Outsider Nations with a Chance of Reaching the World Cup Last 8 in Brazil
Outsider: A contestant given little chance of winning; a long shot.
In just over 12 months, 32 of football's finest will converge on Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.
In the next few weeks, a number of qualifiers will be played across the globe and we will be a step closer towards understanding the identity of the nations who will challenge for the game's most illustrious prize.
With that in mind, here's a look at which outsider nations are in with a chance of reaching the last eight next year.
But first a few criteria:
1. The eight favourites with bookmakers (Bet365) for the tournament—Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Italy and England—are all excluded. Logically, if they're amongst the eight favourites, then how can they be outsiders?
2. France are also excluded. Finalists in 2006, Les Blues are still amongst European football's major players. Despite their struggles under Raymond Domenech in South Africa at the 2010 World Cup, a quarter-final place next year (assuming they qualify) is something of a minimum requirement.
3. Uruguay also find themselves on the exclusion list. Semi-finalists in South Africa and Copa America winners a year later, although qualification has been a struggle thus far, if they do qualify I'm of the opinion they have enough quality to make another foray into the very latter stages of the tournament.
With that being said, here's a look at eight World Cup outsiders, who could be good for a run into the quarter-finals:
Colombia (33-1 to Win the Tournament)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Jose Pekerman's Colombia have played some of South America's best football in qualifying thus far and are well placed in third to qualify automatically for Brazil next summer.
With six goals from Radamel Falcao, four from Teo Gutierrez and no shortage of attacking quality from the likes of James Rodriguez and Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado, they have played some wonderful football.
In the process, they've dismantled Uruguay 4-0 and Bolivia 5-0 already, as well as winning 3-1 in Chile last September.
Nonetheless, they can also defend with a certain degree of resolution when required. The brilliant Nice goalkeeper David Ospina has conceded just seven goals in 10 matches, indeed just two in the last five fixtures.
As qualification has evolved, so to has Pekerman's side and they continue to improve—remember they only picked up one point from their first three matches.
Another 12 months down the line, assuming they continue on their current upward trajectory, expect Los Cafeteros to make a real splash when the World Cup finals return to South America.
Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Under the guidance of the pragmatic Fabio Capello, Russia have enjoyed themselves in World Cup qualifying thus far, firmly putting their Euro 2012 failings in the past.
A mixture of Russia's two best sides—CSKA Moscow and Zenit—Capello has built a machine-like side who have won their opening four matches to top a tricky-looking group which also contains Portugal and Israel.
Throw in the fact they have yet to concede and have two games in hand on their rivals, and they've one foot in next year's finals. Avoid defeat in Portugal on June 7, and their footing becomes even more secure.
A recent friendly performance against hosts Brazil will have filled them with added confidence, a good counter-attacking display earning them a 1-1 draw.
The conditions in South America next summer may not be optimal for the Russians, but a cohesive unit packed full of experience shouldn't be discounted, especially with their serial winner of a head coach.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Under the stewardship of Jose Manuel de la Torre, La Verde are the number one side in North America, according to the FIFA ranking system.
Over the next three weeks or so, Mexico have three fixtures in which they need to prove just that so as to take a grip on a qualifying section where they have picked up three draws in three matches thus far.
With the top three qualifying automatically for the World Cup, their destiny very much lies in their own hands and they'll almost certainly do enough to reach the finals.
Once there, expect a squad full of talented individuals—the likes of Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos—and encompassing much of the 2012 Olympic winning side to offer an interesting proposition for opponents.
They reached the second round at South Africa 2010, it isn't too much to suggest they can do one better next time round.
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
Continuing to adhere to the Bielsista philosophy which made them such an attractive proposition at the 2010 World Cup, Chile have proven just as exciting in qualifying once again; their 11 matches have seen 35 goals so far.
Claudio Borghi was sacked last November after a run of defeats which left them outside the qualification places and Jorge Sampaoli, who led Universidad de Chile to the Copa Sudamericana, replaced him this year.
