The World Cup is vastly approaching and many have asked the simple question, "Who do you think will win it all?" The more intriguing question although must be "who will surprise us all at the World Cup?" The dark horse concept has more than appealed many to witness quality football talent all over the globe. The most recent Copa America Argentina 2011 many saw that all considered the dark horse of the tournament Uruguay, win the competition. The last World Cup in South Africa La Celeste (Uruguay) again impressed reaching the semifinals and losing to a tough Holland team 3-2. Uruguay also fell short in the third place match up against Germany 3-2, granted Uruguay pushed the Germans to the final kick, which Forlan sent over the wall for the post to be the only obstacle in the way of the Uruguayans from a third place finish on the world stage.
Evident so far one of the dark horses to watch in this tournament is in fact Uruguay. The Uruguayans have been a Jekyll and Hyde team to confront when it came to CONMEBOL qualifications for la Celeste. Since Uruguay had to play in the regional playoff against Jordan to qualify since they landed in fifth place in CONMEBOL qualifications. After humbling lowly Jordan, Uruguay became the sixth nation representing South America in the World Cup. Uruguay does have a reputation to "spoil the party" when they play favorites of tournaments. The Brazilians know it best, when they last hosted a World Cup in 1950, instead of the host nation winning the World Cup; the Uruguayans came back from a 0-1 goal deficit to win 2-1. La Celeste won their second World Cup that time in 1950. Since 2010 Uruguay has been a successful dark horse when they won the Copa America in 2011 and they are definitely a team to watch this time around in the World Cup.
There are a multitude of players to watch for la Celeste, take your pick in which position (don't ask about the goalie). Leading the Uruguayan attack most likely will be Liverpool forward Luis Suarez, but Uruguay has more depth in attack than some would think. Joining Luis will be Edinson Cavani which although had a tough time in Paris, Cavani always had a reputation of performing for la Celeste. The old Guard will be there with Diego Forlan, Diego Lugano, Maxi Pereira, Diego Perez, Diego Godin, and Alvaro Pereira. Young players to watch if they get a chance to play during the tournament would be the young forward Abel Hernandez who aided Palermo back into Serie A next Season and Nicolas Lodeiro who was just recently picked up by Brazilian giants Corinthians. Especially now since la Celeste has been grouped with England, Italy and Costa Rica they will need all the help they can get for a tough battle with England, Italy and Costa Rica.
This time around Uruguay will not be the only dark horse to watch out for there is four others to keep a watchful eye over. One of the other dark horses is also from South America and the other three come from Europe.
The Navegadores will venture to Brazil with the ballon d'or winner Cristiano Ronaldo hopefully spearheading the Portuguese attack. Even though much is not known of the Selecao das Quinas besides their star number seven Cristiano. The players to watch are not really as much as the Real Madrid winger but more along the lines of the number eight Joao Moutinho, four Miguel Veloso and number six William Carvalho. The midfield for Portugal will be key to the selecao's success if it arrives this year. Moutinho will be the key cog when it comes to feeding balls to the attacking third of the field. Veloso and Carvalho will both be likely called into action to perform defensive duties in the midfield battle that’s bound to ensue.
Due to the fact that the first game for Os Navegadores is against Germany a result would be enough for the Portuguese to take to their second game. Contending against the Germans won't be an easy feat; the entire squad will be called upon to keep the German onslaught at bay. Starting from Rui Patricio in between the posts to Ronaldo pushing in attack. Especially now after the recent death of what Antonio Salazar called a national treasure, Eusebio, motivation for the Portuguese might travel with the Seleccao in spirit to the former Portuguese colony.
The clockwork orange have always been considered a tough opponent to contend with. Recent years there has been no other team to fall apart in more fantastic fashion. Now with the looming departure of their coach Louis van Gaal many think the Dutch will have the motivation to prove themselves this time around. The Dutch were runners up in the last World Cup in South Africa after losing a tough match against the defending champions Spain 1-0. The massive question that occurs amongst the Dutch squad is the capability of their defense since the majority of the defenders; none have more than 24 caps for the Netherlands.
The part to fear from the Netherlands is their midfield and attacking capabilities since the inclusion of Wesley Sneijder, Robben, de Jong, Huntelaar, and Robin van Persie most likely leading the forward line for Holland. A dismal display from Robben for Munich I Europe this campaign also with van Persie’s injury plagued Manchester United’s campaign. There will be many incentives motivating the Dutch this summer. The Oranje has been pitted in a group with the defending champions Spain. The Dutch would relish an opportunity for revenge in the first game of the group against Spain. The Clockwork Oranje does have to look over their shoulder with the likes of the high pressing Chile.
The Albiceleste (Argentina) many would also argue are a tournament favorite but although the squad boasts one of the best player in the world with Lionel Messi. Argentina has endured a rather dire and solemn era with la Pulga as the number ten. Many would of thought the Argentines would of won a World Cup or Copa America at this point but in fact they have fallen rather flat. The 2011 Copa America Argentina fell to the champions Uruguay at home, 1-1 losing in penalties 5-4. In the Copa America prior to 2011 Argentina fell again but that time to Brazil in the final 3-0. The previous World Cup in South Africa Argentina fell in the quarterfinals to Germany 4-0 which more than humbled the Argentines but also saw head coach Diego Maradona axed from his position as head coach.
After what has been a very dismal and unsuccessful club campaign this year, Lionel Messi will be looking to silence his critics by performing for his country. What entices fans most about Argentina is how they can accommodate their excess of attacking options. Messi will be representing Argentina up front, but also Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi will join him and Rodrigo Palacio will join the Barcelona number ten as options for Alejandro Sabella to pick from. Angel di Maria will be an individual to observe too as a midfield or wing option for the Argentina boss. Especially since he had a rampant season for los Merengues this campaign winning both the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. The players to watch, the ones that the general football public would not know to much about will be the duo from Benfica Enzo Perez in the midfield and Ezequiel Garay in defense, also Marcos Rojo, the young 24 year old center back for Sporting Lisbon. Which with his strong presence, Sporting retained their position as top three in Portugal this campaign.
Finally on to the dark horse which many have put their complete faith into, Belgium. The Rode Duivels (red devils) have possibly the most expensive team on the club level with just two players’ net worth combined being 80 million Euros, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel. Belgium qualified for the World Cup in a very one sided group, without a single lost in Europe Qualification in group A granted the likes of Croatia was sent to play in a playoff to qualify for the World Cup. Belgium will boast a strong goalie, in fact one of the strongest in the world with the young Thibault Courtois loaned to Atletico Madrid from Chelsea FC. The Belgian defense will also have the young Toby Alderweireld from Atletico Madrid, Thomas Vermaelen from Arsenal, Vincent Kompany from Manchester City, Jan Vertonghen from Tottenham Hotspurs, and the veteran Daniel Van Buyten from Bayern Munich will join the defensive roster for the Belgians.
Belgian head coach Marc Wilmots will have some options in his midfield with the likes of Axel Witsel, Mousa Dembele, Kevin De Bryune, and the dismal Mouraine Fellaini. Wilmots attacking options are countless though with Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Dries Mertens. The players to really watch for Belgium are definitely Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel but also Dries Mertens has had an explosive season with Napoli. Mertens netted 11 goals for Partenopei (Napoli).
The dark horse teams are always fun to watch, they add a little drama and spice to the tournament. Instead of a tournament being about giants and minnows or David and Goliath. This World Cup will have a nice twist to it, which team is the most physical, tactical and most technical. What will prevail of the three qualities? Which tactics will all the sides come out with, possession football or counterattacking, defensive or high-pressure setups? June 12th cannot come any sooner.