Eurosport Roundtable: Who will be the surprise package at the World Cup?
The World Cup always throws up a few surprises, so who is set to cause a shock in Russia? We asked our writers…
Peru. South American qualifying is a savagely tough affair, so it was no mean feat for Peru to edge out Copa America holders Chile. They have the talismanic Paolo Guerrero back, and they have the backing of stats nerds Gracenote, who rate them as the seventh likeliest team to win the World Cup, ahead of England, Belgium and Portugal.
Colombia. Can you be the ‘surprise package’ two World Cups on the trot? Well, yes – yes you can. Again Colombia have an easy group; again Colombia’s top stars have not been overly taxed by their domestic campaigns; again they have absolutely nothing to lose with a clear path to the quarter-finals, via a comfortable victory over England in the last 16. James Rodriguez finished with the Golden Boot four years ago and Colombia very nearly beat Brazil in what was their best finish at a World Cup. They can at least replicate that feat in Russia.
Nigeria. There’s some proper star quality in that squad, but it’s nicely balanced too. Group D looks strong, with Argentina, Iceland and Croatia also in there, but all three of those teams could be vulnerable if attacked with pace… and the Super Eagles have plenty of it. If worst comes to worst and they crash out, they’ll still have been the most stylish team at the tournament.
Peru. Los Incas are making the semi-finals. 100%. Unbeaten in 15 matches – many of them coming in the cauldron of South American qualifying – and with talisman captain Paolo Guerrero back, they have the momentum needed to go deep in Russia. Other shock: Argentina won’t get out of their group.
Senegal. There are plenty of hugely exciting teams but Senegal tick just about every box you would want. They have a talismanic superstar in Sadio Mane, plenty of quick, exciting wingers such as Keita Blade and Ismailia Sarr, an industrious midfield and a real rock at the back Kalidou Koulibaly. Oh and they've got Aliou Cisse in charge, captain of that brilliant team in 2002. Throw in an open group with a potential last 16 match against England and you've got perhaps the best African contender.
Morocco: They won't win the World Cup, but Morocco have the potential to make a real impact in Russia and could be the first Arab team to reach the quarter-finals. Their manager, Herve Renard, won two African Cup of Nations titles, with Zambia and Ivory Coast, and they conceded only once in eight games in qualifying for the 2018 finals. With stars drawn from across Europe - 17 of their 23 players were born outside Morocco - the Atlas Lions have plenty of creative spark too with Dutch Footballer of the Year Hakim Ziyech and Schalke's up-and-coming Amine Harit the two to look out for. If one of Portugal or Spain implode in the group stage, then Morocco could get into the last-16 where they would face a team from a weak Group A...