At this point, it’s a World Cup tradition. At seemingly every World Cup tournament, there’s an underdog that surprises everyone by massively outperforming its pre-tournament rating.
23 days to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar; 10 surprising teams to watch out for | BetKing 2022 FIFA World Cup Prediction
In 1998, an unfancied Croatia made it all the way to the semifinal before eventual winners, France, knocked them out.
In 2002, TWO underdogs made it to the semifinals where Turkey beat South Korea in the third-place playoff. At that same 2002 World Cup, Senegal shocked the world after beating France in the group stage and making it all the way to the quarterfinals.
And in 2010, a Luis Suarez handball and the width of the crossbar denied Ghana the chance to become the first African country to qualify for the World Cup semifinals.
Which of the pre-tournament underdogs do we think will outperform expectations this time around? Read on below to find out!
While no African team has ever gone beyond the quarterfinals at the World Cup, the reigning African champions are best placed to break that jinx. Grouped alongside hosts Qatar, Ecuador and Netherlands, the draw has been relatively kind to the Teranga Lions. They are also likely to face a shaky England in the round of 16.
With an array of stars like Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, 2021 Best Goalkeeper of the year Edouard Mendy, Chelsea’s Kalidou Koulibaly and the added tournament winning experience they gained in January, Senegal will be confident of their chances at Qatar this year.
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It will be Qatar’s maiden appearance at the World Cup. Detractors will say them being at the tournament isn’t particularly impressive since they qualified automatically as the host nation, but Qatar could give other teams a run for their money.
Playing in front of home fans is always an advantage and they could capitalize on that just like Russia did in 2018 when they reached the quarterfinals.
They might not make a deep run into the tournament, but they could frustrate others in their path despite not having any household names in their squad.
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This is arguably one of the finest collections of players the United States has ever produced. The likes of Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Sergino Dest, Brenden Aaronson, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Matt Ryan, Brenden Aaronson, Luca de la Torre, Yunus Musah and Tim Ream all play in major European leagues.
That informs a lot of the optimism around this team, although it is worth mentioning that recent results have not been that impressive. However, if coach Gregg Berhalter manages to put it all together somehow by the start of the World Cup, there is a good chance they could do well and stun more established teams.
Iran, Wales, and England is not the toughest group to qualify from, especially considering Wales’ poor form and the fact that the Three Lions are widely expected to win the group. The USA will fancy that second spot, and rightly so.
If they can do that, anything is possible over 90+30 minutes and a penalty shootout.
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Many will overlook them because they tend to underperform, but Poland will be no pushovers.
They have not had a lot of success since finishing third back in 1974 and 1982 but this is a chance for them to make their first deep run in a long time.
The vast experience of their all-time top goal scorer Robert Lewandowski, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny and Arkadiusz Milik will be surely count.
Grouped with Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, Poland will be confident of challenging Mexico for second place in Group C since beating Argentina to top spot is out of the reach of either team. But then, is it really?
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Despite sacking manager Vahid Halilhodzic less than four months to the start of the World Cup, Morocco do not seem to have lost a beat. The controversial Bosnian manager had previously fallen out with star player Hakim Ziyech, but now the Chelsea man is back in the fold and in line for a place in Qatar.
The Atlas Lions play an attractive style of football built on a solid defence and a technical midfield. Their forwards are young but promising, they have one of Africa’s best goalkeepers between the sticks, and in Walid Regragui they have a coach who has proven himself at club level on the African continent.
Achraf Hakimi shocked the world with his set piece prowess in January. Opposition left backs will not be looking forward to the problems his partnership with Hakim Ziyech is going to cause them.
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This is a team which tends to do well at World Cups and have been relatively consistent over the years.
While they might no longer be at the peak of their powers, it would be dangerous to undermine the experience of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin.
There is also new Liverpool striker, Darwin Nunez, is also in the mix of players who could potentially shine in Qatar, and Real Madrid dynamo Federico Valverde is capable of playing multiple positions to a very high standard. The Madrid star has even added a new string to his bow this season, the Portuguese, Ghanaian and South Korean goalkeepers will already be terrified of his accurate long-range shooting.
South Korea have faltered recently under the leadership of Paulo Bento, and Ghana look severely undercooked, so progress from this group should be fairly straightforward for the South American nation. They will, however, want to pip Portugal to top spot, even if only to avoid meeting Brazil in the Round of 16.
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The Danes are a well-drilled team brimming with a lot of talent. Under manager Kasper Hjulmand, they demonstrated their ability to punch above their weight at the Euros last year, and they look set to surprise many in Qatar later this year.
The Scandinavians are buoyed by the inspirational story of Christian Eriksen’s return to football, but beyond their talismanic midfielder, they are a compact side capable of stunning anyone on their day. Their UEFA Nations League double over France demonstrated this clearly, as they made the reigning world champions look ordinary, both in Paris and in Copenhagen.
Solid at the back, inventive through the middle, with wing-backs flying down the flanks and a collection of young, exciting forwards. Beating the Danes will take some doing, that’s for sure.
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It has been a minute since Canada made it to the finals of a World Cup, and this team is determined to make a decent fist of it.
There is a decent array of talent at their disposal, as the North American nation has leaned heavily on its African and Caribbean diaspora. Bayern Munich’s wing-back Alphonso Davies, originally of Liberian descent, is one of the quickest footballers on the planet, and is accomplished at the highest level.
Upfront, Jonathan David, plays for French club Lille and born to Haitian parents, is one of the most sought-after forwards in Europe. The likes of Atiba Hutchinson and Junior Hoilett, also have extensive experience gained during their time at clubs in major European leagues.
Whether this all translates to something meaningful remains to be seen, especially considering Canada are in the tournament’s Group of Death, but underestimate them at your peril.
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Serbia have always had the talent to make an impression on the world stage. They have, however, been let down by in-fighting and managerial incompetence for a long time. 2022 promises to be different.
They will, barring injury, have arguably the best strike partnership at the World Cup. Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic form a deadly duo, and, more importantly, are both in red-hot form. Highly-rated manager Dragan Stojkovic has found a system that accommodates them together, and there is no shortage of supply with the talents of Filip Kostic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic from midfield.
They will likely battle Switzerland for the runner-up spot in Group G, so their final group match could very well be a winner-takes-all affair. However, if they make it out of that tricky situation, they are a potential danger to anyone.
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The Swiss are a solid team, the sort to thrive in a tournament setting. That makes them dangerous customers.
Under Murat Yakin, this team has the benefit of cohesion and experience. Midfielder Granit Xhaka is their highest-profile player, but former Liverpool man Xherdan Shaqiri thrives on international duty and in Breel Embolo they have one of the most complete forwards in the competition, with the ability to both hold up play and to sprint in behind defenses.
They are difficult to break down and handy on set pieces. Their run to the quarterfinals at last year’s Euros also showed a never-say-die attitude, as they came from the brink to beat France on penalties and only bowed to Spain after going down to 10 men.
They are in a tight group, but they will fancy their chances of hammering Cameroon and they did hold Brazil to a draw at the last World Cup. Keep an eye out for them.
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