Just 38 days and counting. Won’t be long now. But still, I’m going to hold off from making my definitive predictions for a while longer. Maybe till the eve of the big kick off. But I have been analysing the teams, the groups, the possible quarter finalists and beyond. I feel ready to split the 32 teams into four new groups. The Favourites. The Outsiders. The Also-Rans. But most importantly of all, the Dark Horses.
The Favourites is an easy enough group to assemble. I don’t think there has ever been a more clear favourite in any previous World Cup. Spain are just so much better than anybody else. England and Brazil are sending arguably their weakest squads to a tournament ever. On paper. And yet they both have managers who have melded what they have into fairly solid teams capable of winning. Argentina have the second most talented squad in the competition, so despite their awful qualification campaign, they are up there.
The Outsiders are equally easy to name. France, Italy, Germany and Holland. All are big names, all have some big stars, but all have some big weaknesses too, and haven’t performed in the last couple of years well enough to suggest they could win the tournament. But then again, I put France and Italy in this group in 2006, wso what do I know? Anyway, of those eight countries, you can bet the winner will probably come from the first group, and that three of the semi-final places will be occupied by teams from both groups. Really, you don’t need me to tell you this. You could just look up the betting odds.
It’s the Dark Horses that are most interesting. A little team, with low expectations, who shine and make their way to a semi-final place and their moment of glory. These are not so easy to pick. The betting odds don’t help you here. But it’s worth remembering that at almost every World Cup, a dark horse or two do make it to the semi-final stage. In 2006 it was Portugal. In 2002 both South Korea and Turkey made it there. In 1998 Croatia surpassed all expectations. In 1994 little Bulgaria got there. In 1986 there was Belgium and in 1982 Poland who repeated their feat of 1978.
Mexico is one of the Dark Horses in my opinion, and the feats of little countries in World Cups gone by should give the country hope and reason for optimism that they could feature in the last stages of the World Cup. Mexico has a great blend of talented youth and solid experience. A World Cup semi-final is not beyond them. Providing they finish as runners up in their group and don’t win it – or they’ll be dumped out at the quarter-final stage by England!
So who else could be considered a Dark Horse? I have three further tips. Chile, Ivory Coast and Paraguay. I know…it’s almost as if I’m biased toward the Latin American teams! But I do think this will be a good World Cup for Latin America. The climate is right, a lot of the traditional big name teams are weaker than usual, and a few of them are feeling a bit patriotic what with their Independence celebrations coming around this time. Plus, Shakira is setting the beat of the tournament!
Ivory Coast have a tough group, but if they manage to squeak through it, they have a good chance of progressing to the quarters at least. They have some star players, and the unknown effect of Sven Eriksson as their manager. He is always one to watch. His selections, his slick tactics, his offside plays – and that’s just his love life. Both Mexican and English fans will be taking an interest in his progress though. But anyhoo – those are my four Dark Horse picks. Mexico, Chile, Paraguay and Ivory Coast.
Paraguay and Chile have both been reasonably impressive in their qualification. They also, potentially, have an easier time of the groups than the other Dark Horses. We’ll just have to wait and see. I have one last tip though – a betting tip. Gonzalo Higuaín to top score as Argentina win the trophy. Ladbrokes are offering 50-1 on that, which seems very generous to me! There are more likely outcomes, but not any offering that value. Unless you can spot one worthy of a flutter.
Until then, I leave you with some Televisa presenters and Shakira, showing that the love of self humiliation in the name of entertainment is alive and well in the 21st century! I’d love to see Shakira in that Mexico top though….