Skip to content

Three 2014 World Cup dark horses across three continents

Dec 11, 2013, 9:50 AM EDT

FC Viktoria Plzen v PFC CSKA Moscow - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

There aren’t too many labels that can cause debate more than “dark horse.” In fact, an earlier post calling Bosnia & Herzegovina a World Cup dark hose was derided by several of you in our comments section.

After all, it’s difficult to pluck a squad from a major tournament that features the best of the best and not meet resistance (save labeling Iran or Australia a favorite for Brazil 2014). Still, let’s take a look at some nations with opportunities to surprise the world.

Japan – The Japanese have challenged themselves with immense competition over the past year and while it hasn’t been all sunshine, Samurai Blue will not be frightened by any opposition. That includes a Group C with the Ivory Coast, Greece and Colombia.

Over the past year Japan has beaten Belgium and drew the Netherlands in Belgium, while defeating Ghana and Australia in Asia. Their Confederations Cup performance — aside from a 3-0 loss to hosts Brazil — proved they can score against anyone, with a 4-3 loss to Italy and a 2-1 defeat versus Mexico, games backed up by a 4-2 loss to Uruguay.

The players who get the lion’s shares of pub are Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United) and Keisuke Honda  (CKSA Moscow), but Japan national teamers have found a foothold  in the Bundesliga; Nine Samurai Blue players are active in Germany’s top flight.

Certainly they’re a dark horse at best, but Alberto Zaccheroni has a 28-11-11 record as manager of the Japan side after plenty of time in Serie A with Milan, Inter and a brief spell at Juventus.

Japan is 2-1 all-time against the Ivory Coast, though the last matchup was a 2-0 loss. They won their only matchup against Greece in the 2005 Confederations Cup and are 0-1-1 against Colombia.

Ghana –  Yes, the Black Stars face what’s widely perceived as the Group of Death, but pressure hasn’t crippled them in previous competitions. Ghana showed up to its first World Cup in 2006 and promptly finished 13th before improving to 7th in 2010.

American fans are well aware that Ghana has beaten the Yanks in successive World Cups heading into their Group G opener in Brazil, but how many know the Black Stars have a 4-0 record all-time against the U.S. with a goal differential of 10-2.

German captain Per Mertesacker has hailed Ghanian star Kevin Prince-Boateng, who will have a family rivalry with half-brother Jerome Boateng. Germany has handled Ghana in both past meetings, 7-1. Portugal and Ghana have never met.

There are questions in net for Ghana — could Richard Kingson be back? — but there’s no lack of international class in attacking, as the team has options from the Premier League to the Bundesliga and beyond.

Anyone who watched the Black Stars simply throttle Egypt 7-3 on aggregate knows they play with flair and swagger, plus surviving Group G can net a nice path to the quarters as we’ve previously detailed. Are you betting against Ghana?

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Let’s finish with the aforementioned Golden Lillies, who sit at No. 21 in the FIFA rankings four months after reaching its peak at No. 13. Until 2010, the nation had never been higher than 44 in the world and were well below that number in years prior.

First, the negative: Competing in a group with Argentina, Iran and Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina has little history with its competition and most of it isn’t good. They lost to Argentina 2-0 in a friendly on American soul on Nov. 18. Sergio Aguero scored both goals though most accounts say the Western Hemisphere powers were put to the test.

They’ve never squared off with Nigeria and haven’t faced Iran since 2009, but the Middle Eastern country boasts a nearly pristine 4-1-0 mark versus Bosnia.

On to the positive: it’s a veteran unit that features the four-most capped players in national history, including its two-highest goal scorers in Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimović. There’s good depth in the back and up top for Bosnia, who should reverse its Iranian struggles and cause loads of problems for Nigeria’s defense. They’ve got a stud goalkeeper is Asmer Begovic. That’s for certain.

If Bosnia and Herzegovina were to come out of Group F, they face a promising matchup with Group E (Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras).

  1. tridecagon - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    Absolutely I’m betting against Ghana. No disrespect to them, they’ve shown their class over the past decade and they are strong. But they’ll face arguably the strongest US team ever, with both teams knowing they likely need 3 points out of the game to get out of the group stage. It will be a barnburner – and even if they come away with the win, they’ll still need results against world-class Germany and/or Portugal. I’m not saying there’s no chance for them, but their odds are clearly worse than 50-50 of making it through.

  2. futbolhistorian - Dec 11, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    I guess the debate is who from Asia is a stronger candidate to be a “dark horse.” Japan or South Korea. As a footballing nation, South Korea has both the edge in World Cup experience (is it 6 or 7 straight appearances now?) and success (they are the only Asian team to advance out of their group outside of a WC played in Asia).

    The question is, is Japan the better team currently, and how will each perform against their competition within their group?

    • interesting29 - Dec 11, 2013 at 5:44 PM

      Actually, Japan also advanced out of its group in 2010 in South Africa, and bowed out of the Round 16 due to penalty kicks loss to Paraguay.

  3. braxtonrob - Dec 12, 2013 at 12:33 AM

    L..O..L, that’s what I think of your 3 dark horses.

  4. bear06 - Dec 12, 2013 at 3:29 AM

    Colombia, Chile and Belgium are the real 3 dark horses.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

Official: Welbeck signs for Arsenal