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How an outsider could come to win

How an outsider could come to win

Outsiders, wild cards, underdogs, whatever names we give them, it’s because we don’t feel that they stand much of a chance in the upcoming World Cup. The fact that Brazil, Italy and/or Germany usually win (or at least reach the latter stages) means that the field is pretty open for the other 29 competing nations and, this being football, all we can really be sure about is that it’s a funny old game…


Denmark


The Danes have been equally successful as both Spain and Holland over the last 25 years, meaning that in the said period they’ve been a heck of a lot more successful than the likes of England and Portugal. Unimpressive as that may sound, it does mean that they are in with a shot. The Laudrups may have gone, as has the Schmeichel, but in players like Nicklas Bendtner, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Jesper Gronkjaer, Daniel Agger, Dennis Rommedahl and the Juventus’ Christian Poulsen there is enough big-league and big-game experience in there for Denmark to cause a few surprises. If they can emerge from their group of death (Holland, Cameroon and Japan), a straight forward second round match will probably lead to a quarter final showdown with either Spain, Brazil or Portugal. Win that one and the world would be forced to take notice. Their manager, Morten Olsen, is a winner by reputation, meaning the Danish team will be well prepared by the time kick-off comes around in June.


USA


For years people have marveled at the fact that a country as vast as the USA, with its massive, diverse population as well as its pedigree in sports (athletics, basketball, tennis, swimming, golf, volleyball, baseball, cycling, American football, pool, etc.) has failed to succeed in soccer… so far. American league soccer has boasted three of football’s biggest names (Pele, Best and Beckham), and there’s no doubt that the sport is on the up on that side of the Atlantic, but to even consider the USA as possible candidates to lift the World Cup when faced with competition from the likes of Brazil, Spain, Italy and Argentina, is almost as preposterous as Pele’s prediction about the impending dominance of the African game. In 1950 the USA famously defeated England, the inventors of the Beautiful Game, much to the surprise of the rest of the world. More recently they beat Spain and thus put an end to the Euro 2008 champions’ phenomenal unbeaten run. Players like Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Jay DeMerit, DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley have greatly improved the reputation of American soccer abroad, while their nowhere near impossible group in South Africa makes them a realistic bet to proceed - perhaps even as group winners.


Ivory Coast


The Elephants are unfortunate to have been grouped with favourites and five time winners Brazil, as well as talented underachievers Portugal, but should they qualify it will have little to do with luck. The crux of their players play in major European leagues, and boast plenty of silverware between them. In the Toure brothers they have two of the most consistent and tough players in the modern game with a combined 14 major titles to their names. Other stars include Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboue, Didier Zokora, Bakari Kone, Salomon Kalou, Bonaventure Kalou, Aruna Dindane and of course the talismanic skipper Didier Drogba. There aren’t many strikers who can instill fear into the hearts of defenders the way Drogba can (and does) on a regular basis for both his country and for Chelsea, and the peak of his career could not have come at a better time. They’ll have to be at the very top of their game if they are to reach the last eight, but once there, the sky’s the limit.


Ghana


Pele predicted that an African team would win the World Cup before the year 2000. That prophecy, of course is yet to be fulfilled, but the fact that there are a number of African entrants and they have the advantage of playing on their home continent for the first time, means that the great one’s vision could perhaps, materialise (albeit a decade later than first thought). Like the Ivorians, Ghana’s players enjoy successful careers, scattered around the European leagues. None more so than Michael Essien, Chelsea’s 26 year old central midfield general. Injured for the majority of this season, his presence will be vital if Ghana are to live up to their enormous potential. Inspirational captain Stephen Appiah, Inter’s Sulley Muntari and the likes of Asamoah and young Kevin Prince Boateng mean that the Ghana side really are spoiled for choice in the middle of the park. If Gyan and Amoah can provide the goals, Ghana will be responsible for a few surprises and upsets as the tournament progresses. Grouped with triple champions Germany, they should have no trouble going through as runners up or better.