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5 dark horses who could go far at the World Cup

Don’t worry, you’re entering a Belgium-free zone.

  1. Colombia – 33/1

THEY MAY HAVE been rocked by news that their star striker Radamel Falcao will not recover from a knee injury to spearhead his nation’s first World Cup appearance since 1998 but Colombia a far from a one man team.

Managed by the wily Jose Pekerman, who was in charge of his own Argentina in Germany eight years ago, they claimed second place in the CONMEBOL qualifiers — just two points behind Argentina.

The South Americans will fancy their chances in a group that is hard to call with Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece and top spot would give them a second round meeting with the runners-up from Group D, which could be one of Italy, England or Uruguay.

Porto striker Jackson Martinez is more than capable of stepping up to the plate in Falcao’s absence and they have plenty of options in mifield in the shape of playmaker James Rodriguez, Juan Cuardado, Fredy Guarin and Juan Quintero.

Soccer - International Friendly - Belgium v Colombia - King Baudouin Stadium Source: Adam Davy

2. Chile – 40/1

Chile find themselves in a tough-looking Group B with reigning champions Spain, Holland and Australia but victory in their first game against the Socceroos could give them the momentum to upset one of the big guns and claim a spot in the knockout stages.

We were fascinated to see how they would get on under Marcelo Bielsa four years ago and wins over Honduras and Switzerland saw them finish level on points with Spain to take second place.

They went out to Brazil in the second round but under Jorge Sampaoli, Chile could be in line for a good run this month. In a 3-4-3, their key man is Juventus man Arturo Vidal — who is arguably the most complete midfielder in the world right now. The 27-year-old faces a race to be fit for the opening fixture on Friday after knee surgery, however. and he would be a huge loss.

That said, they have talent and inexperience in Vidal’s club mate Mauricio Isla, Cardiff’s Gary Medel and Eduardo Vargas while Barcelona attacker Alexi Sanchez gives them a spark up front.

Soccer - International Friendly - Germany v Chile - Mercedes-Benz Arena Source: John Walton

3. Ivory Coast – 125/1

It has been sold as one last hurrah for the Ivory Coast’s ‘golden generation’ with Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora all certain to be playing at their last World Cup finals.

The Elephants pip Ghana as Africa’s best hope of success in Brazil and, as already suggested, Group C is wide open and there for the taking. Yaya Toure is the main man in a midfield which is also likely to feature Cheick Tiote with Salomon Kalou and Gervinho possibly occupying the flanks.

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In Swansea’s Wilfried Bony, they’ve got a player who is ready to replace Drogba as the team’s main source of goals but it is at the centre of defence where they look shakiest as the ageing and error-prone Kolo Toure will partner former Leicester City player Sol Bamba.

Belgium Soccer Ivory Coast Source: AP/Press Association Images

 

4. Bosnia & Herzegovina – 175/1

Out of the 32 qualified teams, Bosnia & Herzegovina is the only nation making its World Cup debut this month. Having only joined FIFA in 1995, they came close to qualifying for South Africa in 2010 but lost out to Portugal in the play-offs.

This time around, Safet Susic’s side earned top spot in their group (scoring 30 goals in ten matches), which sparked wild celebrations on the streets of Sarajevo. Ranked 21st in the world, they face a enormously difficult test in their opener against well-fancied Argentina but should have enough to get the better of Nigeria and Iran.

Stoke’s Asmir Begovic will be between the sticks while Roma’s Miralem Pjanic is the creative outlet in midfield and Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko is tasked with scoring the goals to make Bosnia’s first appearance a memorable one.

Soccer - International Friendly - Bosnia-Herzegovina v USA - Asim Ferhatovic Hase Stadium Source: Joe Giddens

 

5. Switzerland – 125/1

After missing out on Euro 2012, Switzerland returned to the world stage in commanding style by winning Group E with a game to spare in qualifying. While they are not quite as good a team as their current FIFA ranking (sixth) would suggest, former Bayern Munich manager Ottmar Hitzfeld has successfully brought through several talented young players and built a strong unit.

They famously beat Spain in the last World Cup and are good money to get out of Group E with France, which would mean Honduras and Ecuador going home early.

Bayern Munich midifleder Xherdan Shaqiri is the team’s biggest talent while Napoli midfielder Gokhan Inler will provide steel in the middle of the park and full-backs Stephan Lichtsteiner of Juventus and Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg love to get forward at very opportunity.

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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