After an arduous qualifying campaign, the World Cup 2018 field is set, with the 32 teams that will descend upon Russia with hopes of being crowned world champions determined. There are clear favourites to win the tournament, as world powers like Germany and Brazil look likely to make deep runs in the tournament.
However, underneath the top tier teams are some powerful squads that may not receive the same level of recognition. These teams have plenty of talent and could make deep runs in the tournament, justifying their selection as World Cup 2018 dark horses.
One recipe for a World Cup dark horse is a team that does incredibly well in qualifiers and has star players that can take over the tournament at a moment’s notice. Fortunately for Egypt, they happen to check both of those boxes, as they will enter the 2018 FIFA World Cup on excellent form and boasting in their lineup an incredibly talented player who has the potential to drag his team where no African team has ever gone – the World Cup semifinals.
That player for Egypt is Mo Salah, the Liverpool star who is making his name as one of the best players in the world. Salah has the potential to have a similar tournament in 2018 to the one James Rodriguez had in 2014, and his star showing could drag the Egyptians deep into the tournament, contrary to the expectations of many fans and pundits.
Egypt as a whole tore through their CAF qualifying group, winning four out of their six matches in their qualifying group. They finished ahead of Ghana convincingly, which is impressive given that Ghana is a regular in the World Cup. If Egypt can continue their run of form through a weak Group A that features the inconsistent hosts Russia, inexperienced Saudi Arabia, and an Uruguay team whose best player has been suspended in two straight World Cups, they have a chance to go deep into the tournament.
Croatia sit in Group D with one of the favourites of the tournament in Brazil, Nigeria, and the darling Iceland squad that made a name for itself by embarrassing England in Euro 2016. But, while everyone will be lining up to use 2018 World Cup free bets as listed by Oddschecker on Iceland, Croatia may be in a perfect position to fly under the radar and make a nice run in this year’s tournament.
Both Iceland and Croatia were part of the same UEFA World Cup 2018 qualifying group, with Iceland finishing ahead of Croatia by two points for the top of the group. However, Croatia finished the qualifying cycle with a better goal difference and a 2-1 aggregate advantage over Iceland in their two matches during qualification.
Iceland will surely draw some love from the betting public thanks to their heartwarming story in the Euros but Croatia has the more talented players in spite of the interesting relationship that Croatian supporters have with their federation. The Croatian midfield made up of Ivan Perisic of Inter Milan, Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona, and Luka Modric of Real Madrid is one of the best midfielders in the world and should be enough to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who dares doubt Croatia’s ability to contend for a World Cup crown.
Nobody ever seems to talk about Switzerland when they talk about teams that could conceivably be one of the best teams in the world but even a cursory glance at their recent tournament history would suggest that they are a force to be reckoned with when the 2018 World Cup rolls around.
Switzerland are the eighth-ranked team in the world according to the FIFA World Rankings which, although flawed, are a good indicator as to which teams are playing their best football heading into major tournaments. The Swiss are definitely playing their best football at the right time, as they flattened the majority of the field during European qualifiers, winning nine of their ten qualifying group matches before falling to Portugal, who finished ahead of Switzerland on goal difference.
It is also worth remembering that Switzerland are no strangers to success in the World Cup over recent years, having put up an admirable performance in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Switzerland advanced past the group stage and ended up facing Argentina in the round of 16, where they were every bit the equals to an Argentina side that ended up in the World Cup Final against eventual champions Germany. The match was minutes from going to penalties until a moment of brilliance from Argentina’s Angel Di Maria was enough to push Argentina through. Switzerland nearly got the job done though, and that experience will benefit them this time around.
The Swiss midfield, comprised in part by Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka is a formidable one and is another reason why the Swiss are poised to improve on last campaign’s performance. If they can sneak by Costa Rica and Serbia in a decent Group E that is headlined by Brazil, there is no reason they can’t make it happen.
These three teams are great candidates to make a run in the upcoming World Cup 2018, although so much can change between now and kickoff in Russia. Keeping an eye on these teams in their warm-up matches for the tournament will be a great way to evaluate them as they continue preparation for life on the biggest stage of world football.