No World Cup is complete without a dark horse — a team that comes into the tournament with little or no expectations for its performance and continues to do so from round to round. More often than not, it’s the host nation itself that injects a wave of emotion (and, occasionally, a very favorable refereeing decision) into the contest: see, for example, South Korea in 2002 or Russia in 2018. In an age where football is scrutinized and analyzed more than ever before, it is safe to say that the World Cup shouldn’t be a big surprise, but the fact that the dark horse is still going strong is a testament to beauty. the chaos of elite sport.
One defining characteristic of a dark horse is that he should start the World Cup with a full run. Although the Conquerors start slowly, the dark horse bursts into the limelight, knowing that its best success lies in surprising its victims with its toughness. In South Korea’s first game in 2002, they stunned Poland with their counter-attacking speed, while Senegal beat France 1-0 in the same tournament. In fact, the holders of the trophy should be especially wary: look at Argentina, who lost 1-0 to Cameroon in 1990 as they began their title defence.
At this point, it must be said that there has been some debate about what a dark horse actually is. Belgium, for example, were wrongly considered a dark horse by many in 2014, even though almost everyone knew their attacking threat: They boasted Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens. You can’t be a dark horse if the whole world sees you coming. For the same reason, attempts to classify Senegal as a dark horse must be rejected. They are the African champions and their forward line is led by Sadio Mane, who finished second in the Ballon d’Or voting. (But Mane may not be fit for the group stages.) If there is a real dark horse in this World Cup, it will be someone like Tunisia: a good finishing team and a fairly poor defense, who have been very impressive recently. results against decent opposition, beating Chile 2-0 and Japan 3-0 earlier this year. More importantly, most of their players are at clubs that happen to be below the observational radar – in this respect they are similar to Costa Rica in 2014.
In 2014, there was a world championship for dark horses, which at first glance might not seem like it. The 2014 World Cup, however, was a competition where the number of traditional big teams was slightly past its peak (such as England, Spain and Uruguay) and could be picked off by younger, more aggressive competitors. . But this time those powers have been supplemented.
If there is indeed a dark horse element to this tournament, it will be the World Cup schedule. My two years ago Stadium singer Ryan Hunn has written about the “volatility of these unprecedented times,” and his words seem to apply even more as Qatar approaches. We’ve never seen a World Cup quite like this one — coming at the end of a difficult autumn in which several teams seemed overwhelmed by the effort of the past few weeks and some players made their relief clear. avoid harm. Many elite footballers have also come straight from the accelerated group stage of the Champions League. There has been little time to rekindle team chemistry between players who haven’t seen each other in a while, and nearly half of the squads won’t get a chance to play a pre-World Cup friendly. This means that some nations will have to start identifying their best teams as the competition progresses, which could easily lead to a surprise result or two.
On top of that, there are key absentees that weaken the biggest teams. France, for example, lost the 2018 World Cup-winning midfield of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante and had to revamp their squad. Real Madrid duo Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga, but he is asking a host of players barely out of their 20s to control the pace of the defending champions. Meanwhile, Giovani Lo Celso has been sent off for Argentina, a particular blow for them as he is a playmaker who enjoys rare on-field contact with Leo Messi. These uncertainties may open the way for a less publicized opponent – say, Denmark in France’s group – to take advantage.
But in the end, Qatar is the real dark horse. No one knows what to expect from this World Cup, both on and off the field. It’s not the glory of the calendar, but something tucked away in the margins, like a late tax return, something to tackle out of desperation and necessity. Instead of allowing us to build in peace, it has completely overrun our lawns and disrupted the status quo. It’s hard to imagine a bigger story appearing in the midst of so much chaos. Once he’s gone, we’ll be making quick progress to restart domestic football; but when it’s here, it’s guaranteed to leave its mark.