The first FIFA World Cup was held in 1930 in Uruguay and was an absurdly exclusive event. Only 13 teams participated because of the costly trip across the Atlantic Ocean and other financial restrictions. The host nation walked away victorious and one of the greatest events in sports was born. Underdogs have rarely fared well in the tournament’s history, but in a sporting event of this magnitude, no team should be overlooked. In 2002, South Korea finished on top of a group consisting of Poland, the USA, and Portugal. South Korea would go on to defeat Italy and Spain before falling to Germany and finishing in fourth place.
The 2002 World Cup shows that even the least serious of teams can make spectacular runs in the tournament. With cautious confidence and a bit of good fortune, anything can happen. These three teams are poised to surprise tournament viewers this year in spite of their low rankings.
Three Underdogs in Position to Advance in the 2014 World Cup
1. Ivory Coast
Though the team is a popular pick to advance to the quarterfinals, FIFA ranks Ivory Coast as the 3 seed in Group C. This means that the Elephants must face Japan, Greece, and a formidable opponent in Colombia starting in mid-June. With Didier Drogba, Gervinho, and Yaya Toure on its side, Ivory Coast should boast one of the strongest attacks of the teams in the field. Additionally, the 20-year-old Serge Aurier is as talented a fullback as you’ll find in the world. At keeper, Ivory Coast plays Boubacar Barry who didn’t allow a single goal during the entirety of the 2012 Nations Cup. This collection of players could serve to energize an Ivory Coast team that has failed to play at a high level during its previous World Cup showings.
Advancing out of the group stage would be a first for Ivory Coast. In 2006 and 2010 respectively, the country’s only other World Cup appearances, the Elephants posted just one win and failed to advance to the Knockout Round. But in those instances, Ivory Coast was destined to lose, as it was grouped with powerhouses Argentina and Netherlands in 2006 and Brazil and Portugal in 2010. This year, the team hopes they will have more success.
Ivory Coast will showcase a 4-2-3-1 formation, which will provide strength from the midfield and from its overlapping outside defenders. As long as the squad maintains its focus and discipline over the course of the 90-minute matches, there shouldn’t be many defensive lapses. Manager Sabri Lamouchi is hardly proven and is quite possibly the biggest weak point of the team. As long as Lamouchi doesn’t get in the way, considering their relatively easy draw in the first round, Ivory Coast should place in the top 2 of Group C.
Mexico nearly failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup. If the United States hadn't scored against Panama in the last round of qualifying matches, El Tri would be watching the World Cup from the stands. A handful of other “lucky” plays resulted in a decent draw for the Mexicans. Manager Miguel Herrera will do everything he can to thrust his squad into the second round by defying the world’s expectations.
Rafa Marquez and Javier Hernandez lead a talented but normally unreliable team into the tournament. El Tri has all of the tools to win, but Mexico never seems to maximize its ability in truly important game situations.
El Tri will employ a 5-3-2 formation that will allow both wingbacks to be on the attack together at times. Herrera will not back down from opponents and will attempt to set and control the pace during Mexico’s matches. The manager and the rest of his countrymen realize that Mexico has advanced into the round of 16 in the previous five World Cups, and if they perform well, this trend will continue.
Mexico is the 3 seed in Group A and will face off against Brazil, Croatia, and Cameroon. Some see the matchup with Brazil as a punishment, but it's really a blessing in disguise. Mexico historically has a leg up on the host country. Also, Mexico’s style matches up well against the Brazilians who may be looking ahead to future matches since they are the favorites to win the entire World Cup. Croatia and Cameroon are experienced squads, but if teams take Mexico lightly, El Tri will survive the group stage.
England is a nation built around football. When Manchester United and Chelsea go at each other, the whole world stops to watch the action. The Three Lions is one of eight squads in history to have won the World Cup, but the country’s sole victory was half a century ago in 1966. Group D’s members, Uruguay, Italy, and Costa Rica will undoubtedly pose a great challenge to the Brits in the 2014 World Cup.
Roy Hodgson, England’s manager, has proven himself on the international stage over the course of his career. Outside of England, Hodgson has managed Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, and Finland and he’s won multiple league titles along with those honors. He has an impressive roster to utilize and he’s expected to deliver after England has disappointed in recent World Cup tournaments.
With Luis Suarez recovering from a brutal injury, the window is open for England to pull off what many would consider a major upset by emerging out of Group D. Italy is considered a sure thing to advance into the next round. The Azzuri’s stars, Mario Ballotelli and Andrea Pirlo, will likely punish the Three Lions if England gives them any opportunity to do so. Costa Rica does not have the same talent level as the other teams in the grouping, so the main challenge for England will be playing well against Uruguay and Italy. If Hodgson takes some chances and the youngest Lions excel for this squad, England may turn some heads while navigating deftly through the World Cup stages.