ranking is their lack of experience at the World Cup finals.
Indeed, this will be Senegal’s third World Cup appearance, with their most recent participation in ‘Russia 2018’ ending already in the group stages after they only won one of their three group fixtures.
However, from Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly at the back to Ismaila Sarr and Sadio Mane in the frontline, Cisse has a fantastic squad at his disposal.
Unlike their neighbours Croatia, Serbia’s recent forays into the World Cup finals brought nothing but pain and suffering to those back home.
The Eagles have failed to progress beyond the competition’s group stages in all three appearances in the final tournament in the 21st century, including a lacklustre group stage experience in 2018 (W1, L2).
But the Yugoslavia icon Dragan Stojkovic has turned the Serbs’ fortunes around since taking charge of the national team in March 2021, developing a much-needed winning mentality.
Serbia booked their spot in Qatar in the most sensational fashion, coming from behind to beat Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal 2-1 in Lisbon in their qualifying Group A six-pointer on the final matchday.
Instead of resting on their laurels, they have continued to improve, playing down the odds to earn promotion to League A of the UEFA Nations League this week.
Attacking potential is bursting at the seams. Fulham talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic is scoring at will, while Ajax captain Dusan Tadic and Juventus frontman Dusan Vlahovic play supporting roles.
That gives them a legitimate chance of going deep.
After returning to the World Cup finals for the first time since 2014, the United States will be looking to make it out of the group stages for the third time in a row.
That is a bare minimum head coach Gregg Berhalter would expect from his exciting young squad after they blew hot and cold during the qualifying cycle.
Indeed, the USMNT finished third in the CONCACAF qualifying group, escorting Costa Rica to the inter-confederation play-offs only due to a superior H2H record.
Led by Christian Pulisic, the US won just half of their 14 2022 World Cup qualifiers (W7, D4, L3), and it will be up to Berhalter to address his side’s form woes if they are to make their tournament appearance count.
With the new Leeds United boys Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams joining the Chelsea star in the Premier League, this US team should improve in terms of competitiveness and experience. Though many are still skeptical about the USMNT’s World Cup credentials, there’s a feeling this side could be one of the surprise packages in Qatar if all pieces fall into place.