Can a dark horse win 2018 World Cup?
By Frederick Mordi
This year’s edition of the World Cup, which holds from June 14 to July 15 in Russia, may well spring surprises as dark horses could upstage the usual suspects.
Nobody gave Panama and Iceland, which will be playing in the World Cup for the first time since the tournament began in 1930, a dog’s chance of qualifying from their groups. But both countries booked their tickets to Russia at the expense of more experienced teams.
Given this, there are reasons to believe that some countries that have never gotten beyond the quarter-finals, may progress beyond this stage in Russia and possibly lift the World Cup, in spite of the overwhelming odds. It is not mission impossible. History is replete with countries that proved bookmakers wrong.
In 1990, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun caused a major stir at the World Cup that Italy hosted, when they defeated Argentina, the defending champions, by a lone goal. Although pundits had dubbed Cameroun, the underdog, the Indomitable Lions eventually progressed to the quarter-finals before the Three Lions of England managed to tame them in a pulsating encounter that ended 3-2.
In 1994, the Super Eagles of Nigeria made their debut in the World Cup in USA, where they gave a good account of themselves. They made it past the first round, but Roberto Baggio’s goal at the dying minutes of the match between Nigeria and Italy, prevented the Super Eagles from soaring further in the tournament, which is regarded as their best outing till date.
In 2002, the Teranga Lions of Senegal, another African country, also beat France, winners of the tournament held four years earlier, and almost made history by being the first country from the continent to reach the semi-finals until Turkey put paid to their chances in the 94th minute with a 1-0 win.
In 2010, Ghana, a West African country, kept everyone on the tenterhooks when it looked set to break the jinx during a dazzling match with Uruguay. But the infamous hands of a certain Luis Suarez stopped Ghana from getting to the semi-finals.
The attention of the world will again turn to Africa’s five representatives at the 21st edition of the World Cup in Russia. The countries are Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. These Africans countries parade some of the best stars that ply their trade in Europe, today: Nigeria’s Victor Moses, Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Egypt’s Mo Sallah.
Apart from Africa, the other continents equally parade star-studded players such as Lionel Messi (Argentina); Neymar (Brazil); and Luis Suarez (Uruguay). The other stars to watch: Luka Modric (Croatia); Robert Lewandoski (Poland); Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal); Harry Kane (England); Andres Iniesta (Spain); and Thomas Muller (Germany).
Since the competition started 88 years ago, only eight countries from two continents have so far won the FIFA World Cup. The countries according to number of wins include: Brazil (five times); Germany (four times); Italy (thrice); and Argentina and Uruguay (twice). England, France and Spain have each won the World Cup once. Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina are South American countries, while the remaining five are European countries.
As the date for final kick off draws near, the excitement among football fans has reached fever pitch. For instance, yesterday, barely a few minutes after Nike released Nigeria’s kits, which have been voted the best out of the 32 teams that will participate in the World Cup, the jerseys sold out. This, perhaps, demonstrates the level of support for Nigeria, but more importantly, for the beautiful game.
It certainly will be a refreshing experience if a dark horse wins the World Cup this year!
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