In our continued series of contenders at the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia we look at teams that could surprise a few, the potential is there but they haven’t done enough to be installed as favourites.
Two recent friendly wins have somewhat raised expectations again after a rather realistic approach to a major tournament for a change. This will be the first World Cup England go into without any of the so called “golden generation” that failed to deliver on the biggest stage.
Manager Gareth Southgate has managed to put together a competitive young squad who are dependent on their pace in attack. They have been drawn in a relatively negotiable group which should see them going one better than they did in 2014, thus make it out of the group stages.
In Harry Kane, they have one of the world’s finest strikers. If Lewandowski can carry a poor Polish side to the finals then surely Kane can see England to the quarter-finals at the very least, for he has better talent around him to start off.
An expectant and passionate sporting country that craves success at the highest level are England and these expectations have meant that the three lions always approach international competitions with hope instead of taking a realistic approach. This has somewhat weighed down their players resulting in embarrassing exits in major tournaments none more so than the one at the hands of Iceland at EURO 2016. Harry Kane will carry much of the burden alongside the much maligned Raheem Sterling who’s coming of a great season with Manchester City. Yes they will be playing without much pressure but I don’t see them faring much better than the previous years.
Harry Kane & Raheem Sterling
Entered the 2014 tournament as one of the dark horses for the title but ultimately exited at the quarter-final stage. On another day one might install them as a favorite but they have not done much to earn such high status this time round with a star studded side that lacks synergy and cohesion. They have arguably the best group of players in the tournament and the talent in the squad somewhat makes up for the lack of experience in the latter stages of major tournaments.
Dubbed the Golden generation of Belgian soccer, this might be the last chance saloon for a few of their stars. So far they have failed to deliver on their promise, whether manager Roberto Martinez is the man to finally bring out the best out of the host of stars is a question everybody is asking. Their quarter-final exits in the last two major finals have somewhat dampened spirits and means the expectation is not as high as in 2014, thus it might work to their advantage.
In Eden Hazard, they have one of the best players in the world; if Martinez manages to get him working in tandem with the equally talented Kevin de Bruyne then the Red Devils could match or better their semi-final finish of 1986 which remains their best to date.
Eden Hazard & Kevin de Bruyne
It is but impossible to talk about Portugal without mentioning the influence of one Cristiano Ronaldo. The reigning World footballer of the year has carried the hopes of the nation since the retirement of the gifted Luis Figo. His stamp on the Portuguese is such that every time they win a ball they try to find him in the hope he creates some bit of magic as he so often does.
EUR16, showed that coach Fernando Santos has somewhat gone some way into reducing that Ronaldo dependence in the team as they claimed the title despite his early exit in the final through injury. They will do well to match their 1966 and 2006 sides that made it to the last four. Morocco and Iran are no pushovers. However, if their Iberian derby with Spain is anything to go by; they are well on their way beyond the group stages. It still remains to be seen if they can get beyond the quarter-finals.
Cristiano Ronaldo & Pepe