With a stroke of Gareth Bale’s magic wand of a left boot and an, unfortunately, attempted clearance from Ukrainian captain Andriy Yarmolenko, the qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup had finally been determined. From Europe, at least. It was Captain Bale and his Welsh gladiators – namely the Herculean Ben Davies and the brick wall known as Wayne Hennessy – who emerged victorious in Cardiff on Sunday afternoon, securing their passage to Qatar, their first appearance at football’s greatest showpiece for over 60 years. Oddschecker, who compare online bookmakers providing betting and free offers on the World Cup, have determined that Wales have a decent chance of progressing out of Group B and into the knockout stages. They may provide some shocks on the way, just as they did back at Euro 2016 when they downed Belgium en route to the semifinals.
The concept of dark horses has always been an integral part of any FIFA World Cup and is what makes the tournament a brilliant spectacle. It also shows how any team with sheer determination, brilliant tactics, unlikely heroes and a little luck can etch their name in World Cup folklore.
Last World Cup, it was Croatia who conjured up one of the best runs to reach the final of the World Cup, where they lost to France. Four years before, in Brazil, Costa Rica topped a group including Uruguay, England and Italy before reaching the quarter-finals.
And while dark horses may not be a source of joy to the top teams that lose to them, they sure provide the excitement and are one of the main reasons fans refer to it as the best game on the planet.
So, who are the dark horses at the 2022 Qatar World Cup? We have ranked the top five teams in this tournament that can be dark horses.
Dark Horse Team 1- Netherlands
One of the surprises from the 2018 FIFA World Cup was Netherlands’ failure to qualify. However, now the Dutch are back with a formidable squad that make them the best dark horse in the tournament.
Louis van Gaal has named a squad that is an incredible mix of experienced and youth talent. Remko Pasveer of Ajax will be starting shot-stopper in Qatar. Ahead in defence, van Gaal has an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt, Jurrien Timber, Stefan de Vrij and Nathan Ake are the centre backs while the impressive Tyrell Malacia, Daley Blind, Jeremie Frimpong, and Denzel Dumfries are the full-backs.
Frenkie de Jong will be the orchestrator-in-chief in the middle of the park. He will be joined by AC Milan’s Teun Koopmeiners and the talented Xavi Simons, and Kenneth Taylor.
The Dutch attack is effective but looks far from impressive on paper. The onus will be on Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo to provide the goods in the attack. However, they will need support from Luuk de Jong and Wout Weghorst to rattle the opposition.
Dark Horse Team 2- Croatia
Can the Vatreni repeat the trick of 2018? In 1998, Croatia reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, and it looked like it would be near impossible for the nation to better this performance. It took 20 years, but they managed to reach the final in Russia. And now they return perhaps to better their 2018 run and win the World Cup.
The team will have several of the previous World Cup stars who have been joined by new players. In goal, Dinamo Zagreb’s Dominik Livakovic will be preferred. In addition, Croatia have the defensive duo of Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida available, which was instrumental in the 2018 World Cup. However, the star of the defence is Red Bull Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol.
In the modified, Croatia are still strong with Luka Modric, Marcelo Borozovic, and Mateo Kovacic, who will control the tempo for the team in the middle of the park, And they have adequate backups in Lovro Majer and Luka Sucic, who can make their presence felt as impact subs.
In attack, Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric and Ante Budimir will likely be the starting three. However, don’t count out Marko Livaja, who has been rewarded for an excellent season in the Croatian league with HNK Hajduk Split.
Dark Horse Team 3- Uruguay
The two-time world champions have always been a dark horse at the tournament. And, on their day, La Celeste can beat anyone (ask Portugal and England fans). The team for years depended on the striker duo of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, and while they are in the squad, expecting them to perform at such an advanced age will be a big ask. It is here that the impressive Darwin Nunez will play a key role.
The Liverpool man has started to hit his form at the right time, which will be music to manager Diego Alonso’s ears. One of the significant reasons Uruguay are a dangerous side is they have world-class talents all across the pitch. In defence, they have Barcelona’s Ronald Araujo, Atletico Madrid’s Jose María Gimenez, Napoli’s Mathías Olivera. They also have the experienced Diego Godin.
In midfield, they have Lazio’s Matías Vecino, Tottenham’s Rodrigo Bentancur, and Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde, a powerful triumvirate. In addition, they also have Lucas Torreira, Manuel Ugarte, and Manchester United’s young star Facundo Pellistri. In goal, they will have the ever-reliable Fernando Muslera, who has been the starting goalkeeper for the team since 2010.
Dark Horse Team 4- Senegal
The African champions come into the FIFA World Cup with high hopes. The team are in an easy group with the Netherlands, Ecuador, and host Qatar. Combined with their strong squad, this draw makes them one of the best dark horses at the World Cup. Senegal were sweating over the fitness of their star Sadio Mane who sustained an injury while playing for Bayern Munich. However, Mane recovered in time to make the flight to Qatar.
Senegal have a brilliant goalkeeper in Chelsea’s Eduoard Mendy. In defence, his teammate Kalidou Koulibaly will be expected to be the leader of the backline. He will have ample support from AS Monaco’s Ismail Jakobs and AC Milan’s Fode Ballo Toure. Head coach Aliou Cisse has also called Sheffield United’s Ilimane Ndiaye only one cap to his name like Jakobs.
The team will depend on Everton’s Idrissa Gana Gueye, Nottingham Forest’s Cheikhou Kouyate, and Leicester City’s Nampalys Mendy in the middle of the park. All three of them were the starting members in the African Cup of Nations final.
However, the attack will be critical to Senegal’s run in the World Cup. Mane and Watford’s Ismaila Sarr will be tasked with causing havoc on the wings, while Famara Diedhiou may get the nod for the striker role based on his AFCON performances. Cisse has also put faith in uncapped striker Nicolas Jackson, who has been named in the team.
Dark Horse Team 5- Denmark
The Danes know a thing or two about being dark horses. After being recalled from their holiday for the 1992 Euros, Denmark went all the way to win their first major international title. And they arrive with the same reputation in Qatar. They are placed in Group D with defending champions France, Australia, and Tunisia; thus, their chances of qualifying are high.
Two years after suffering a cardiac arrest in the 2020 Euro, their star player Christian Eriksen is back to his best. The midfielder has been one the main reasons behind Manchester United’s incredible resurgence under Erik Ten Hag, which will be good news for Denmark.
In goal, Kasper Schmeichel will be tasked with keeping the opposition at bay. In front of him will be the experienced duo of Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen. Ahead of them will be Thomas Delaney, who will be the destructor-in-chief role in the middle of the park alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, which will free up Eriksen to join the attack up on the pitch.
The attack will rest on the shoulders of Nice’s Kasper Dolberg, who will be the crucial source of goals in Qatar.