World Cup 2014: Dark Horses at This Summer's Football Feast

Danny Collins@@dannycollins89Featured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2014

Spain will be there or thereabout. As will the omnipresent Germans. And so will the orange army from the Netherlands.

That's not to mention Argentina and the hosts, Brazil. No European team has ever won a World Cup in South America, remember?

But who will be this year's Bulgaria, South Korea or Turkey? Which team will be the outsider that sneaks a place in the semi-final, or even the final?

Let's start with an interesting one.

 

England

Dismissed at home and abroad as international also-rans, it is easy to forget that England can compete with any team in the world on their day. Just this past summer they held Brazil to a 2-2 draw at the opening of the Maracana, as Sam Wallace reported for The Independent.

Tasked with a difficult group including Italy and Uruguay, England will be at full throttle from the first kick. But shedding the tag of the "golden generation" might be just the pressure release England's players need to relax and play as they do every week in the Premier League.

It will do England no good trying to imitate Spain's tika-taka or Brazil's samba football. They need to channel the very essence of the Premier League: absorbing pressure and counter-attacking at pace. Who knows, they may even learn to keep possession.

Patrick Barclay, writing in The Evening Standard, is certainly not so bleak about England's potential. 

Having told you all along not to worry about qualification, I can now predict the abandonment of Greg Dyke’s commission as the supply of young English players in the Premier League magically increases.

Seriously, it’s already happening — look at Andros Townsend — and Ross Barkley is expected to be prominent among others keen to live the dream of a World Cup in Brazil.

 

Ivory Coast

So what about Africa? According to this report by the Daily Mail's David Kent, Pele famously said an African side would win a World Cup by the end of the 20th Century. Ghana were the romantics' favourites in South Africa, but they have been given an almighty challenge in a group that includes Portugal and Germany.

That moves the spotlight on to the Ivory Coast.

The Elephants stand a very real chance of progressing from their group of Japan, Colombia and Greece. Especially if Didier Drogba has anything to say about it.

The Galatasaray battering ram made a habit of driving previous club Chelsea to victories through his sheer force of will. He will be desperate to do so in the twilight of his career. And he will be ably assisted by Wilfried Bony, Salomon Kalou and the irrepressible Yaya Toure. Count on Ivory Coast the make an impression.

 

Belgium

A famous question in Britain goes: "Name a famous Belgian?"

The Belgian football team has, in a matter of years, made that question redundant.

Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Benteke, Mousa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini. How about that for a "golden generation"?

The Metro's Jon Harvey even went as far as to state that Belgium are a better representation of the Premier League than England. 

Belgium are being tipped as dark horses for next year’s World Cup in Brazil and, looking at the players plying their trade in England’s top flight, one could argue it is not the Three Lions who are the Premier League’s true national team.

We'll say no more.

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Let's cross Europe until we arrive in the Balkans. Bosnia and Herzegovina might have to face Lionel Messi's Argentina, but Nigeria and Iran should hold no fear for the World Cup debutants.

They are a talented team and include the likes of Asmir Begovic, Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko. Coach Safet Susic has instilled a superb team spirit in the side. They should progress, and it is likely they would face France or Switzerland in the last 16.

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