We’re just days away from the start of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the excitement levels are rapidly rising, as are the temperatures at host cities throughout the country. 32 national teams will shortly be arriving, bearing the hopes and expectations of their fans, whether they’re making the journey to the tournament or watching the live coverage on TV from afar.
Amongst the favorites are traditionally powerful footballing nations such as Germany and Brazil, Spain, France, and Argentina, or maybe even Belgium, given the vast array of stellar talent at their disposal. However, what makes the World Cup special isn’t just which team eventually lifts the famous trophy, but events along the way.
Sometimes the less fancied nations step into the spotlight, in David versus Goliath encounters from which the minnows emerge victoriously. Let’s take a look at some of the national teams which could spring a surprise at the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament.
- Group A: The Pharaohs and their Egyptian King
As the host nation, Russia carries the pressure of expectation from the home fans and will be keen to do well during the tournament. Expected to make a good start in the opening game of the World Cup against Saudi Arabia, the strongest obstacle to reaching the knockout stages is thought to be Uruguay, although few should dismiss the chances of Egypt being a thorn in their side.
Injured during the UEFA Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid, after a challenge from Sergio Ramos, there were huge fears that Mohamed Salah would miss the World Cup for Egypt, although the player himself appears confident he’ll recover in time.
The Egyptians are at 13/2 odds with Betway to progress from Group A ahead of the tournament and could pose a serious threat to both Russia and Uruguay.
- Group B: Team Melli tackling the group titans
Following his emotional departure from FC Barcelona, Andres Iniesta will be looking to bow out of international football in a blaze of glory with Spain, who are amongst the favorites to triumph at the tournament, while Portugal boasts none other than five-times Champions League winner, Cristiano Ronaldo, and are reigning Euro 2016 champions. For those reasons alone, few are expecting anything other than both teams to comfortably progress to the knockout stages.
Little is expected of Morocco, but Iran certainly isn’t visiting Russia with tourism in mind. Nicknamed ‘Team Melli’ amongst their legion of fans, the side managed by Carlos Queiroz could hold all the cards with an opening win against Morocco in Saint Petersburg. Depending on the outcome of Spain versus Portugal encounter in Sochi on the same day, the fate of either side at the World Cup could end up being decided by Iran.
- Group D: Prepare for the Viking invasion
One of the most interesting encounters amongst the opening group fixtures might be that of Argentina versus Iceland, which will be held at the Otkritie Arena in Moscow on 16th June. Despite being the smallest nation in terms of population (337,780) that will compete at the 2018 World Cup, they will bring a small army of their fans to enjoy the experience, meaning their iconic ‘Viking Clap’ will reverberate around all the venues they visit. They have requested 66,000 match tickets – that’s nearly 20% of their population!
Not only is this the very first appearance at the World Cup finals for Iceland, it will also be their first ever international meeting with Argentina, who will be reliant on the exceptional ability and form of Lionel Messi if they are to meet expectations. In what is a genuine David versus Goliath encounter, it’s a match with all the right ingredients for what could be one of the great World Cup upsets. The Icelandic team plays with absolutely no fear, meaning they could also finish above Nigeria and Croatia in Group D.
- Other 2018 World Cup underdogs to watch out for
There’s no doubt the FIFA World Cup in Russia will produce numerous magical moments, whether it’s team achievements or dazzling examples of individual skills that decide the outcome of matches. Some of the best possible upsets have already been mentioned, though keep an eye out for other teams such as Panama, who could be tricky rivals for Belgium and England in Group G. Likewise, South Korea might be a difficult opponent for Group F favorites Germany and Mexico.
What team do you think will be the biggest surprise at the 2018 FIFA World Cup? Please, share your thoughts in the comments below this post!