World Cup Teams That Could Surprise in South Africa
by Trevor Whenham - 5/26/2010
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By now we are all very familiar with the World Cup contenders - the ones who are expected to make a deep run, and which will disappoint their fans and backers mightily if they don't. What's at least as interesting as those teams that can win the World Cup, though, are the squads that aren't nearly as highly regarded, but which could surprise and make a deep run if everything fell in their way - like it did for Turkey when they finished a stunning third in 2002.
These are the teams that can provide real value for alert bettors because the general betting public just isn't paying attention to them right now, and won't start until it's too late. Here's a look at three of those teams - one each from Africa, Europe, and South America. (odds are from Bodog):
Chile (40/1 to win the tournament) - The Chileans are making their first World Cup appearance since 1998, and they are in fine form to do so. They qualified by tying for second in the tough South American region behind on Brazil and ahead of Argentina. They also beat that highly regarded Argentina squad in one qualifying game. Part of what makes this team intriguing is that they are less familiar to their opponents than others.
Circumstances beyond their control led to the cancellation of three friendlies since they qualified - two due to the Chilean earthquakes, and one after German goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide. They made those games up on days when many of their players were still playing in Europe, so there are fewer games for opponents to use to scout the squad.
They have a talented squad here - Jorge Valdivia is a world-class playmaker, and Humberto Suazo leads a deep and talented group of strikers. Their draw also works in their favor - at least in the first round. Spain is all but a lock to get one qualifying spot from Group H, but Chile is the solid favorite for the second, and has the capability of beating both Switzerland and Honduras heads up. If they do get through they have to play a team from the very tough Group G, considered the World Cup Group of Death, in the second round, so that will be their biggest challenge. On the plus side, if they can survive that game then things won't get any harder.
Nigeria (100/1) - Argentina is the heavy favorite in Group B, but the Nigerians are a serious threat as the second choice. This is actually the second straight World Cup appearance in which Nigeria has had to face Argentina in the first round - in 2002 they lost 1-0 in a tough game.
This team has been very strong in tournaments featuring younger players (perhaps because they are more likely than other countries to lie about the age of their players, but that's another issue), but haven't yet turned that into success at the highest level. They were competent in qualifying, though, and competent in the African Cup of Nations as well.
What I like most about this squad, though, is their choice of coach. They have tabbed Lars Lagerback, the former Swedish coach who took that team to five consecutive World Cups. Lagerback's teams were always highly focused and well disciplined, and they tended to play better than the talent they had on the field. Lagerback gives this team their best chance of making some noise. If they do qualify for the second round then they have the advantage of facing a team from Group A - quite possibly the weakest group in the tournament.
Serbia (66/1) - Serbia is the second choice in Group D, and they are playing in a group which they could easily win if everything goes right for them - Germany is the most vulnerable they have been at a major tournament in decades. Serbia is a young team that is probably a World Cup away from their best performance, but there are a few reasons to like them here.
First, they qualified well by winning their group which included France and others. Second, this is the first time that they are playing as just Serbia, and we know that national pride can be a massive motivator for these tournaments. Third, they are built around a very solid foundation - Nemanja Vidic, the defender who plays for Manchester United, is one of the very best defenders in this tournament. Finally, they have some impressive young talent. Neven Subotic is a 21-year-old, U.S.-raised defender who has a chance to be great, and he's joined by a whole stable of young strikers.
Not a lot is being expected of those players this time around, but if they can step up and perform - and we have seen youngsters do that in every World Cup - than this team could be a big surprise. The team has a winnable group, and they could face a very winnable second round game if they do win their group.
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