With the FIFA World Cup all set to get started in Qatar this Sunday, all eyes will no doubt be on the South American powerhouses Brazil and Argentina, which go in as one of the favourites to win the trophy. Or, for that matter, the focus could be on Portugal and the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo’s last dance on the biggest stage of them all. But today, we take a look at the surprise challengers, the dark horses of the 2022 World Cup, who could go all the way to the final against all odds:
Belgium This could be the last chance for Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ to win a major international trophy. After a period of prolonged disappointment and underwhelming performances, the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku finally delivered, guiding the Red Devils to third place in 2018, which is their best-ever World Cup finish.
Although the team is still ranked second in the FIFA World rankings (losing out the top spot to Neymar’s Brazil), its most prominent players are past their prime. Their talisman and captain Eden Hazard, once one of the best players in the world, has endured a torrid, injury-plagued three years at Real Madrid. However, the team is still full of depth and talent, including probably the best midfielder and goalkeeper in the world right now. If Hazard and co. can get their act together in Qatar, there may well be one last hurrah for Belgium’s Golden Generation.
Denmark Denmark took everyone by surprise last year, reaching the semifinals of the European Championship despite the devastating injury suffered by their captain Christian Eriksen. On a roll after beating reigning World Champions France 2-0 in the UEFA Nations League, the Danes boast a formidable roster, including Leicester City hero Kaspar Schmeichel, Simon Kjaer, Mikkel Damsgaard, Tottenham Hotspur’s Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and RB Leipzig frontman Yussef Poulson. The squad will be further emboldened by the return of linchpin Christian Eriksen, who has made a miraculous comeback following a heart attack last year. With their performance at the Euros in the back of their minds, the Danes might look to go all the way this year. And finally, the last dark horse for this year’s World Cup, the reigning African Champions.
Senegal The Lions of Teranga enjoyed a magical run at last year’s African Cup of Nations (AFCON), beating Mo Salah’s Egypt on penalties in a thrilling cup final. Making only their third appearance in the competition after 2002 and 2018, Senegal is in a group comprising hosts Qatar, Louis van Gaal’s Dutch juggernaut and South American wildcards Ecuador. With such opponents, it will not be easy for the Senegalese to make the knockout stages, but with one of Africa’s most star-studded squads, they will be looking for the likes of Ballon d’Or runner-up Sadio Mane, Chelsea duo Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly, and Everton stalwart Idrissa Gana Gueye to step up and carry them to glory.
Takeaways However, it may well be that none of these nations lifts the trophy in Qatar, with two of the competition’s most successful sides- Brazil and Argentina, led by the legendary Neymar Jr. and Lionel Messi, respectively- in blistering form: while Brazil topping the World Cup Qualifiers, Argentina are yet to lose a game since 2019, almost three years ago. Across the Atlantic, European giants Germany, Spain and France are always contenders for the trophy, though not quite in the same form.
With this event, a generation of football will come to an end: Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo are all playing their last World Cup: aged 35, 31 and 38, respectively, they will soon call the curtains on some of the most glorious careers the game has ever seen. A new generation is waiting in the wings, led by French wunderkind Kylian Mbappe, Norwegian goal machine Erling Haaland and English prodigy Jude Bellingham, to name but a few. We will see these very talents flower and blossom in four years on football’s biggest stage.
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03-Dec-2022 , 08:04 AM
30-Nov-2022 , 11:37 AM