The World Cup is frighteningly close now. In just two days, the best national teams in the world will gather in Brazil for the greatest sporting event in the world. Almost nothing is certain in a tournament that always breeds the highest sporting drama in the world. However, one thing that is almost certain is that there will be a dark horse. Maybe 2. Maybe 3. There’s no telling what might happen, but let’s take a look at what we at RTS think is possible. Specifically, which teams have the potential to upset the favourites this summer?
The Ivory Coast
The Elephants. Perhaps the most appropriately named team in the tournament as they have the human version galloping through defence’s in the form of Yaya Toure. The midfielder is arguably the best midfielder at the tournament, coming off the best season of his career. The old head of Didier Drogba in attack will provide more than enough inspiration and commitment in the rest of the team. Being drawn in a group with Japan, Colombia, and Greece is a stroke of luck as many consider Group C to be the easiest group of the tournament. However, without any real favourite in the group, it is also the most unpredictable because all four of the teams can definitely progress. Without real depth at any position but striker, there will be large pressure on the elite players in the team. But if they can deliver, this will be a team to lookout for in the knockout stages.
Key man: Gervinho
After being branded a flop at Arsenal, the winger signed for Roma last summer and has been nothing short of a revelation. The only one in the front three providing genuine pace, and will come up against extremely attack-minded full-backs in the group which gives him a good chance to flourish.
Probable team (4-3-3):
The Swiss have a very, very good team. In defence, a good blend of experience and youth is brewing. Ricardo Rodriguez and Fabian Schar are two of Europe’s most sought-after young defenders. Pair them with the experience of Stephan Lichtsteiner and one of Steve von Bergen, Johan Djourou or Philippe Senderos, and you have a backline as strong as any in front of the reliable goalkeeper Diego Benaglio. The midfield has a similar look as the defence in terms of experience and youth. Xherdan Shaqiri is the creative force cutting in from the right with Stocker on the opposite side. The hard-working Behrami and Inler are likely to start in the double pivot in Hitzfeld’s 4-2-3-1 and will balance the side admirably. If the Swiss are light in any position it is clearly up top. Newly crowned prince of the Bundesliga, Josip Drmic, is lacking in experience but not short on instinct and confidence after a fantastic season in the German league. The other options up front might be inconsistent, but can produce moments of magic, especially FC Zurich forward Mario Gavranovic and Real Sociedad’s Haris Seferovic.
Key man: Xherdan Shaqiri
Never a regular in Bavaria for Guardiola’s formidable Bundesliga champions, but is the star of this Swiss team. Switzerland should progress with relative ease but in order to do that they need their main attacking threat to be on the top of his game. Good performances should see him earn a move away from Bayern, and a chance to star at club level as well.
Probable team (4-2-3-1):
The Croatian national team will always be judged and measured by the incredible Bronze medal team of 1998, where the newly formed nation surprised everyone and beat the Netherlands to finish third in France. They have never been able to replicate that success since, but now they have possibly the most talented team since then. In midfield they have technical quality and creativity in abundance. Luka Modric won the Champions League with Real Madrid after a season full of excellent displays and was arguably the best midfielder in Europe. Alongside him we’ll find another European Cup winner, the brilliant Ivan Rakitic who won the Europa League with Sevilla. He had an incredible season and looks set to join Barcelona this summer. Think that’s enough? It’s not. Young playmaker Mateo Kovacic has had a somewhat difficult season at Inter after not being trusted by Walter Mazzari until the end of the season but for the national team he is a certainty to start. Niko Kranjcar is another extremely gifted midfield player, so the midfield department is well stocked. Dejan Lovren, captain Darijo Srna and veteran Vedran Corluka ensures there’s experience in the back four and Mario Mandzukic will be a massive threat up front along with tricky left winger Ivan Perisic. Niko Kovac’s men should make it out of the group, at least.
Key man: Dejan Lovren
The Southampton centre-back will be charged with marshalling his defence and will have a tough job on his hands, since the midfield is ultra-attacking. Considering the season he just had in the Premier League though, he looks to be up for the job. Will be helped with Kovac’s inclination to start Vukojevic in front of the defence in order to help stabilise the team.
Probable team (4-1-4-1):
Paired in the same group as the Ivory Coast, Colombia and Greece, Alberto Zaccheroni must be fancying his team’s chances to reach the last-16. The Japanese team is extremely energetic and they have a bit of pace about them as well. In terms of their playing style they will entertain. Last summer they lit up the Confederations Cup, especially in a 4-3 loss to Italy where they dominated but still shipped in four goals. That’s the worry of Zacherroni, the defence. In the group stage they will be up against physical strikers in all matches and the centre-backs might struggle. Except for that area though, they have a wonderful team. With the brilliant Yasuhito Endo controlling the midfield along with another experienced head in Makoto Hasebe, it gives the flair players Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda a chance to purely focus on the attacking side along with Shinji Okazaki, a very clever runner from the right flank. A warning should go out though, can they implement their intense, high-pressing game in extremely warm conditions?
Key man: Shinji Okazaki
Japan have a lot of good footballers in midfield, but they lack a genuine goalscorer. That role is filled by Okazaki, fielded on the right side of the attacking three, charged with making the runs Kagawa and Honda will pick out. Scored 15 Bundesliga goals the past season for Mainz.
Probable team (4-2-3-1):