The probable World Cup 2022 dark horses can surprisingly come from the Balkan and Middle East. With the international break finally over, the path is clear to the World Cup. It is only seven weeks until the games begin. Many teams have proven their worth. Either as favorites to win the trophy or as underdogs. The former has always been in the spotlight, whereas the latter has frequently slipped under the radar.
Predicting the dark horses of the tournament can be tricky. However, based on the recent fixtures in the international break, these teams could thrive in Qatar.
Balkan & Middle East Amongst World Cup 2022 Dark Horses
With the retirement of Ivan Rakitic, Mario Madzukic, and Daniel Subasjic, Vatreni has not had a strong team since Russia in 2018. Their disappointing performance in EURO 2020 was evidence of this. Zlatko Dalic’s men only made it to the round of 16 before losing 5-3 to Spain. However, such an assumption seems to be mistaken. Luka Modric and Co. were able to bounce back in Nations League 2022/23 after their disappointing first two games and even toppled Denmark and France in the final standings.
They will play in the final four next year. Despite that, Croatia still counts on the aging Modric as the playmaker. The Real Madrid man has proved that he is still reliable for his country, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The 38-year-old midfielder managed to score an opener against Austria last week. Furthermore, Dalic seems to have found a suitable replacement for Rakitic, Madzukic, and Subasjic in Mateo Kovacic or Rennes man Lovro Majer, and two names who do not play abroad, Bruno Petkovic and Dominik Livakovic from Dinamo Zagreb.
Further, they have Hadjuk Split’s forward, Marko Livaja. He netted the second goal versus Austria. With such potential, they could be darkhorse in this race.
Serbia, under Dragan Stojkovic, has turned into a dangerous threat to their opposition. Filip Kostic and Co. were the ones who forced Portugal to go through the playoff path in World Cup 2022 qualifiers last year after crushing them 2-1 on the road.
In the Nations League, they repeated the same result against Norway in a decisive game for promotion to League A.
Serbia snatched a 2-0 win to frustrate the deadly striker, Erling Haaland. The Manchester City man was only able to have two attempts.
The attempts were denied by Vanja Milenkovic-Savic, who played a significant role between the sticks.
The team has all they need to pull a surprise in Qatar by at least reaching the quarterfinals. Serbia has a star-studded lineup consisting of Nikola Milenkovic at the back, Filip Kostic, Sergej Milenkovic-Savic, Dusan Tadic on the second line, the duo of Alexander Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic upfront.
The return of Carlos Queiroz seems to have had a positive impact on Team Melli. In the last two games, they stomped Uruguay 1-0 and drew with Senegal in a 1-1 game. Such positive results can boost their confidence as the kick-off approaches. Queiroz’s success in leading them to two world cup finals during his first spell and his understanding of the squad’s potential might be something Mehdi Taremi and Co need to advance from the group stage at least.
They narrowly missed the chance to progress four years ago due to a late goal from Spain in the other fixture when they picked up one point against Portugal.
Snubbed due to disciplinary issues by the former Algerian coach Vahid Halilhodzic in the 2014 World Cup, Morocco can finally recall their two stars, Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui. His replacement, Waled Regragui, has started well by thumping Chile 2-0 and mustering a goalless draw against Paraguay.
The Atlas Lions have enough stars in the squad including Ziyech, Mazraoui, Yassine Hounou, PSG wing-back Achraf Hakimi, Sofyan Amrabat from Fiorentina, Marseille man Amine Harit in the midfield, and two La Masia graduates who switched sides from Spain, Munir El-Haddadi and Ez Abde.
It would be a letdown if Regragui cannot optimize them to do well in Qatar 2022. Repeating their success in 1986 when they managed to go through the round of 16 should be a viable target.
Notable Mention: Denmark
The EURO 1992 winner might not be from the Balkan or Middle East, but they are more than just capable of reaching the knockout stage. Kasper Hjulmand’s side was able to fly high in EURO 2020 last year despite losing in the first two games and the absence of Christian Eriksen.
As the 30-year-old attacking midfielder has recovered from his near-death experience, Denmark has a large pool of promising names. Apart from those who stole the show at the European Championship, there is Andre Skov Olsen of Club Brugge, Jesper Lindstrom of Frankfurt, Philip Billing of Bournemouth, and Benfica defender Alexander Bah.
They might have missed the spot in the Nations League final, but they beat France twice. Denmark could have a chance to replicate their impressive form in the last EURO by reaching the last four.