Victory over Uruguay last time out has put La Roja back into fourth place in the standings and the likes of Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, Claudio Bravo and Eduardo Vargas will be hoping Sampaoli's strategy of high-pressing and lightning-quick transitions can secure them a place in Brazil next year.
Should they ensure qualification, there won't be many sides capable of living with their ferociously fast gameplan.
With the tournament set for Brazil and its summer conditions, expect them to ask questions of the very best. They're certainly capable of surprising a few.
Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Igor Stimac's side are eyeing a place in Brazil next year and are currently locked in a dead heat with Belgium for top spot in their qualifying group—which rather makes a mockery of their respective prices for next summer (Belgium currently stand at 20-1).
They've won their last six games on the bounce, including one of world football's ultimate grudge matches with their 2-0 defeat of Serbia, and are no question a talented bunch.
From back to front they have quality: Darijo Srna, Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic, to name just three.
Additionally, there's a growing number of uber-talented youngsters on the cusp of making their international breakthroughs; most notably, Inter Milan midfield playmaker Mateo Kovacic and Dinamo Zagreb's 16-year-old Alen Halilovic, in the squad for the upcoming fixture with Scotland and likely to be the youngest player at next year's finals.
They were unfortunate at Euro 2012 to be drawn in a group with the two finalists, Italy and Spain, but still gave a good account of themselves and have continued to improve since then.
Croatia have enough talent within the squad to have a good go next summer and there's no reason why, provided they aren't given another disastrous draw, they can't make the knockout stages.
Adam Pretty/Getty Images
Alberto Zaccheroni's Japan will get a taste of Brazil next month when they travel to South America to take part in the Confederations Cup.
How they cope in a group containing the hosts, Italy and Mexico could say much about their chances next summer and their performances will be looked upon with interest.
Certainly they have some very talented technicians amongst their number, including Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Nurnberg's Hiroshi Kiyotake, but the lack of a high-class centre-forward has yet to be rectified.
They reached the second round in 2010, before losing on penalties to Paraguay in a match which they arguably should have won.
They will need a fortunate draw and certainly are underdogs, but under their well-travelled Italian coach they have a chance.
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Perhaps the real surprise package in any qualification process ahead of the finals next year are Reinaldo Rueda's Ecuador.
Currently sitting second in South America's qualification table, they've progressed to an all-time FIFA ranking high-point of 10th and have two massive matches next month which can all but ensure their place in Brazil—Peru (away) followed by Argentina (home).
Led by the front pairing of Christian Benitez and Felipe Caicedo—not to mention Luis Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero—they've a tremendous attacking threat which has been a huge reason for their 100 percent home record thus far. Of course the altitude of Quito, the base of their home stadium, has also played its part.
They reached the knockout stages at the 2006 finals in Germany, succumbing to England in the second round, before missing out on South Africa altogether.
If a squad packed full of youth and home-based players can continue in their current manner, then they could surprise a few next summer.
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Their last forays onto the world stage haven't ended too well for the Super Eagles, managing only a single point in 2002 and 2010 (they didn't qualify in 2006).
Nonetheless, under Stephan Keshi things are certainly looking up for a side with a FIFA ranking of 28 and they deservedly emerged victorious in January's Africa Cup of Nations.
Like Japan, their Confederations Cup campaign is one to look upon with interest and they'll no doubt be looking to impress in a group comprising Spain, Uruguay and minnows Tahiti.
They've still a lot to do to guarantee their place in Brazil next summer, but with Keshi harnessing the likes of Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike and Jon Obi Mikel successfully thus far, Nigeria are amongst the favourites to qualify from the CAF.
If they can secure their spot for the World Cup, then Keshi's man-management skills will be put to the test. If he can do a similar job to that which he produced in South Africa four months ago, then they are the ultimate outsider for a quarterfinal finish.