Every big tournament has its overachiever. Who will be the one in Qatar?
Tradition, history, experience, the depth of talent, and traveling fan support… all matter and can help determine how far a team will go in the World Cup. But the simple truth is that every nation starts with 0 points before kick-off, and from there, it’s up to them to show up. We all remember Sweden and Bulgaria in 1994, Croatia in 1998, Turkey in 2002, and the list goes on and on with countries who’ve exceeded expectations and brought tears of joy to their nations. Let’s look at some of those with the potential to shock us all in the upcoming tournament in Qatar.
Welcoming the Winners of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup back home to Qatar 🇶🇦 pic.twitter.com/1pZPD31OAC— Alex Macheras (@AlexInAir) February 3, 2019
Only hardcore football fans or some local supporters can name even a few players from the host nation’s squad, which poses the question: why are they on this list? For one, the tournament will be played on their soil, which provides the advantage of local support. And history has thrown up multiple cases of hosts who’ve gone further than expected. Russia in 2018 and South Korea in 2002, just to name a couple. On top of this, the Qatari team comprises Aspire Academy graduates who’ve been playing and training together from a young age. Also, their recent efforts have shown they have the potential to provide good results, primarily their surprise 2019 Asian Cup win and subsequently the recent Arab Cup in which they impressively reached the semifinals only to lose to a strong Algerian side narrowly.
For years, Canada and football were simply not connected by lovers of the sport. This changed due to an excellent generation of players led by Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Jonathan David (Lille), and veteran Atiba Hutchinson, nearing his 40s. The potential increased amazingly, with an inspiring qualifying campaign that fired the Reds to their first World Cup since 1986 and their second ever appearance. Local interest in football (Canadians, like their southwards neighbors, call it “soccer”) has long been on the rise, with Canadian fans showing up to previous World Cups in the biggest numbers of all non-participating nations. On the downside, a recent player protest over compensation issues has ruined the party. And the fact that they’re in the same group as Belgium and Croatia doesn’t make things look bright for their odds of qualifying for the knockout round.
If you feel that the Swiss are always around, that’s because it’s true. They participated in the four previous World Cups, and it’s safe to say that they are one of the most stable mid-level football nations. That being said, they have yet to leave their mark with a memorable World Cup campaign. Off the back of an impressive Euro 2020 run to the Quarter Finals, which included an astonishing comeback in the Round of 16 against France before losing out on penalties to Spain, the ground is set for overachievement from a side that taught us not to expect. The spine of the squad, including long-time servants Sommer, Shaqiri, and Xhaka, have been playing together for a while. Aside from Brazil, they can beat any of their other group rivals and even surpass the Round of 16.
Switzerland are going home with their head held high.— FootballFunnys (@FootballFunnnys) July 2, 2021
– Finished 3rd in their group
– Knocked the World Champions France out of the Euro
– Took Spain to penalties despite being a man down
What an effort… 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/LdXk6nc61e
At this point, commentators are more likely to identify Poland as a potential disappointment rather than a dark horse. Given their results in recent big tournaments, the Poles haven’t given them any reason to believe anything else. But a squad including one of the best strikers in the world in Robert Lewandoski, surrounded by an abundance of substantial top-5 league players, should never be written off. With Argentina the clear group favorite and Saudi Arabia marked as one of the weakest teams in the tournament, Mexico will probably be Poland’s biggest rival for a ticket to the knockout rounds in a match-up that on paper, slightly favors the latter to qualify for the Second Round for the first time since 1986.
It’s easy to forget that until not that long ago, Wales were perpetual underachievers. With world-class players like Ryan Giggs and Ian Rush, the Dragons would usually not even come close to qualifying for a big tournament. That changed in the second half of the previous decade when Gareth Bale and a superb supporting crew inspired the continent with an outstanding Euro 2016 top-four performance. Last year’s Euro 2020 showing saw a 4-0 Round of 16 defeat to Denmark. But with all due respect to the continental tournaments, this generation of Welsh players couldn’t leave the stage without taking their country to a World Cup. And so they will do it this November, for the first time since 1958. They have the experience, their players are good enough, Gareth Bale has found a new home in LA, and with England, Iran, and the USA as their group-stage opponents, a top-two spot is realistic.
🏴 Wales before Gareth Bale:— Football Tweet ⚽ (@Football__Tweet) June 5, 2022
❌ Never reached the EUROs
🕰 World Cup 1958
🏴 Wales with Gareth Bale:
🇪🇺 EURO 2016
🇪🇺 EURO 2020
🏆 𝗪𝗼𝗿𝗹𝗱 𝗖𝘂𝗽 𝟮𝟬𝟮𝟮 pic.twitter.com/ySW6XGNyyY