The World Cup is fast approaching
It may still feel strange to have a World Cup taking place at the end of the year – and one that cuts into the traditional FIFA soccer calendar. But we are now only a few months away from the tournament in Qatar – and international soccer fans are getting excited.
The World Cup football betting markets have already shifted into overdrive, and many will already have picked out potential winners. But here are five nations that we think you should keep an eye on to potentially cause a surprise this year.
At one stage, it looked like Ecuador might be thrown out of the World Cup before a ball had even been kicked. But Chile’s protests about ineligible players in qualifying were disregarded, and now La Tri could be one of the biggest surprise threats in Qatar.
Ecuador qualified for the tournament with a round to spare in the notoriously difficult CONMEBOL qualification system and kicked off against the hosts. Three points there could set them up very nicely for getting something from either of the games against Senegal or the Netherlands. Ignore them at your peril.
Wales has qualified for its first FIFA World Cup since 1958. But Rob Page’s men are not there merely to make up the numbers. Sometimes referred to as a one-man team thanks to the brilliance of Gareth Bale, Wales has shown that there is far more than one global superstar in the squad.
Wales will need to keep at least two of Bale, Aaron Ramsey, and Joe Allen injury-free to have a chance of progress. But England, Iran, and the US shouldn’t write the Dragons off. There is an intriguing mix of experience and youth in the squad – and Wales did make it to the last four of Euro 2016.
Canada has become the big new story in CONCACAF soccer and was able to qualify for its first World Cup since 1986 without the talent of Alphonso Davies for the last six games. Les Rouges still swept into the finals and will now fancy their chances against Croatia and Morocco – with Belgium favorites to win the group.
There was some controversy and upheaval with an ultimately canceled friendly against Iran – and some players have complained about bonuses – but this is surely the finest group of players Canada has ever produced. There is real belief back home, and progression from the group stage should be considered.
It was French fans last time – who will be celebrating this year?
Serbia might have more experience in major international tournaments than some of the other teams mentioned here. But the finals experience has rarely been a happy one for this nation – in all its former guises. There is still a question over the defensive strength, but attacking options seem to be at a premium right now.
The fact that Juventus striker Dušan Vlahović may have to be happy coming off the bench to play is a major sign of how stacked the attacking roster is with Serbia. After facing Brazil in its opening game, Serbia then just has to get something from Switzerland and Cameroon to progress.
Like Serbia, South Korea is well known to international soccer fans. This will be its tenth successive World Cup appearance – but there has traditionally been little to celebrate for this team once it has reached the big stage. A tough group awaits, but there is still a chance.
Much will depend on the form of Son Heung-min. The Spurs attacker is the main threat in the side, but the players will all have to play at pace to get past the likes of Uruguay, Portugal, and Ghana in the group stage. But if that is achieved, then a favorable draw in the knockout rounds could propel South Korea deeper into the competition.