The World Cup is almost here, and as intrigue explodes around the obvious betting markets of which nations could win in Brazil and who could grab the Golden Boot, it’s time to look at some less obvious yet intriguing tips to sink your teeth into this summer.
Who are the six most backable dark horses to surprise the globe at the 2014 World Cup?
Group A: Croatia
After Spain, Croatia will arguably be the team bristling with the most magical midfielders in Brazil this summer. Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic and the even more directly attack-minded Ivan Perisic would each be worthy of playing as the sole creative fulcrums of many other sides. Together, if their coach Niko Kovac can get the balance right, they could be witheringly potent, pulling enough strings to fill a harp behind Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic. That may be a big “if” should they remain as discordant as they were at times in qualifying, but if Croatia click, watch out Cameroon and Mexico. Brazil can’t afford to rest on their laurels in the group opener either.
Betting Instinct tip – Croatia to win or draw against Brazil is 3.22 with Intertops.eu
Group C: Japan
Having famously put together a 100 year plan to turn Japan into a World Cup-winning football superpower in 1992, the 2014 tournament in Brazil may have too soon for the Blue Samurai to push for the title, but they will be a genuine left-field threat to the other teams in Group C, with all the qualities needed to top the group. After all, everything seems to be going for them. Colombia have lost Radamel Falcao, Ivory Coast have a long history of fluffing their lines on the big stage and Greece are solid yet not exactly spectacular. By contrast, Japan are a team full of pacey, technical footballers who thrive as a collective. With the right draw, the quarter finals aren’t out of the question.
Betting Instinct tip – Japan to reach the quarter-finals is 7.50 with AllYouBet.ag
Group E: Ecuador
France will be favourites to top Group E, but Ecuador cannot be overlooked as a potential source of upsets and heroic narratives with La Tri well-adapted to any potential issues with the Brazilian climate, and boasting some highly effective players, not least Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia. Pace, as we’re forever being told, is a deadly weapon in international football, and the winger could shred many a full-back on his mission to heave his nation into the knock out stages. To do that, they will have to hold back Switzerland and Honduras—the former being a more challenging proposition, but far from unbeatable. After all, this Ecuador team did finish fourth in South American qualifying, finishing above Uruguay, with striker Felipe Caicedo finishing fifth-highest scorer with seven goals. With the element of surprise and low expectations, they could thrive.
Betting Instinct tip – Ecuador to finish top of Group E is 5.00 with Intertops.eu
Group F: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Even before the tragic flooding of their country in May, World Cup debutants Bosnia were all set to take the most inspiring narrative with them to Brazil, entering their first international tournament after a troubled recent past of war and sectarian in-fighting. Yet the Dragons will not be heading to South America hoping to best sides with a sympathetic story. With Asmir Begovic in goal, Emir Spahic in central defence, Miralem Pjanic in midfield and Edin Dzeko leading the line, they have an exceptionally strong and surprisingly experienced spine of proven, top class players. The presence of Iran, another potential dark horse team, and Nigeria in Group F has tempered the enthusiasm of some for hailing Bosnia’s chances, but if those four key players fit—especially Dzeko, who finished as second-highest top scorer in European qualifying—then they could be more than worthy runners-up to Argentina.
Betting Instinct tip – Edin Dzeko to win the Golden Boot is 51.00 with AllYouBet.ag
Group G: Ghana
With a well-constructed squad that blends together some of their most exciting young talents such as Christian Atsu, and the experience of Michael Essien, Kevin Prince-Boatang and Kwadwo Asamoah, Ghana could be the strongest African contender at Brazil 2014. The Black Stars have some impressive depth, with other well-regarded names such as Sully Muntari and Andre Ayew swelling the midfield ranks behind captain Asamoah Gyan, who will lead from the front four years after emerging as one of the big stars of South Africa 2010. On first glance, Group G may look like a fiefdom to be fought over by Germany and Portugal, but the high-energy football of die Mannschaft could well wilt in Brazil, and with Cristiano Ronaldo struggling for fitness, Paul Bento’s men may struggle to make the knock outs, especially with Ghana on their tails.
Betting Instinct tip – Ghana to make it out of Group G is 3.75 with Intertops.eu
Group H: Algeria
Most will remember Algeria as England’s anti-football antagonists in South Africa, whose negative approach also failed them in the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Yet these disasters eventually lead to a rethink and refreshing of the national team under Vahid Halihodzic, who has replaced the turgid time-wasting of the past with a high-press and a refocus on passing. Never mind Adnan Januzaj’s Belgium call up. Tottenham Hotspur’s 19-year-old passing conduit Nabil Bentalab is heading to the World Cup with just two caps to his name; a one-man reinforcement of the ideological shift that has taken place within this Algerian team. The youthful midfielder joins an already exciting cast of players featuring Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli—a hero of many a player on Football Manager 2014—Granada’s Yacine Brahimi and Islam Slimini of Sporting. A hardened touch of the previous regime remains too to add some physical backbone in captain Madjid Bougherra, which will be needed in a tough and well-balanced group featuring Belgium, Russia and South Korea. However, even if foreign perceptions don’t yet realise it, Algeria have the quality to crash the party in Group H.
Betting Instinct tip – Algeria to make the last 16 is 5.50 with AllYouBet.ag
GREG JOHNSON (gregianjohnson) is a freelance football writer based in London and contributor to FourFourTwo, Squawka, Drowned In Sound and Mirror Football. He also co-edits The False Nine football blog and podcast. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.