In recent years Croatia shocked the world by being 90 minutes away from winning their first World Cup and then two years ago Denmark, without their star player Christian Eriksen, nearly made the Euros final after almost beating England.
So, who are the new challengers for this year’s World Cup?
The Lions of Teranga with 2 Champions League winning players in winger Sadio Mane, who declared that he is “living a dream” after AFCON victory, and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. They also have one of the best centre backs in Europe with Kalidou Koulibaly, who is partnered with Ligue 1 champion Abdou Diallo, who said they want to “break a glass celing” this World Cup. The ambition is high within this team following their historic win.
They also have Idrissa Gueye in midfield, who is also a ligue 1 champion and played alongside Neymar and Messi.
The African champions, who are ranked 18th in the world, are favourites to finish second in their group behind the Netherlands. They are also expected to have a tough challenge from Ecuador, who will be trying to steal 2nd place and move to the knockout stages.
The 2nd dark horse are Denmark, they have qualified for the World Cup without dropping a point or conceding a goal. They impressed a lot of people after almost reaching the finals during the Euros 2022. They lost to the Three Lions in extra-time. After, what happened to Christian Eriksen during the last European Championships and the courage the team showed together, Jurgen Klinsmann said “they deserve a lot respect”, they have gained the hearts of the European fans.
This is Denmark’s sixth qualification to the World cup. Their best World Cup result was achieved in 1998, where they narrowly lost 3-2 to Brazil in a quarter-final.
The Danish squad is filled with good players throughout the whole squad. A Premier League and FA Cup winning goalkeeper in Kasper Schmeichel. They have a Champions League winning defender with Andreas Christensen. Their full-back Joakim Maehle really impressed last Euros producing 2 goals and 1 assist. He has 9 goals and 6 assists in 31 international appearances.
They have Christian Eriksen in their midfield. The Manchester united number 14 is a Champions League finalist and he is Denmark’s best player. He has 39 goals and 26 assists in 117 appearances for his country which makes him their fifth top goal scorer and 110 club career goals accompanied with 166 club career assists.
Their striker is Kasper Dolberg, in 210 appearances for club football he has 69 goals and 24 assists. For Denmark, he has 11 goals in 37 appearances.
They are ranked 10th in the world and are favourites to finish second behind France in the groupstages without any strong competitions from either Tunisia or Australia to challenge them for that second place spot.
The last dark horses are the USA. The emergence of the “golden age” for USA have left their supporters very excited. They have qualified for Qatar 2022 after finishing third in the Concacaf World Cup qualifying.
They have made the World Cup 11 times but their best result was a third place finish in 1930.
What makes this USA squad a dark horse is their team. They have numerous players playing for the best and biggest teams in the world.
Their goalkeeper: Matt Turner is Arsenal’s backup goalkeeper but has also made 2 appearances for the Gunners in the Europa League. Their full-back Sergino Dest has played for Barcelona and now AC Milan. He has experience playing at the highest level for two of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Weston Mckennie plays for Juventus, an Italian giant. He has 9 goals in 34 appearances for USA. Both Leeds players Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson have started really well in the Premier League. Adams made his move this summer from RB Leipzig where he really impressed as he made over 50 appearances.
Aaronson has already captivated people with his play as Arsenal legend Ian Wright said “he’s such an exciting player”. Then you have their wingers in Giovanni Reyna who has been described by Erling Haaland as the “American Dream”. He has scored 4 goals in 14 appearances for his country.
Then you have “Captain America”: Christian Pulisic. The only American to ever win the Champions League while featuring in the final. Former USMNT international Eddie Johnson said that Pulisic is the “best American player” that he’s ever seen. He has 21 goals in 52 appearances putting him as America’s sixth top goalscorer at the age of 24.
They are ranked as 16th in the world and are favourites to finish second behind England but they are expected to have a tough challenge from both Iran and Wales for that second spot to qualify them to the round of 16.