Spain were favourites to win the 2014 World Cup and didn’t make it past the group stage. In the same year Germany thrashed Brazil 7-1, an event which bookmakers gave a 1 in 4500 chance of happening. Whilst neither of these teams were underdogs, they both illustrate the age-old adage: anything can happen in football.
Without further ado: here are our favourite World Cup underdogs of 2018.
The Socceroos have never been good enough to be a disappointment. Besides qualifying, anything that has come our way—a Tim Cahill stunner, briefly holding our own against the Netherlands etc.—has been a heart-warming bonus.
Not only that, but since the removal of head coach Postecoglou, who optimistically tried to implement a more ‘tiki-taka’ kind of style, Australian football has returned to business as usual. As ABC columnist Richard Hinds puts it:
“Fancy pie-in-the-sky notions like one day ‘winning the World Cup’ (or, for that matter, funding the developmental pathways that might make that a realistic possibility) ha(ve) been pushed to the side of the plate.”
This means that, in Russia, the Socceroos will be free to play the tenacious underdog and attempt to eke out what results they can to “get out of their group.” It is this complete lack of expectation (and the fact that a five dollar bet would net you $1250 if Australia won) that could make Australia worth a sly punt.
And for those that don’t like throwing away money: we have a 42% chance of making it out of our group (according to analysts—the best we’ve had since 2006), if you’d rather bet on that. And also, if we make it to the quarters, a $10 bet will provide you with a $200 return. With even Mourinho, one of the world’s most miserable (yet effective) managers, backing us, how can you not have hope?
Iceland, the smallest nation to ever qualify for a world cup, is another team that lend themselves to the risk-inclined punter. Well capable of punching above their weight, they humiliated England in Euro 16, as well as holding Portugal to a 1-1 draw and beating Austria.
They also surprised football fans world over by topping their World Cup qualification group. To put this in perspective, in the process they beat Croatia—a team that boasts, amongst others, Luca Modric (one of the best centre midfielders in the world)—so although Iceland’s team isn’t full of multi-million dollar stars, the side clearly plays as a unit, with enough passion and determination to lead them to victory.
They also have a vocal support base, capable of drowning a stadium with their chants, making Iceland a tasty sub-plot in the extremely tough Group D. Even if they don’t progress, they will win fans with their Viking thunderclap celebrations and spirited displays.
The whole of Egypt watched in horror as red-card-waiting-to happen (and Real Madrid hero), Sergio Ramos, accidentally-on-purpose injured their King, Mohamed Salah, during the Champions League final in Kiev.
The Liverpool winger went on a goal scoring frenzy this season at Anfield, netting 44 goals in all competitions for The Reds. A fleet footed, less-rabid, skinny version of Suarez, Salah might have to miss Egypt’s opening game against Uruguay (due to his shoulder injury), but if he comes back in form, expect fireworks.
And Salah isn’t the only reason why Egypt could be your dark horses pick for Russia. This year they have a strong side including Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny and West Brom’s Ahmed Hegazi, premier league players of substantial quality.
They are unlikely to beat Uruguay, but if Egypt can beat the hosts, Russia, during match day 2, they will almost certainly progress to the last 16—where they would (most likely) face either Spain or Portugal.
If Suarez keeps his fangs to himself and Cavani can remember how to take a penalty, Uruguay are an underdog to watch out for this World Cup. High on confidence (after qualifying with a game to spare) Uruguay should easily get out of their group, with the potential to cause an upset in the later rounds.
Although they don’t have Messi, they have (arguably) tighter defence than their Argentine counterparts, creative midfielders and deadly, world-class strikers: Cavani and Suárez. It’s also worth noting that Uruguay are the only team on this list to have ever made the semis—somewhere they will no doubt be looking to reach again.