5 Leading Dark Horses at Brazil’s 2014 World Cup
With the qualifying rounds done and dusted, the 32 teams who will be gracing soccer’s greatest event are out. The 2010 World Cup saw the ascension of Spain as the undisputed kings of football when they narrowly beat Holland 1-0 after extra time to clinch the title. 2010 World Cup also saw some of the underdogs such as Ghana and Paraguay making into the quarter-finals and losing only by a whisker. In such an event, unlike in a league, where it is over a period of nine months and dozens of matches to amend for mistakes, the World Cup provides no such luxury. One tiny mistake can make or break a nation, just ask Holland, who’s loss in the final was greatly grieved. This time around, the 2014 World Cup offers its own version of dark horses who may very well create history. Below are five of them.
Unbeaten in all 10 qualifying matches with Croatia and Serbia in the group and currently ranked 5th on FIFA’s ranking list, this Belgium side has a group of talented youngsters mixing with experienced seniors who are all plying their trade across the best football leagues in Europe. This new Golden Generation will also be looking to best their ancestors who won the nation’s best ever fourth place in the 1986 World Cup.
Eden Hazard – One of the crown jewels in the current Belgium squad, he is also Chelsea’s 2nd most expensive player ever when he switched from double cup winning French team Lille in 2012. He was the youngest player then to win France’s Ligue 1 Player of the year award. Technically gifted and a speedy player who can attack defence with pace, he also has an eye for goals as he contributed two to the qualifying campaign.
Romelu Lukaku - A “veteran” of 26 caps at a tender age of 20, Chelsea’s loanee at Everton is taking the English Premier League by storm. Scoring 7 goals in 10 games, he is on par with more established strikers such as last season’s top scorer Robin Van Persie. This is despite not being in a better team like Liverpool and Manchester City where assists are easier to come by.
Kevin De Bruyne – Belgium’s top scorer for the qualifying round while playing as an attacking midfielder or winger. It is a pity that his playing time with Chelsea is severely limited due to Mourinho’s preference for playing Brazilian Oscar and Belgium teammate Eden Hazard.
The suspension of five of its players due to positive testing of banned substance overshadowed its qualification for the 2014 world cup. Mexico is one of the most successful team in the CONCACAF region with nine CONCACAF championships. Mexico felled to Argentina in the last 2010 World Cup and will be eager to make amends and progress beyond the Round of 16.
Javier Hernández – Fans affectionately calls him Chicharito (“Little Pea”). Although not the tallest on the field, but boy, can he score. He joined Manchester United in 2010 and immediately drew comparison to alumni Ole Gunner Solskjaer. Extremely prolific and clinical when he is in the box, Hernández’s anticipation and vision sets him apart. With 35 goals in 57 caps at an age of 25, there will be more to come from this “Little Pea”.
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Rafael Márquez – Captain of Mexico and part of some best Barcelona teams. Made his Mexico debut in 1997 and have since then racked up 114 caps for the nation. Strong in the air and smart in distribution, Márquez is only the eighth player in Mexico history to reach 100 caps.
Oribe Peralta – Top scorer of 10 goals for the national team during the World Cup qualification speaks volume about this striker. Made his name as a gold medal winner when he scored two goals in the 2-1 final against Brazil at 2012 Olympic, with his first goal coming in just 29 seconds and setting the record for the fastest Olympic and FIFA final tournament goal.
A two time world cup winner as well as the current reigning South American champion with a record of 15 times, Uruguay will be keen to progress further than their forth place during 2010’s World Cup. Most capped player Diego Forlan, also last World Cup’s top scorer and best player, forms one of the most fearsome attacking trinity with 2 other striking superstars, Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani.
Luis Suárez – Joint second top scorer in the premier league and all time goalscorer for the nation, Suárez has started the English league season in fabulous form. Despite the many moments of craziness (think biting people), he is still a top class player capable of changing the match with a single moment of brilliance. With 11 goals to his name already for this world cup, the world can expect to see more dazzling display from him.
Edinson Cavani – The last of the attacking trinity, Cavani moved to Paris Saint-Germain for a reported €64 million in 2012 after scoring 78 goals in 104 games with Napoli. His national strike rate at around 1 goal in every 3 games is a respectable return. Tireless in his work-rate and powerful in the air, he complements Suárez’s nimbleness to lead Uruguay’s formidable strike force.
Finishing 2nd in a group which consist of Argentina, Uruguay and Chile is no mean feat, and this is also a reason why they are ranked 4th on FIFA’s list. A tight defence which has only let in 13 goals throughout the campaign, Colombia’s conceded the least number of goals in the 9 team group. Colombia had many famous past players such as eccentric goalkeeper René Higuita and the flamboyant Carlos Valderrama to have graced the world cup.
Radamel Falcao – Having scored 20 goals in 50 outings, Falcao is currently on par with legendary striker Faustino Asprilla and just 5 short of being joint all-time top scorer with Arnoldo Iguarán at 25 goals. Scoring a hat trick against Chelsea with Atletico Madrid was a highlight in his career which prompted a race for his signature before he eventually moved to Monaco in a reported €60 million deal. Pacy, excellent in the air with a powerful shot to boot, Falcao will be Colombia’s main man to carry the nation’s hope of their first ever World Cup title.
James Rodríguez – the up and rising star who is considered one of the best in his generation and a natural heir to Carles Valderrama. Rodríguez chipped in 5 goals and 3 assists during the qualifying round and is also a teammate with Falcao at Monaco. Playing as an attacking midfielder or winger, his close control, creativity, speed and powerful shots had earned him comparison to the renowned Cristiano Ronaldo of the Portugal team.
Any team managed by the legendary Fabio Capello cannot be underestimated. A winner in managing some of the most illustrated clubs such as Real Madrid, Juventus and AC Milan, Capello built the current Russia side into a top-notch defensive unit which had only conceded 5 goals in 10 games on their route to the 2014 World Cup. This is despite having a team mainly consisting of players playing in the Russian league. The host of the next 2018 World Cup, Russia’s strengths count not only on its defence, but also on the team’s ability to spread its goal scoring responsibility throughout the squad.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov – Russia’s top scorer of 5 goals and one of its most capped player in the squad. Just 3 goals shy of being Russia’s all-time goalscorer despite a 18 months exclusion from the national team, the Zenit Saint Petersburg forward averages almost 1 goal in 3 games, making him one of the most clinical striker.
Roman Shirokov – An ever-present in the current Russian squad during the qualifying campaign, Shirokov is a defensive midfielder who can score goals as well as contributing in some tough tackles. The 2012 Russian Footballer of the year is also the team mate of Kerzhakov at Zenit Saint Petersburg.
Igor Akinfeev – A goalkeeper prodigy who became the third youngest debutant for Russia when he came on at 18 years and 20 days. He also broke into CSKA’s first eleven at an age of 17 and had remained their starting choice ever since, racking up 250+ appearances and numerous awards along the way. Akinfeev will have his reflexes and big-game aptitude tested on the biggest footballing stage as Russia continues to use their tight defence as a springboard to overcome their more established opponents.