What would a World Cup be without surprises? Certainly a less interesting tournament. Over time, revelations played their part in popularizing the world’s largest football competition. The “Miracle of Bern”, the elimination of Italy by North Korea, the Cameroon national team that reached the quarterfinals in 1990 or Croatia that caught the podium at its first participation, in 1998, are just a few remarkable results, which have become memorable stories from the history of the Worlds.
This year’s edition of the World Cup, which begins in Qatar on the 20th of November, has a big potential for big surprises. The timing and the location of this tournament are new experiences and it’s not excluded that smaller teams could take advantage of. We analyze below five teams that could produce surprises at the 2022 World Cup.
At only its third appearance in its history at the World Cup, the Senegal team knows what it’s like to surprise the rest of the world. In 2002, on his debut, he beat in the inaugural match the holder of the trophy and the big favorite, France, then became only the second African national team to reach the quarter-finals, after Cameroon, in 1990. In 2010, Ghana was the last representative of the continent among the 8 best teams in the world. This year, the “Lions of Teranga” is Africa’s greatest hope for another big result.
Led by the excellent Sadio Mane, and with the squad that also includes Édouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye, Boulaye Dia or Ismaïla Sarr, the aliou Cissé-coached national team is going to Qatar as African champions, a title won this year, right ahead of Mo Salah’s Egypt. The same team he eliminated on his way to the World Cup.
In a group that also includes the Netherlands, Ecuador, and Qatar, Senegal has a good chance of finishing in one of the top two places. And from the eighths history has taught us that anything is possible…
It was not Canada’s qualification itself – the first after a 36-year hiatus – that was necessarily a surprise, but the clear and sometimes exciting manner in which the national team of a country known rather for hockey managed to get the tickets for the biggest competition in football. The “maple leaf” won the CONCACAF preliminaries, in which it surpassed Mexico and the United States, having the best attack and the best defense.
In their previous World Cup appearance in 1986, the Canadians left a decent impression, but still ended the tournament with 0 points and 0 goals scored. Now, with a formidable generation, in which the foreground is taken by Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin, such a scenario is unlikely. Even in a group with the finalist of the previous edition, Croatia, the eternal favorite of the tournaments of recent years, Belgium, and Morocco.
A win would be a good result for Canada. A qualification would mean performance and a little surprise. But certainly, not one that would come out of nowhere.
Semi-finalist at the Europeans last year – and eliminated in controversial conditions – , Denmark has confirmed excellent performances in the summer of 2021 in the preliminaries of the World Cup and the Nations League. The Norse have won twice against France, which they will also meet in Qatar, in a group that also includes Australia and Tunisia.
Coach Kasper Hjulmand built a team that combines perfectly technique and physical strength and, unlike the Euro, will now also benefit from the contribution of Christian Eriksen, the protagonist of a delicate moment at the European final tournament. But the 30 years old midfielder has not only returned to the pitch, but he is playing equally well at a high level and is ready to lead his national team to another important performance.
The Danes best result at the World Cup remains the 1998 quarter-final in France. The actual generation has the necessary potential for a journey at least as good.
In its previous three participations at the World Cup, Serbia failed to make it past the group stage. The team that goes to Qatar this year is trying to get rid of this complex, and the fact that is has achieved qualification through a spectacular victory in Portugal shows that the current generation has the means to do it. A presence in the final eight at the Worlds would be the best result of this century for the Serbs, but it certainly can be better.
Serbia benefits from several excellent players who play at leading clubs in Europe: Nikola Milenkovic, Filip Kostic, Dusan Tadic, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Dusan Vlahovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic stand out almost every weekend and can change the fate of a match at any time. After the disappearance of the former Yugoslavia, the Serbs took over the record, but the important results were continued by Croatia.
With the example of the great rival, a finalist in 2018, fresh in memory, Serbia is ready to amaze the world. The first step is to pass the group that also includes Brazil, Switzerland, and Cameroon.
The World Cup host remains a big unknown, despite the important progress they made in the past years. Progress is confirmed by the rise in the FIFA rankings, but also by recent results. In recent years Qatar has played in major competitions on three different continents, and in 2019 it became the champion of Asia.
Since 2017, Qatar”s national team has been coached by the spaniard Felix Sanchez, who has had time to impose his philosophy of play, also taking advantage of the fact that all the players play in the domestic competition, so they know each other and get along very well. It is true that the team has shown obvious limits in front of opponents of a certain level, but the home field advantage and the enthusiasm of the first participation in the World Cup can be strengths for the hosts.
If we also recall that at the previous edition of the World Cup that took place in Asia, in 2002, one of the hosts, South Korea, reached the semi-finals, and South Africa remains the only host that did not pass the groups, a qualification of Qatar in the final eight would be a surprise only up to a certain point.