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It seems just like yesterday when Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 during extra time in front of 75,000-odd fans at the Maracana in Brazil and a TV audience of millions to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the most prestigious international football tournament on the planet.
Now four years later football fans the world over are happily preparing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup which will be hosted in Russia from June 14th to July 15th of this year.
The billion-dollar question, of course, is which teams will go into the tournament as the favourites and which will go in as the long-shots or ‘dark horses’?
The favourites are easy to determine: they are led by defending champions Germany, who will be seeking their fifth FIFA World Cup title to tie eternal favourites and current record-holders, Brazil. Other favourites are France, Spain and Argentina.
Much more difficult to predict is how well the dark horses will perform in Russia this year. For example, which of them can excel in the group and knockout phase?
Of the 32 teams entered in the tournament, we have identified the four FIFA World Cup teams we consider the most promising dark horses of this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Although Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest long-shots to win the FIFA World Cup in Russia this year, the Green Falcons have more than their fair share of supporters who believe they can make it through the group stage and beyond.
When the national football squad of the sovereign Arab state qualified for the 2018 World Cup in September last year, Saudi football fans couldn’t believe it.
This year’s competition will be the fifth that Saudi Arabia will compete in, having previously qualified in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006.
Although the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup campaigns eluded the Green Falcons, they did enough in 2017 to secure their place as one of the 32 teams that will face off in Russia this summer.
As part of Group A, Saudi Arabia will take on Russia, Egypt and Uruguay.
Statistically, this is the easiest group in the tournament and if the Green Falcons can hold off the tournament hosts as well as their African and South American rivals, they have a good chance of shocking their detractors.
In preparation for the 2018 World Cup, several Saudi players have gained invaluable experience by being loaned out to play for various clubs in Spain’s La Liga.
In the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Nigerian national football squad reached the knockout stage before being unceremoniously dispatched 0-1 by France in the round of 16. This means the Super Eagles have had four years to plot their revenge and be better and stronger than ever before.
Fans of this African team were thrilled when they secured a coveted spot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. As part of Group D, the Super Eagles will face Argentina, Iceland and Croatia, and while the South American team will be tough to overcome, their European rivals should be less so.
This will be Nigeria’s sixth World Cup outing and the squad will be looking to progress for the first time from the round of 16 to the quarterfinals. Along with Senegal, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, Africa’s World Cup hopes are pinned on the Super Eagles.
When the World Cup kicks off, millions of Russians will be hoping that their national football squad Sbornaya chalks up a solid victory against Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Favoured to beat Group A rivals the Green Falcons, the Russians are considered to be one of the competition’s anomalies that will either rise to the occasion or crash and burn.
A big question surrounding the hosts is if they will be boosted by home team advantage to make it through the group stage.
Another question is if they will have anything left in their tanks if they do. While few fans or bookmakers expect Russia to excel in this year’s FIFA outing, a handful of crafted goals plus consistent saves from team captain and star goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev could change all that.
Despite coming into the 2018 competition as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having never made it past the group stage in its previous World Cup outings in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 or 2014, Sbornaya will be high on the list of dark horses.
Losing streaks exist to be broken, and what a coup it would be if the Russian national football squad’s performances turn their fortunes around come to the end of the tournament.
Australia has seen its national football (soccer) squad improve by leaps and bounds over the last decade. In fact, its national team or Socceroos as they’re known down under have managed to qualify for every FIFA World Cup since 2006.
Prior to that they only managed to qualify in 1974.
In the 2014 World Cup, the Socceroos found themselves in Group B where they faced some tough competition in the form of the Netherlands, Chile and Spain. Although the side failed to win a single game and scuppered its World Cup aspirations, many fans believe the Socceroos have a far better chance of making it through the group stage this year when they face France, Peru and Denmark.
While France is a formidable team, Australia should be equally matched against Peru and Denmark.