Making of a dark horse: Our picks to cause a shock in Russia
There’s always one side at a World Cup that comes from nowhere to exceed expectations. Here, we analyse the components needed for a surprise run.
Been here before?
World Cup experience isn’t necessary to cause a shock, but it helps to have been there before.
Costa Rica had appeared at the World Cup on three separate occasions before making the last eight at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, while Ghana were competing at their second consecutive tournament when they made the quarter-final four years earlier in South Africa.
South Korea also had experience before reaching the semi-finals on home soil in 2002, having had four previous appearances.
That means debutants Panama and Iceland can be discounted.
Gareth Southgate will be chuffed.
Unsurprisingly, the performance of key players is crucial when it comes to unfancied sides being successful at the World Cup.
Think Roger Milla (Cameroon) in 1990, Davor Suker (Croatia) in 1998 and Asamoah Gyan (Ghana) in 2010.
That's good news for Peru, who have recently had their all-time top goalscorer Paolo Guerrero cleared to play after a drugs ban.
But before lumping on the South American side to reach the last eight at , it's worth noting that the 34-year-old's impact could be understated after being involved in just three matches since October.
Egypt’s chances are also in doubt, given the injury sustained by Mohamed Salah in the Champions League final.
Despite being declared fit by his country, the damage Salah suffered to his shoulder means he is likely to below his best in Russia.
Senegal, in comparison, look to be in robust shape.
Backed by Salah’s club-mate Sadio Mane, along with West Ham’s Cheikhou Koyate and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, looks good value for them to repeat 2002’s quarter-final showing.
Luck of the draw
Costa Rica proved in 2014 that an unfavourable group draw isn’t terminal to your chances.
They finished above Uruguay, Italy and England to top Group D before making it to the last eight in Brazil.
Four years on, the Central American side have a simpler route to the knock-out stages, having been drawn alongside Switzerland and Serbia in Group E.
A probable last-16 tie against Germany means there is no point in backing them repeat the heroics of 2014 at .
But a second-round exit at is tempting.
Senegal once again look good. They face Poland, Colombia and Japan in Group H, and will likely play England or Belgium in the second round.
So, too, do Russia. The hosts have been handed the easiest group of the lot – against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay – and could meet Portugal in the last 16, which would be winnable.
Location, location, location
There’s even better news for Russia here, given that there has been just one host nation in World Cup history that failed to make it out of the group.
That was South Africa in 2010, although African interest was kept alive by Ghana’s run to the quarters.
Each World Cup since 1998 has seen an unfancied side flourish from nearby the country the tournament has been held in.
In France, it was Croatia who surprised everyone by reaching the semi-finals.
South Korea matched that feat in 2002 at their own World Cup, despite never having previously made it out of the group stage.
Ukraine then made the last eight in Germany, while Costa Rica impressed in Brazil doing the same.
The hosts can keep that trend going, and are available at to reach the last eight.
Costa Rica to go out in the last 16 –
Senegal to make it to the quarter final –
Russia to make it to the quarter final –
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